Orginally published on Monday, March 12, 2007 at 6:03 AM
by Earl Creps
I used to describe some of what I do as “Worldview Therapy,” defined as anger management for younger leaders and grief recovery for the older. I’ve met hundreds of the first group on the road who are genuinely upset about the state of the Church and its ministers. They fear that the iron hand of Boomer control will remain in place so long that, by the time circumstances force some transitions, it will be too late. Many of these younger friends were simply walking away from the Boomer vision of church, often identified as the “big box” (like Wal-Mart). The rationales I heard ranged from what one friend called his “postmodern crisis” to more traditional reasons like a lack of personal relationship with the senior leader.
Almost simultaneously, the older ministers I was meeting a couple years ago were talking to me off the books about feeling like the future was slipping away from them. These peers kept a brave face, and were often regarded as successful, but they expressed dismay over the unwillingness of the young to follow them, either as members of their churches or their staffs.
So I invested a lot of time encouraging the young ones to look past the angry part to some new sense of mission. I told the old that their best days could still be ahead of them if they listened for God’s voice. I thought I had this kind of thing pretty much sorted out.
Then a couple months ago I started hearing some new language from both tribes. First, a group of youth ministers shocked me with their positive statements about their senior pastors. Didn’t they know this relationship is supposed to be tense?
Then, a thirtysomething leader told me that he actually is past the angry part now and wants to work on “re-embracing” his heritage (in this case Pentecostal) but is unsure how to do so without identifying with some aspects of our neighborhood that he finds questionable.
Just weeks before, a successful mid-life leader of a big box ministry made a confession in front of a discussion group I was leading with these words: “I am so tired of church.” His comments took the air out of the room, but they were repeated in yet another state by a pastor of about the same age who openly speaks with his staff of his search for something (anything) fresh and meaningful in his calling.
Obviously this is weird science, so I have no way of knowing how representative these remarks are, but consider the possibility that there are at least three ways that these leadership cohorts relate to each other:
(1) Problem/Solution: conflict ensues when each side sees itself as the solution to the “problems” represented by the other, e.g., both view their counterpart as unwilling to listen to the ideas that could fix things.
(2) Solution/Solution: relational distance increases when each cohort advances a different solution for the problems of the Church overall, creating a war of paradigms.
(3) Problem/Problem: both groups might come together around their mutual inadequacies if key influencers among them could simply say their own problems out loud--with their peers at first, and then in each other’s presence.
What if older leaders heard the young say something like, “I’m ready to re-embrace substance, but not style, how do you understand the difference?”
And what if the young heard the middle-aged say something like, “This church thing is taking the life out of me; why do you still love it?”
I’ll spot you that this is a fantasy meeting of the first order that would require a breathtaking level of honesty that lots of us may not have to give. But perhaps that’s because we’ve had almost no models. I also want to stipulate that conflict per se is not evil. In fact it can create long-term health. So the point here is not to eliminate it, but to prevent it from squandering our potential together.
Neither battling over alternative solutions nor treating each other as diseases to be cured is a path forward. What if we changed our vocabulary at times from accusation (“You’re weak”) to confession (“I’m weak”)? The worst that could happen is that we would have something to talk about other than the ways in which we do not get along.
About the Author: Earl Creps has spent several years visiting congregations that are attempting to engage emerging culture. He directs doctoral studies for the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri (http://www.agts.edu). Earl and his wife Janet have pastored three churches, one Boomer, one Builder, and one GenX. He speaks, trains, and consults with ministries around the country. Earl’s book, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders, was published by Jossey-Bass/Leadership Network in 2006. Connect with Earl at http://www.earlcreps.com .
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