Setting an Example for Your Elders

[Note: I want to preface this post by saying that this is merely a perspective on an issue related to the field of Young Adult Ministry. It is part of my role, and one of the purposes of the YA Ministries blog, to raise issues (even controversial ones) that young adults in Community of Christ deal with. I believe these are issues that Community of Christ, but also many different kinds of communities, deal with. It is in no way meant to represent the views of the Community of Christ church or be offensive to any person.
These are just issues and concerns based on some of my knowledge and experiences. 🙂 – Rachelle]


In my role as the Young Adult Ministries Specialist for the Community of Christ, you can imagine that I hear about and think about young adults, particularly in the population of our church, a lot! Right now, most people who are considered “young adults” fall into what is defined as the “millennial” generation – people born generally in the 80s. 90s and early 2000s. Community of Christ classifies young adults as those aged 18-35.  “Young adulthood” is actually more a stage of life than an age range. According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages, it is a transitional stage of human development between adolescence and adulthood. (Hence, the term can sometimes be offensive to individuals that the church defines as being “young adult” (between the ages of 18 to 35) who have actually progressed out of this stage of human development into full adulthood.)

If you treat adults like children, you get childish adults. If you treat people with suspicion, you will encourage devious behavior.
Fiona Smith

The millenial generation, in my opinion, receives a lot of flack. So often this generation is perceived by others as: selfish, spoiled, too technology-dependent, incapable, lazy, entitled, etc. (See this article written to comfort people about the possibility of having to work with [gasp] millenials. Or this cynical/satirical “training video” on how to work with this “challenging” generation.)

Did you also know that this same generation is also defined as having the most economic hardship, but still called “the most diverse and optimistic generation of any currently alive in the United States?” (“Reaching the Millennial Generation“, Lee, 2014)

It can be frustrating to listen to and continually read about older generations putting down or patronizing the younger (particularly when it’s your job to advocate for and support them). Sometimes it seems older generations want for millenials what suits them or appeals to their generation. They want millenials to grow up to be just like them.

An orange can’t expect orange juice to come from an apple.

I find this can, at times, be true in the church as well.

I sometimes hear millenials (in the church, termed “young adults”) being talked about as if they are some alien science experiment the world is trying to figure out how to deal with. That obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, and I admit is a bit sarcastic, but that is often a feeling I get both coming from within the church but also from outside our faith community. Sometimes, some members of older generations seem to have certain expectations and hopes for our young adults, but don’t seem to express much initiative in trying to understand or connect with the ones they say they want to engage. There have been times that I have been approached because there is a feeling by some that young adults aren’t living up to those expectations and hopes. They aren’t falling into the mold that was set for them (or has been set for years before them). I hear people talking about how they want the young people to step up and really expect “more” from them. But really, “more” comes across as “my way and my ideas.” I hear congregations talking about how they want to be intergenerational and inclusive but not really listening to what the people they are trying to include are experiencing or needing. I hear tired, experienced leaders talking about needing new leaders and wanting young adults to take on responsibility; but not really teaching them how to be successful, reaching out to offer support along the way, or listening to their ideas.

So, really … can you blame them?

Achieving our vision is a two way street.

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be
[not what you want them to be]
and they will become what they are capable of being.”
– Goethe

What if, instead of identifying the shortcomings of an entire generation and speaking out about how they don’t attend our traditional congregation gatherings like we want them to, don’t give like we want them to, and don’t do a hundred other things like we want them to – we followed the platinum rule and treated them like they want to be treated?

What if we removed all our assumptions and expectations?

What if we try to get to know them and speak out about all the things they ARE doing – supporting and loving them. We talk about and connect with the three young people that DO attend our congregation, instead of the twenty that don’t. Instead of thinking about what we want them to do and be, we asked them what they want to do and who they want to be.

What if instead of waiting and expecting them to come to our church – we go to theirs! We are present at their camps, retreats, extra-curricular activities, or any community gatherings! Instead of talking about them and deciding for them, we include them in the conversation and help them achieve their visions and goals! We do for them what we would like in return.

We know that people (of any age) are more likely to be excited and engaged in something they are passionate about. Something that has meaning to them. Something they dream about! But do we even know what their passions are? Are we really listening to their thoughts and ideas? What they are actually saying? Or are we too quick to disassociate with what we don’t understand? Or to impose our own expectations, dreams, and years of wisdom?

Maybe the dreams of different generations aren’t as different as you might think. We just go about it differently.

I read a lot of blogs. Everyone out there seems to have some advice or lessons learned on every topic imaginable: 31 ways to do this. 75 reasons not to do that. How [insert anything] are you? Blogging makes the everyman an expert. So, that said, here’s another one of those indicating the author’s advice on what millenials “should” start doing. Among a list of ten points you would expect to find in any motivational “how-to” regarding gratitude, relationships, and passion; I found one I didn’t:

Set an Example to the Older Generation. Paul advised Timothy not to allow people to look down on him because of his age, which means that was probably happening. However, he didn’t tell him to push back and tell them to “stop judging him…” Rather, he told him to set the example. Are the “old” people looking down on you? Good. That means their eyes are on you. Now give them a good reason to keep looking at you. Serve well. Work hard. Be polite. Make eye-contact. Shake hands firmly. Smile.

– Taylor Murray from “10 Things 20Somethings Should Start Doing” on the blog taylormurray

Sometimes it’s important to be reminded that just as much as millenials can learn from older generations, they can teach older generations. So here’s my three-point challenge to the millenials (but really, I think it can be applicable to all generations in relationship to one another):

Be the example.

Don’t fight back with frustration or anger about stereotypes or expectations given by other generations. Let them be who they are. Listen to what they are really saying: their dreams. Their passions. Their heart. (Even older people have dreams 😉 ) Treat them with the compassion and respect they deserve as people. Like Dr. Phil says in his Life Law #8: “We teach people how to treat us.”

Respond. Be Open.

Offer help. Step up. Take the initiative. Remember that you have experiences and knowledge the other doesn’t. You have as much to offer and as much to receive in return. Be humble and open to learning.

Don’t live up to other’s expectations. Exceed them.

If other people’s ideas and expectations are being placed on you – do better. Exceed them. Break the mold in a positive way. Prove their judgments wrong. I think we often need to be reminded that we are all individuals and that stereotypes are often gross over-generalizations. The negative stereotypes of your generation do not have to apply to you.

We cannot achieve anything, or move forward, if we continue to assume we know what is best for other people and that we understand the desires of their hearts.

“Serve well. Work hard. Be polite. Make eye-contact. Shake hands firmly. Smile.” – Taylor Murray

5 thoughts on “Setting an Example for Your Elders

  1. Erica Blevins Nye says:

    Rachelle, as I explored young adult ministry I discovered the same thing: It’s probably more about being an ambassador between generations than it is about planning stuff for young adults. If we hope for the church to continue our journey with Christ then older generations with power need to be open to a new visions of a transformed faith community. And younger generations need to catch the vision that their investment in faith community can bring power to transform the world. We can do this best if we learn to value the ministries offered in the past and those new ones possible in the future. I suppose the best place to start is to make individual intergenerational friendships. It’s harder to not value and share with one another when we know we love each other!

  2. Excellent thoughts Rachelle! Way to help keep the dialogue going. Each generation definitely has it’s strengths, challenges, and ways of doing things. The reality is that while our ideas and ages seemingly separate us, we’re all in this together.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! As someone part of the “millennial” generation, this opened my eyes to why there is such a gap, I guess you could say, between the generations.

  4. Diane Sadler says:

    Good for you, Rachelle, for sharing these comments and concerns. Jan Kraybill and I were just talking last week that we’ve found ourselves in the unhappy category of saying, “I’ve tried that here and it doesn’t work,” rather than being open to all new attempts, passions, and expressions, when really, that’s what we came to the church with, and know it needs more than anything. We can get a little – what’s the word – discouraged and hardened by our experiences, but we want and desperately need new ideas, new approaches, new insights, or even the same insights expressed in different ways.

    Jan and I pledged to try not to let our (at times, discouraging) experiences in the church, but rather seek for insights and ideas from others, especially YAs. I hope the church continues to hire more and more!!

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