The Intention and Perception

A while back, I proposed that congregations consider adopting the sentiment above to name for themselves their intention toward a generational transfer of leadership.

I meant it then, and I still believe it is crucial.

There is a lot of talk, though, about generations in church: the Boomers, GenX and the Millennials.

What is becoming clear to me, though, is that Generational analysis can turn into Generational Labeling.  It becomes part of the great identifying machine of culture: this all pervasive borg that decides that what is important about you is X (gender, race, age, body shape, sexual attractions and practices, looks, whatever) and that therefore, you are X.  

And like every form of socially determined identity, it has usually has a payoff of some type, along with a lot of dues to pay.

Baby Boomers were the second generation to be so labelled.  (The "teenagers" of the 50's were the first, but they were a smaller group and it was a negative label.)  But Baby Boomers were named and celebrated, because we were huge in number and had become a clearly identified market segment.  Boomers got social power by being "Boomers".  Generational Labeling is our thing, because it worked so well for us.

This has become clear to me from talking to both GenX and Millennial generations.  Some really hate the assumptions being made about them.

We do need to move the leadership of our churches to the next generations, because they are next, and because they are, ummm, younger. They live in the world that is coming.  (If the boomer generation stays active in leadership for as long as they are healthy, everything will start to look like the US Senate.)  But not because the next generations are any particular way: more spiritual, more activist, more this or that.

We need to check our thinking on this.  If we want to empower the next generation because they are "more spiritual" than we ought to just say that we should empower more spiritually oriented leaders.


  1. Ironic how we uphold the individualism of Emerson and take such strong moral stands against categorical group discrimination on the one hand, yet fall so easily into our own varieties of identity politics on the other. Tribalism is a strong human instinct.

  2. Thank you for this, Tom. One of the great educations for me in ministry has been how the generational labels that can be helpful as cultural markers (peoples' perceptions and norms come in large part from what was happening in the world in their earlier years, and that matters) are distinctly unhelpful when attempting to generalize especially in terms of leadership. Some of my most forward-thinking and able leaders have been in older generations and I've had people across the age spectrum display the "we have to do it this way because this is the only way we know" perspective. Age is certainly not the only marker of the ability to think forward or be visionary.

  3. Clyde Grubbs12:00 PM

    Sarah circle says 'we will do our naming." Identity is multifacted and unique, and while it is interesting to know that a person lives in a culture whether it is ethnic, generational or vocational, one can't assume that without asking that person.

    So we are so shy about asking, we impose categories to help us understand them without their consent.


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