Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Generational Conflict in Ministry - D.A. Carson

Over at the Gospel Coalition I found a helpful article by D.A. Carson on conflict in ministry that arises between different generations.  Here is a snippet:

About five years after the Berlin wall came down and the communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe had mostly fallen or been transmuted into something rather different, I had the privilege of speaking at a conference for pastors in one of those formerly eastern-bloc countries. The numbers were not large. Most interesting was the way this group of men reflected a natural breakdown. They were clearly divided into two groups. The older group—say, over forty or forty-five—had served their small congregations under the former communist government. Few of them had been allowed to pursue any tertiary education, let alone formal theological training. Most of them had served in considerable poverty, learning to trust God for the food they and their families needed to survive. Some had been incarcerated for the sake of the gospel; all had been harassed. The men in the younger group—say, under forty or so—without exception were university graduates. Several had pursued formal theological education; two or three were beginning their doctorates. They were interested in ideas and in the rapidly evolving cultural developments taking place in their country now that their media were a good deal freer. Quite a number were engaged in university evangelism and wanted to talk about postmodern epistemology.

The older group viewed the younger men as untested, ignorant of the lessons learned by suffering, far too cerebral, dizzyingly scattered and ill-focused, cocky, impatient, even arrogant. The younger group viewed the older men as, at best, out of date: they had slipped past their “sell by” date as much as had the communist regimes. They were ill-trained, defined too narrowly by yesterday’s conflicts, unable to evangelize the new generation, vainly clutching to power, consumed rather more by tradition than by truth. And in very large measure, both sides were right.

This sets the tone for what he has observed in the West.  We have our own older pastors and churches with certain values and traditions along with younger pastors and churches with quite different values and approaches to ministry.  In denominational settings that are congregational most churches coexist and do not cooperate all that much.  In other denominational settings, like Presbyterian and Reformed, where there are  connections to churches via regional bodies (presbytery or classis) things can get a little testy.

Carson offers four points of application for defusing the conflict across the generations:

1)  Listen to criticism in a non-defensive way. This needs to be done on both sides of the divide. It is easy to label criticism as hostile or non-empathetic and write it off.

2) Be prepared to ask the question, “What are we doing in our church, especially in our public meetings, that is not mandated by Scripture and that may, however unwittingly, be functioning as a barrier to getting the gospel out?”

3) . Always focus most attention on the most important things, what Paul calls the matters of first importance—and that means the gospel, with all its rich intertwinings, its focus on Christ and his death and resurrection, its setting people right with God and its power to transform. So when we take a dislike of another’s ministry primarily because he belongs to that other generation, must we not first of all ask whether the man in question heralds the gospel? If so, the most precious kinship already exists and should be nurtured. This is not to say that every other consideration can be ignored.

4) Work hard at developing and fostering good relations with those from the other generation. This means meeting with them, even if, initially at least, you don’t like them. It means listening patiently, explaining a different point of view with gentleness. It means that the new generation of ministers should be publicly thanking God for the older ministers, praying for them with respect and gratitude; it means that the older generations of ministers should be publicly thanking God for the new generation, seeking to encourage them while publicly praying for them.

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