Roundtable Discussion: Intergenerational Relationships
A group of men from theHeart to talk about what it takes to build deep, meaningful relationships across generations.
Two of our interns from the spring semester, worked together to develop a project designed to help identify ways we can better experience intergenerational wholeness at theHeart.
So they invited a diverse group of men to discuss what it means to be in relationship with one another. The number of participants was kept intentionally small in order to facilitate a meaningful conversation. The time spent talking together resulted in some powerful insights.
This roundtable discussion focused on men in particular. And yet the reflections that were shared are helpful in gaining a better understanding of how all of us can be more intentional in seeking, forming, and nurturing meaningful connections with one another.
The variety of voices included Kenny and Colton, who represented the perspective of college students. Nick provided his views from a post-college season of life. Pastor Graham shared his thoughts as a young father, while Marty and Al offered wise counsel from men who could draw on years of experience.
To help facilitate an open and honest conversation that would break through the shallow surface, Interns Evan and Jacob developed five probing questions for this group to answer:
In your own words, why do you believe that intergenerational relationships are important?
Have you experienced an intergenerational relationship in the past and what does that look like (e.g., mentorships, small groups)?
What, for you, is the most rewarding part of intergenerational relationships? What is the most challenging part of intergenerational relationships?
For yourself and people of your generation, what do you see as the biggest barrier to intergenerational relationships?
What would you like to see at theHeart to help facilitate more successful intergenerational relationships?
While their intent was simply to encourage discussion, both Evan and Jacob agree the group's responses were rich with life-giving insights for theHeart.
"The takeaways we had from this discussion are pretty compelling," Evan said. "We learned that these relationships are beneficial to both younger and older generations, they provide guidance to younger people and they give encouragement and motivation to older generations, ultimately strengthening our church community."
Jacob went on to say, "These relationships are difficult to form due to pride, logistics, and culture, and yet they can lead to wisdom, humility, and encouragement."
It was suggested that there must be a balance between structure and organic elements of intergenerational relationships at theHeart in order for them to be successful.
That led the group to asking some bigger questions: What is the church’s responsibility in the structural elements of forming these relationship? What is the church’s responsibility in developing fertile ground for the organic elements?
Nick attributes this challenge largely to the general culture of America being one that celebrates individuality and self sufficiency. "The church culture must be one that is actively fighting those perceptions of the popular culture."
Kenny, a college student who is involved in a mentorship program at CREW, says "these relationships should be organic, but the structure certainly helps to enhance and add stability to the experience."
Graham noted the difficulty that comes with trying to strike a balance between formal and organic mentorships. "Formal presents difficulty because they can feel awkward or even contrived," he explained. "Organic relationships can be difficult because they lack structure. Balancing the organic elements with the structured elements of relationships is key."
Why These Relationships Are Important
The group admitted that quite a few barriers get in the way of experiencing vibrant relationships with each other. Pride, logistics, and availability are all a real struggle, especially for men.
Marty says “guys are blockheads." Men don’t tend to naturally open up and dive into deeper conversation. "The slow pace of these relationships make them difficult to achieve because early on they will likely be somewhat surface level, uncomfortable, and inconvenient."
Still, everyone in this group believes that pushing through any sense of awkwardness and inconvenience is worth any risk.
Young Need Old
For the younger generation, having a mentor helps fill spiritual needs. It provides them with someone who can provide wise counsel. A mentor is someone who can challenge their youthful pride and hold them to a higher standard.
Having an older generation in the church investing into the younger generation provides a sense of belonging and togetherness. The college students sitting at the table all expressed a strong desire and need for guidance from the older generation.
"Pride makes it difficult for college students to open up," Kenny admitted. "But once we open up and receive wisdom, it is something that is sweet and leads us to want more."
Old Need Young
Marty and Al both expressed that they have a desire to invest and see the younger generation succeed.
Marty in particular enjoys seeing these long-lasting relationships form. His experience leading a small group for college students has been “rewarding and beautiful.” Marty also said that being around the younger generation prevents him from growing complacent because he is “challenged by the faith and vision” of the younger generation.
Al said, "I always learn as much from the younger generation as they do from me." Al has also led a college-age bible study and a men’s group, both resulting in relationships that he cherishes. He believes mission trips are an area where intergenerational relationships tend to flourish.
Honest Talk Leads Us Forward
Yes, there are still barriers that stand in the way of relationships: pride, culture, logistics, pace, preparedness of mentors, credibility of mentors, and even whether these relationships form organically or formally.
And yet there is hope, especially when we can sit down with each other and have honest discussions like this. These conversations are often the first step towards understanding where God is leading us: a divine sense of belonging that comes only from an interconnectedness of the generations.
Nick admits that intergenerational relationships are hard. But that's because he believes they are important, “God has to tear down walls," he said. “God things are difficult to achieve.”