Intergenerational Leadership, Parent-Child Relationship

Rev. Dr. John Yates, Chairman of Australia Evangelical Alliance

I spend a significant part of my time in one on one meetings, generally with younger men. They may be pastors, teachers, evangelists, even a few apostles and prophets, ministering in the Church (Eph 4:11). But they also include those called to represent Christ in business, the arts, law, trades, education and so on. Some would describe my ministry at this level as spiritual direction, others might call it mentoring or using the gifts of wisdom and knowledge (1 Cor 12:8). The categorisation is secondary, what is relevant is that much of the substance of the reflections below is much based on ministry experience.

We have all seen the lack of “succession planning” lead to the collapse of a ministry. So, the subject of intergenerational leadership is a vital one. Nevertheless, the lens through which it is approached requires much care. Firstly, to restrict discussion to leadership always denies the practical outworking of the “priesthood of all believers” and incidentally tends to degenerate into patterns of hierarchy and control that are unbiblical.  Secondly, such foci often place outcome ahead of relationship. There is nothing to suggest that, for example, megachurch pastors are the godliest leaders. All of Paul’s congregations after all were in houses! Even the useful expression “intergenerational discipleship” suffers from the rarely commented on fact that this sort of language disappears after the middle of the book of Acts (9:25).

For several reasons I think we need to revert to a fundamental parent-child connection when we think about these issues. The greatest treasury of cross-generational wisdom in the Old Testament is Proverbs, and it is founded on such a pattern. “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,” (1:8). This flows into Paul’s matured theology of leading churches and relating to his younger protégé, Timothy. “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.  For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent  you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ” (1 Cor 4:15-17; cf. 1 Tim 1:2, 18; 2 Tim 1:2). At the most basic level  “intergenerational leadership” should be thought of in terms of a “father/mother” – “son/daughter” relationship.

In Australia we are confronted with accelerating moral decay across the culture and declining spiritual disciplines in the Church. Only 20% of Aussie Christians read the scriptures daily! Amidst this crisis the Evangelical Alliance is working, not on another “strategy”, but joining with the Lord to expand on what he is already doing intergenerationally (Acts 11:23-25). This will involve partnering the many thousands of older believers across our networks with younger people who desire to grow in the Lord across all the spheres of culture, education, the arts, science and technology, law, business, media, sport, politics etc. Matured men and women have learned the wisdom of God through decades of experience in these fields that can greatly benefit emerging leaders in like vocation. This partnering must be done prayerfully in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:25).

An older man passed on some infallible wisdom to me decades ago, “Pay attention to those who you know God has placed you in relation with.”  If the Lord makes the connection, then the natural result will be “a building up in love” (Eph 4:16). The criterion for partnering across generations is not institutional position, success, reputation, credentials, or superior knowledge, but an unwavering commitment to the centrality of Christ. Where the Lord himself is kept as our focus God’s plan for impartation between generations will move towards its appointed goal in the power of the Spirit. I am constantly amazed at how in thousands of one to one meetings brothers from a huge range of ethnicities and traditions, from Catholic to Pentecostal, have freely submitted to direction, correction and instruction. Since money never changes hands and none of this is institutionalised ulterior motives are kept away.

What is happening in the Spirit is not submission to me as a formal leader (Heb 13:7), which I am not, but a share in Jesus’ submission to the Father in going to the cross (Phil 2:5-11). What is submitted is the Spirit’s secret wisdom (1 Cor 2:7-8) that there can be no ultimate glory without walking Christ’s path of willing suffering (Luke 24:26) for the sake of the kingdom of God. The voice which must be heard in intergenerational fathering for the raising up of succession in leadership is the voice of God the Father. And, according to the scriptures, the Father is most lovingly revealed in the realm of painful discipline (Heb 12:5-11). This cannot be reduced to a set of procedures or principles, even if these are biblically derived. The Father’s presence is made known in the pain experienced as I am constrained by the Spirit to correct one of my spiritual children. I am often anguished in talking to people about their sin (cf. 2 Cor 12:19-13:4), but in the Lord such admonition carries an astonishing authority that is very rarely resisted. I can only believe that the Father’s love for his Son is being mediated through my life in the Spirit. This is tremendously humbling.

The Evangelical Alliance in Australia is prayerfully seeking to guide a pragmatic but mostly spiritually shallow Church back to the building blocks of relationships flowing from the life of the Trinity. We envision that God will raise up a marvellously inclusive movement. With masses of older mature believers moving into retirement, and an emerging generation of young people dissatisfied with costless forms of discipleship robbing them of proper nurture, things are providentially set up for a major work of grace. Glory to God alone.

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