OK Boomer

I came of age during the Vietnam War. That pretty much makes me a boomer. I fit into the definition of that generation of people. When we were teens we first heard the phrase “Generation Gap.” It was a reference to a difference in opinions and beliefs between youth and their parents and grandparents. My own experience, however, didn’t bear out much that was a gap. I was close to my parents and as I entered my teens and young adult years, my parents were very supportive of me. I was a very opinionated young adult. I spoke out and was quick to argue over my opinions and beliefs. I did not, however experience conflict with my family. Sometimes it did seem that there were some older people in our church and in the community who didn’t seem to “get it” when it came to certain beliefs and political positions, but inside of our family, I felt like we could communicate and support one another. That didn’t mean that we always agreed. We were arguers. We debated at the dinner table. My brother who is closest to me in age and I had some intense arguments during your late teens and twenties. I did not feel, however, that we were dismissed or ignored by our parents. They listened to our ideas. This was true of other elders in our extended family. There was always respect for the opinions of others even when there was not agreement. I can remember some fairly complex arguments with uncles and cousins. Describing the relationships in our family as a generation gap, however, didn’t make sense. We’ve always had some pretty left-wing elders and some pretty right-wing young people in our family. And we have plenty of opinions that fall on a wide spectrum in every age cohort. My father an my uncle didn’t agree on much, but they knew that they were family and that they would be seeing each other often.

I never suffered from the generation gap. And I have yet to receive an email, text or social media post with the phrase, “OK Boomer!” I know about the phrase because it is hard to escape some articles about it. The BBC, which is pretty much a boomer news source has had several articles talking about the phenomenon. A 25-year-old New Zealand politician made headlines in her country for using the phrase in parliament when and older lawmaker interrupted her speech on climate change.

I suppose that there have been, in ever generation, people who become entrenched in their ideas and ways of life and others who challenge that entrenchment. It is fairly easy to find legitimate criticisms of the decisions and lifestyles some of the people my age have chosen. We have, so far, proven ourselves to be ineffective at solving some major problems such as income inequality, global climate change and racial injustice. It isn’t that we don’t care, but rather that as a generation, we have been unwilling to give up on ideas such as continual growth. We seek lives of comfort instead of making sacrifices for future generations.

One of the changes in the church over the span of my career has been a shift in the value of experience. When I began my career, I was advised by a trusted colleague to go to a small church and gain several years experience before applying for another job. The common wisdom is that those who wanted to serve in larger congregations or in Conference or national church positions needed to have experience in a variety of different local congregations in preparation for those roles. Somewhere in the span of my working the general opinion of that has shifted. Different size congregations have different leadership needs and specialized ministries such as Conference or denominational work have specialized skill sets. And youth and enthusiasm have become highly valued commodities in the marketplace for ministers. Congregations and Conferences alike seek younger leaders. This may have something to do with a decrease in the number of people entering the ministry as a first career. Whatever the reason, we have seen younger ministers assume roles that once were considered to be at or near the “top of the ladder.”

From my point of view this has not been a negative thing for he church. Over the years I’ve witnessed enough incompetence and poor job performance from people who are middle aged to know that the ability to do a job well is not the possession of a single generation. And I have enjoyed the energy and leadership of younger colleagues. It is true, however, that I have not personally suffered in any way from the younger generation of leaders. I’ve never failed to get a job because a younger person got it. I’ve had a career path that has been rich in meaning for me and have not faced barriers that others have avoided.

I do, however, have a sense that the time is coming for me to step aside and allow others to move into some of the positions I hold. I don’t worry much about the congregation I serve. It is a wonderful and healthy congregation and it will seek leadership that is appropriate for the next steps in its history. I do, however, worry about some of the volunteer organizations in which I am active. I don’t see younger people stepping up to do the work that our generation has done and is doing. I am active in several organizations where young people are scarce in the pool of volunteers. Habitat for Humanity, for example, has plenty of young employees, but few young volunteers. And the young people who do volunteer tend to give smaller portions of their time than the older volunteers. I understand that they have busy lives and that they don’t have the luxury of time that some of us older folks have, but I’m still working full time and I have always felt that volunteering is an essential calling on top of my regular work schedule. Sometimes I wonder if the next generation will rise to the challenge of volunteerism.

Then I think, “OK Boomer.” It might just be time for me to step aside and allow new leadership to emerge.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!