In the 1960’s there was introduced a new and dynamic social theory that absolutely changed the way we look at age-relations. That theory was called “generation gap” and it sought to address the contention between the then “baby boomers” and their parents. Those who lived through the 60’s remember that in that time period there was an upheaval in social change, and there emerged a restless spirit to throw off the vestiges of The Silent Generation, and even the generation prior. But in the movement away from generational continuity and embracing generational divides, are we really helped by this “generation gap”? Or does it provide more of an obstacle or even worse, an excuse for one generation to not extend a hand in relationship to the other?
Ageism, or prejudice against certain ages, comes in many forms. Take for example, the financial crash of 2008, where we saw many businesses cut back and eventually lay off hundreds of employees, many of which were middle aged. In fact, during that time I was working for a company that had a massive lay off. Individuals who had been with the company longer than I had been alive were suddenly unemployed and now looking at an uncertain future. Many tried to limp along by working lesser paying jobs but most ended up taking an early retirement and faced severe social security penalties, all of this because they were deemed “too old” by prospective employers. Now of course companies cannot outright say that, but anyone who has been in that situation knows that sentiment is very apparent.
Now, when that lay off occurred, I remember thinking as I saw many receive their final paycheck, that all that wisdom and all that experience has just been lost. What the generation gap implicitly asserts is that generational continuity is unimportant. That the older generation is somehow irrelevant and not to be considered valuable.
But the lack of generations connecting with other generations is not one sided. Considering that I am part of the Millennial generation, I have seen a bit of awkwardness from previous generations in their interactions with us, Millennials. Yes, I will be the first to tell you that we have lots of things wrong, but there is a sense of openness and an eagerness to be real and authentic which is rather a redeeming quality. Something of which should be considered refreshing, due to much of the façade that we are so accustomed too.
Generations not interacting with other generations is a big problem in our society, but I am a pastor of a local church and my eye is on the health of the local assembly. And let me tell you, the social theory of the generation gap has affected the church a great deal. In many churches today there is an effort to segregate generations and it is not uncommon for any given Sunday morning to have two simultaneous church services, one for the older and one for the younger generation. Now, I am not against youth groups or Sunday school classes entirely, however I see the danger of a consistent systematic approach to keep ages separated. The danger being that there is no relationship happening between the older and the younger, a lack of mentorship and an undermining to the unity of the local church. Scripture calls to attention that the church is “one body”(Rom. 12:4-5, 1 Cor. 12:12) both universally and locally. When there is no bridging of the gap between generations, sub cultures are created within the church and a subtle animosity can ensue.
So how do bridge the generation gap? Firstly, the younger generation must honor the older generation. Leviticus 19:32 states “Stand in the presence of the elderly and show respect to the aged.” They must see the older generation as people who have walked long in this life, paid their dues and have much to offer. Secondly, the older generation must extend their hand down to the younger generation. They must have the same intentionality as the Psalmist says in Psalm 71:18 “O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation…” The generation gap as it stands now, is only highlighting a problem, not providing a solution. It is incumbent on generations from each side to find a middle ground, and seek to intentionally form relationships with the aim of fostering a profound unity. We need each other because we are all in this together.