I remember being 22 years old and getting to speak in “Big Church” for the first time as the Youth Pastor. I was nervous as you’d imagine, but maybe not for the reasons you’re thinking. Our “Big Church” was primarily made up of approximately 300 really amazing, really smart, really soft-hearted, really supportive, but really, really, really OLD people.
I wasn’t quite sure I could speak their language. Not having lived life through World Wars, cultural and social revolutions, and economic hardships I knew I didn’t have much geriatric street-cred – except for the Scriptures. So would my message – or worse, my life – build a bridge between us or further the gap?
We’ve all seen well-intentioned and well-crafted ideas fall flat because of lack of respect, lack of understanding, and lack of care for those older than us. What I learned then and have continued to learn over the last 15 years about speaking Older People’s Love Language has been priceless in bridging the gap to generations above me. Here are some thoughts that might help you, your leaders, and other young people connect with people older, rather than tick them off:
The day before I spoke that morning to our Sunday congregation, my mentor and pastor told me that I needed to wear a tie when I preached. I protested, “Oh man, that’s not really me! I don’t even own a tie!” My pastor replied, “Ron, would you rather have the people bothered during your whole message about why you didn’t respect them or God enough to wear a tie? Or would you rather have God’s Word land on their hearts?” Enough said. This wasn’t the time or place to wage war about what place clothing plays in church. This was a time to love them. It was a time to “become all things to all people.” For their generation, attire communicates an awful lot about respect and beliefs. When I saw a recent video of Francis Chan speaking at Moody Bible, I couldn’t help but think he’d received some of the same advice.
My pastor, that same day, encouraged me to walk the crowd before the service and talk to the people in the room. He gave me a specific word to do “more listening than talking.” I went in wanting to make them feel like they still had something to offer – and someone cared about who they were – and went out realizing they actually did have something to offer and they were the ones who cared about me. I was able to do a lot less assuming and lot more learning. Oh, and by the way, having been listened to beforehand, they listened really well during the sermon.
Both Builder and Boomer generations are very “can-do” and “to-the-point” people. Even the most emotionally-driven of them are a part of generations that fought off global enemies and built companies and kingdoms. Coming to planning meetings or discipleship groups having actually done your homework – and written your thoughts down clearly and simply – will go a long way. If there’s time afterward to hug, vent, or chit-chat do it then.
If you are trying to connect with people older than you make sure you’ve spent time taking the plank out of your own eye. Make sure you’re living a life that stands for something and just doesn’t throw rocks at everything else. Ours is a generation seen as entitled, selfish, and unable to take a strong stand on anything – but quick to attack everyone else’s stance. Leave your discerning spirit fully engaged, but make sure your mind is cranking out solutions and trying to offer help in building a better tomorrow. By the way, simply whining is not helpful in building a better tomorrow.
The reality is everyone has a need for encouragement. Somehow most of us have managed to grasp why peers and those younger need words of affirmation, but have forgotten that everyone, absolutely everyone, needs encouraging words – even those older than us. Just recently, I saw a Vietnam Veteran in a Starbucks and recognized it because of some wording on his hat. A simple thanks for his sacrifice and pat on the back brought tears to his eyes. In a gravely voice, he said, “Thank you so much, young fella. I’ve actually never heard that from someone like you. You made me day.”