Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
I have a confession to make.
I get really defensive when I hear people complain about the younger generations.
I am a thirty-year-old youth minister. I am a Millennial who is ministering to Generation Z – you know, the tide-pod addicts who are always marching on Washington and stuff.
But I will also be the first to admit that getting defensive about any one particular generation is only going to drive yet another wedge into a massively divided culture. Each generation should be willing to hear and reflect on the criticisms of others.
No generation is inherently better than another. As we saw in my first post in this series, the older generations have been complaining about younger people since the beginning of history. No surprises here.
I guess the surprising thing for me is that we are STILL having these arguments.
THE AGE OF AGEISM
Maybe you aren’t explicitly stating that the Boomers are better than Millennials. Maybe you aren’t going around touting Generation X as God’s gift to American society. But most of us are unconsciously biased in favor of people our own age and/or against people who are younger/older than we are.
This is called AGEISM. Ageism is prejudice or discrimination against another person on the basis of his/her age. Ageism has been deemed “the last acceptable form of prejudice” in our culture. And ageism works both ways – younger people mistrusting older people, and older people discriminating against younger people.
I believe ageism is more prevalent that most of us realize. I recently asked on Facebook if people have ever felt judged, discriminated against, or looked down on because of their age – either younger or older. The overwhelming response was YES. (I think I only had one NO out of everyone.)
Ageism can be obvious or even stated outright – “You’re only, what 24? 25? You don’t know enough about life yet.” Or it can be veiled and less conspicuous – a patronizing smile, a joke, a frustrated sigh of exasperation. Ageist attitudes can be difficult to spot, and therefore difficult to call out. When you see, for instance, a white barista calling the police on two black men sitting peacefully inside the coffee shop, it’s easy to call that out as RACIST. But when an older lady in Walmart calls a younger person “rude” simply for waiting her turn to get something in the aisle – is that lady just in a bad mood or was she projecting her ageist views that all Millennials are rude, entitled, brats?
YOUTH AND CONSEQUENCES
We have a weird relationship with age in this country. More specifically, we have a weird relationship with YOUTH. Take a look at the commercials and advertisements around you. How many of them have something to do with feeling/looking younger? How many cosmetic products are promoted as “age-defying?” How many hair dyes and cosmetic surgery procedures do you need to feel youthful again?
So on the one hand YOUTH is held up as this standard to achieve (as if that even makes sense).
On the other hand our teenagers and young adults are being encouraged to “grow up” at alarming rates. Our teenage high school students face more pressure, more stress, and more calendar events than any adult I know. I see it every day. Students are forced to balance school work, sports, part-time jobs, friendships, dating relationships, family time, volunteering, and more. I don’t know many adults who work as many hours per week as some of the teenagers I minister to.
And let’s not overlook the fact that puberty is occurring earlier and adolescence is lasting longer than ever before.
We are pressuring our teenagers to grow up. Young adults don’t feel like real adults. Adults are trying to stay young.
So here’s my question: Is the church guilty of AGEISM? If so, we have a lot of work to do. How can we be a light to the world or confusion? How can we offer hope in a world of chaos? How can we work toward equality in a world of division?
Let’s look to Scripture.
HOW TO DESTROY A COUNTRY IN THREE DAYS
In 1 Kings 12 we see the tragic story of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, King of Israel. Solomon had led the nation of Israel to a time of strength and prosperity greater than they could have imagined. Solomon’s God-given wisdom and governing skills are largely the reason for this – skills which were evidently not passed down to his son and heir to the throne.
When Solomon died, Rehoboam consulted his father’s counsel of elders for advice. Should he give in to the people’s demands for lower taxes and ease up on their labor load? The elders advised him to appease the people and lessen the burden. But then Rehoboam went to his peers, the young men he had grown up with. The young guns told him to flex his muscles and put the hammer down. They told him to let the people know that HE was in charge now, that HE was the one with the power.
Rehoboam listened to the bullheaded advice of the younger men. Because of this, the nation of Israel was divided, the ten northern tribes split off and formed the nation of Israel, leaving Rehoboam with only Judah and Benjamin, forming the nation of Judah.
If Rehoboam had listened to the counsel of the elders, he could have saved himself and his fellow countrymen centuries worth of trouble and heartache.
WE NEED EACH OTHER
As a country and as a church we must realize that we need each other.
The older generations need to pass the torch. I’ve seen many older folks holding on desperately to their position because they think that it’s the only way they can have significance. But in training up the next generation of leaders, your significance and influence will grow beyond anything you could ever achieve by yourself. Train up someone younger to take your place and then pass the torch!
The younger generations need to be willing to listen and learn from our elders. As we saw in my last post, I believe that it’s the younger generations who have the greatest chance of bringing about real change in the world. But we younger people need to heed the wisdom and counsel of those with more life experience than us.
Every Joshua needs his Moses. Every David needs his Samuel. Every Ruth needs her Naomi. Every Esther needs her Mordecai. Every Timothy needs his Paul. AND VICE VERSA!
I believe that everyone should have someone 7-10 years younger to mentor, advise, and disciple. AND everyone needs someone 10+years older to be their mentor, advisor, and teacher.
The church can and should be modeling this for the rest of the world.
The church can and should be a place where people of all ages feel loved, welcomed, and accepted.
The church can and should be a place where ageism is nonexistent.
The church can and should be a place where no one ever looks down on somebody because of their age.
But is it?
More next time. Until then, check out this video: