The Church as the Sandwich Generation

Thursday Re-mix:

When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”

“I will do as you say,” he said.  Genesis 47:29-30

I believe it was Will Rogers who came up with these four stages of life: First we are our parents’ child, then we are our child’s parent, then we are our parents’ parent, then we are our child’s child.  Right in the middle of those stages, there is a life stage, a generation (if you will), referred to as the “sandwich generation”.  It is that life stage where you find yourself not only still parenting your children, but also being a  caregiver to aging parents.  That is where Joseph found himself in Genesis 47-50.  He was a father to two sons born to him in Egypt, while at the same time being called upon to honor his dying father’s heritage.  I am grateful to God that I have two healthy parents and have not quite arrived at that sandwich stage (and I’m not sure either of my parents would ever permit me to), but I can only imagine it is wrought with difficulties and tensions.

three generationsIt seems that having our focus divided between raising a new generation into adulthood and, at the same, honoring an older generation is a real challenge.  Then again, as a church leader you already know that.  The sandwich illustration, you see, is a perpetual life stage for every local church…always raising up new leaders and always loving well those leaders who are aging.

The challenge hits us at virtually every turn in the church.  The tension surfaces in worship, in communication patterns, in fiscal policies, in government issues, in missiology, in community ministry, and in leadership styles.  The demand for effective leadership development in the much-studied but rarely understood generations X, Y, and Millenials in the church has never been higher.  But at the same time, the need for elder care and learning to honor the numerous and now-aging baby boomer generation, looms large in almost every church today.  There simply are no shortcuts.  Just about every church must figure this out and must do the hard things necessary to nurture both ends of the generation spectrum.  In most cases, forsaking either end spells doom for that church.

In some cases, it may mean bringing in a staff member specifically for each end of the adult generation spectrum.  In other cases, it may mean being more assertive in creating community among the generations…genuine Spirit-filled relationships between them.  In still other cases, the real need might be a senior pastor who is adept at loving and shepherding across generational lines.  But in every case it takes intentionality.  It requires creativity and strategic thinking…a plan, if you will.  It will not happen naturally, not in this culture.  It takes thinking and effort and a commitment on the part of your leadership.

So, what about it?  What’s your plan?

© Blake Coffee
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5 responses to “The Church as the Sandwich Generation”

  1. You make a very astute observation. My husband and I have done some thinking and research on how different generations do and could better engage within a Christian community. I don’t think the answer is more staff to minister TO people. Rather, how about building a community in which every person, at any age, contributes valuably to the work and ministry of the church? That’s what mature believers at all stages of life desire. That’s what God created us to do. Of course, that is far easier said than done. Glad to know that someone else is thinking about this!

    1. Great comment, Judy! While adding paid staff is always going to be a case-by-case solution, your solution is for every church in every circumstance. I agree!!!

  2. I agree that it is idea for “every person, at any age to contribute valuably to the work and ministry of a church,” but without leadership to guide all the individuals into a unit of like minds working towards a common goal, I think that ideal is not likely to happen.

  3. This is so true and real for all of us and our churches. I think one of the best answers is to help build close friendships is in the ss classes or circle of six or prayer groups. Depending on a stafff member makes us dependent, instead of taking responsibility for developing strong relationships which take time and effort. The relations pay off for the rest of life and allow you to give and receive love and help. The problem is we go to class,listen, pray and go to worship without any opportunity to share experiences, listen and talk. Raymond

    1. I agree that is an ideal scenario and probably the way it was meant to be, but two thoughts: 1) all too often I’ve seen those small groups become divisive when left without leadership. 2) If we’re using Jesus’ example then He acted as the “leader” while he encouraged and established small group study, worship, and ministry. It just makes sense to me that any group of people (church or otherwise) needs good leadership–not for the purpose of dependence but for the purpose of unifying a diverse group of people and ideas so that everyone, regardless of ability, talent, and/or culture can collaborate as a productive unit.

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