Rev. CB Samuel
Broadly speaking, there are five generations in any community. For want of better categorization, I begin with the popular terms: (1) Traditionalist, born between1929-45), so in the age group of 74 and above (strictly speaking 74-90), (2) Boomers, born between 1945-1960/64 and currently between 55-74, (3) Generation X, born between 1961/65-1979 and now 40 -55 years old, (4) Generation Y, born between 1980-95 and in the age group of 24-39, (5) Generation Z, born after1995/96 and in the age group of Age 9 – 24.
The different generations are the same in the church too. The last category, Generation Z, is broken into three groups: Pre-teens (9-12), Teens (13-16), University Students (17-21) and Early working groups (22-24).
Most of our churches, especially those in the cities are multi-generational. Each generation has assigned space for functioning and expression. In some cases, there are sub-groups that are also gender based or interest based. Each of these groups function independently, defining their activities and purposes. However, usually these multi-generational groups function not as inter-generational.
Before I proceed further, it is important to spell out what I understand as the key task of leadership. Leadership is about decision making. While an important component of leadership is influence, the key task of leadership is decision making. So when we consider the generational inputs into leadership table, one important criteria is their ability to add value to the decision making process. Where do we go? What values encompass our directions? How do we ensure the assimilation of vision and values? These are some key leadership questions.
Another important aspect to remember is that irrespective of the generation types, there are essential givens about the church. First, the church is the body of Christ, and every person belongs to that body because of the redemptive work of grace, and our belonging being affirmed by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore, obvious, that a person belonging to the Traditionalists generation may be a new believer and a child may be spiritually ahead in years. So the popular categories of generations, may be in relation to physical years and even emotional and mental age, it may not reflect one’s spiritual age at all. Second, the church is built by the Spirit who gives gifts to enable everyone to make their appropriate contribution; and the gifts are given irrespective of the generation one belongs to; and the gifts are given according to the will of the Spirit.
It is obvious also that the generations go through a certain process in their shaping. Some of the key external factors that shape each generation in specific phases in their lives are family, community, peers, the economic pressures, understanding of success and of failures. For instance, those in the age group of 74 and above, passed through the history of world war, the movements for freedom and independence. Those would have been their initial years. Then they moved on therefore to be builders of their own aspirations against all odds. Today they are rich with resources of experiences of perseverance in all aspects. They are most likely done with work hours, pay checks, and the likes so bring to the leadership table and its decisions a desire for peace. They will place a very high value on people and regard people as more important than programs for the most part; this generation more than any other will ask the question “how does this decision make everyone happy” They are still with us, but to some extent they are like the great cloud of witnesses whose learnings could be very useful to discern what matters from what does not; to go deeper as much as extending our tents.
The Boomers as they are called in the Western literature, in the Asian context generally those whose early years belonged to the early years of the independence of their nations. I prefer to call them Dreamers, instead of Boomers. While they may not have struggled for freedom, they were recipients of hopes, and worked to make the dreams a reality. It was a generation that make things happen and shape a new future. And in most situations, they worked to make what is seen today from what was not. They are confident on possibilities. They bring to the table today the capacity of planning and developing a blueprint to translate plans to reality. This generation would probably be in a phase of life where they are riding the wave of their own time and relational investments. 55-70 is generally a time when you are working in a consultancy role given all your experience and expertise at whatever you spent your life doing. They will bring to the leadership table that concept of “what’s the focus, the most important one thing you want to do”.
The next generation belongs to the age group of 40-55. Most often they have rich experience in managing the implementation of the plans. Like the Dreamers, this generation too inherited the freedom and opportunities. They were driven by the desire to consolidate, upgrade and expand. They bring to the leadership table the strong belief that with hard work anything can be achieved and the focus on growth is their very valuable contribution.
Generation Y, is largely driven by being alternate and innovative. This group brings to the leadership table, the enquiry of doing things differently and out of the box.
And finally the Generation that is soon to be more than 40% of the population. Up to the ages of 12 this group is catered to in the church by teaching and opportunities to participate. The ages of 13-16, has a strong desire to express opinions and is predominately shaped by their peers. It is in this age group many even come to know Christ and are filled with the desire to know and are open to be shaped and directed. However, in this generation, the leadership value is brought to the table by those in the age groups of 17-21 and 22-24. They have a high level of energy, relevance-driven, capable of innovative use of technology, sensitivity to broader issues and keen on public involvement. While the 17-21ers are confident of working things out, the 22-24rs are realistic due to experiences of difficulties and failures. There is a good mix of aspirations, and caution to risk taking.
So intergenerational leadership is bringing the strengths and learnings to the leadership table in shaping directions of impact. The caution however is that as much as there is a divide between leadership and management, even here it is possible to mistake intergenerational leadership to intergenerational management. Some generations are richer in leadership resources and others in management.
Christian leadership is essentially spiritual leadership. At the heart of spiritual leadership are essential characteristics such as hearing God, recognising and discerning God’s voice, keeping to the text, perseverance despite difficulties and opposition, and attitude of Christ-likeness in success and failure. These are not competencies that come from the world but through years of faithfulness.
Intergenerational leadership, therefore, thrives in an environment of hearing God, discerning God, hunger for God’s word, discipline of obedience to the Word in personal life and perseverance in public space witness of the gospel. It is not a strategy but a culture of the faith community. If not, it gets reduced to making space for each other with an attitude of condescension and desire to be entertained by each other. In contrast, where a culture prevails there will be an attitude of learning rather than applause and mutual fan-club groups.