Breaking Down Generational Barriers

Leading More Like Jesus

Michelle Arthur, Arrow Class 29, has written this special 25th Anniversary article with a focus on breaking down generational barriers. This, she says, will promote value for every believer, no matter their age, as a significant member of the body of Christ. This is a great article for church leaders to read and process together. 

Michelle Arthur - Photo 1

Many of us are familiar with the concepts of mentoring and discipleship. However, after nearly a decade serving women in both parachurch and local church contexts, I have experienced hundreds of blank stares when I encourage women to seek mentors and challenge them to become one.

These women say they don’t feel qualified for such a role, despite being long-time believers, faithful church attenders, and regulars at their Bible studies.

A surprising comment by a Bible study leader articulated what may really be going on, “Mentoring is something older women do and we aren’t the older women.”

These words were spoken by a woman in her 50s . . . leading a Bible study of women in their 50s and 60s. They were not interested in one-on-one mentoring and resisted even the idea of small discipleship groups. I was saddened that they were missing out on faith-building, intergenerational friendships and even more perplexed that they were seemingly unwilling to pour into the next generation.

Not long after, I heard Thom Rainer describe the differences between Builders, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials. It was as though a spotlight shone on my recent mentoring conversations. These women weren’t being stubborn or unwilling to serve; they were resistant because their concept of mentoring didn’t jive with their Boomer mindset. When I presented a new idea of “Titus 2 Book Clubs”, with the same discipleship purpose, these women lit up with enthusiastic agreement!

Michelle Arthur - Photo 3


This scenario merely skims the surface of how generational differences and nuances impact our ministries. Each age bracket has experienced different world events and cultural shifts that have shaped how they perceive the world, raise their families, approach their work, and engage in the body of Christ.

Jesus was the master barrier breaker; and integral to his ministry were parables that fit the context of his listeners. Therefore, leading more like Jesus means knowing your audience in order to break down generational barriers. This communication chasm can be bridged when we seek to listen, learn and lead with understanding. The more we acknowledge that other generations are not necessarily wrong, just different in how they think, the more we appreciate their strengths. This enables us to value every believer – no matter their age – as a uniquely significant member of the body of Christ.

In Sticking Points, Haydn Shaw encourages leaders that, “the same generational conflicts that get teams stuck can cause teams to stick together.” Therefore, when faced with generational challenges, let’s be leaders who make every effort to build unity and peace, remembering that we serve one Savior and one Lord (Eph. 3:4-6). In this way, we can lead more like Jesus by breaking down generational barriers to build the kingdom of God for His glory.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Is there someone with whom you experience regular communication challenges or conflict? Spend time in prayer, asking God to show you if a generational difference is causing this roadblock. If so, ask for His help to understand why this person thinks the way they do and begin to humbly rebuild those bridges.
  2. Does your church or organization promote intergenerational relationships, or are most activities age-segregated? How can you nurture valuable discipleship opportunities across various age groups?
  3. Is your leadership stuck because you refuse to seek to understand another point of view? Do you dismiss other generations as either being to ‘set in their ways’ or ‘trying to change everything’? What does it mean in your context to lead like Jesus so every part of the body has the opportunity to play their unique part in furthering God’s kingdom?

Michelle Arthur - Photo 2

Michelle Arthur, Arrow Class 29, is a pastor’s wife who served as Executive Director of Women Alive before her promotion to stay-at-home mom. She is passionate about encouraging discipleship in the church and loves engaging women of all ages in nurturing intergenerational relationships.