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Generations and Expectations

With increasing frequency, I’ve seen a multitude of adults publicly complain that the mediums they enjoyed as children aren’t entertaining anymore. Grown people grumble that films, cartoons, comic books, television shows, have “bad storytelling” and “juvenile writing” that turns them off. It’s strange. One of the franchises bearing the brunt of these criticisms is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. People forget that the MCU began with Iron Man in 2008 … sixteen years ago. The original audiences, who were in their teens and twenties then, are firmly in their 30s and 40s now. Maybe–just maybe–the issue isn’t that the writing changed but the fact that that early fanbase is now significantly older. Sadly, many of them don’t want to come to grips with the reality that they’ve aged out of the target demographic for the media they consumed as kids. It can be a difficult emotion to grapple with: where do you belong? Where do you go from here?

The new year often inspires people to ponder their future. Because my birthday is right around the corner, the new year also means that, within a few days, I add another number to my age. It’s been a couple of years since I aged out of being a teen. So I empathize with the feeling of transitioning from one phase to another. Our society doesn’t always promote smooth transitions. Going from “child” to “youth” to “young adult” to just “adult” to “older adult” means ceding a position in one group and making room for others to occupy that space. But that shouldn’t be a source of distress. It simply means moving on to a new space with new opportunities and experiences. Yet letting go is hard to do when we fear we might be “transitioned” to obsolescence. Is that why we historically have had such a huge problem with allowing younger people to take up leadership roles?

No one wants to feel displaced. And certainly no one wants to feel “put out to pasture.” So people hold onto their positions with a vice grip. This is as true in church as it is in the Japanese and US governments (other countries seem to be a bit better at making room for younger leaders). This demonstrates a problem for both younger and older people. Younger people never get an opportunity to contribute and lead for themselves. Older people don’t want to relinquish control because they are fearful of being shunted to the side and forgotten. Besides, what if younger leaders don’t lead the “right” way (what if they lead differently)? And the entire organization suffers because insistence on remaining the same only stagnates growth and newer generations never feel free to make it their own.

The solution lies in making room for everyone. After school cartoons don’t have to appeal to me because they appeal to an entirely new generation. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for me. It’s just something different. Likewise, Adventist Youth programs don’t have to be amenable to my sensibilities because AY isn’t for me. But that doesn’t mean my fellow non-youth and I don’t have any place at all. The songs sung in worship don’t have to be all the ones I sang growing up. There can and should be a bit for each age group to appreciate–even if some aren’t my preference. Evangelism and even church worship services don’t have to follow the same format they always have. Workplaces have transformed–why haven’t our churches? People don’t communicate and fellowship in the same ways as they did decades ago. Are we embracing and considering the way younger people interact and incorporating that into the way our church interacts, both internally and with the community?

There are meaningful places for service that require the maturity of experienced minds. Being able to share testimonies, teach others, and apply lessons learned are all vital components for preserving institutional memory. Mentorship is also an important aspect of sharing knowledge and wisdom. Are we providing space for intergenerational communication that values input from a diversity of age groups?

We need to appreciate the uniqueness each cohort brings. And give everyone the opportunity to contribute at every age. Make room.

Image Credit: Janosch Lino on Unsplash

About the author

Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD, is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a clinical neuropsychologist. She is president of the Society for Black Neuropsychology.  More from Courtney Ray.
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