Why understanding is more valuable than agreement… – Jeremy Austill

The last couple of days in my social media timelines have been an interesting peek at a living, breathing sociology experiment. When President Trump colorfully weighed in on the tension of the NFL and the National Anthem, lines were drawn and sides were taken. I scrolled and observed. I considered weighing in. I even typed out a blog post and then hit delete because ultimately, protecting relationships is more valuable to me than offering an opinion. Instead of writing, I read. I listened with my eyes and heard with my mind. I considered. I prayed. I internally asked questions and challenged my own thinking. I find myself this morning, essentially disregarding the topic of NFL/National Anthem and honing in on what I feel is a more valuable dynamic on display. Allow me to establish the parameters.

Admittedly, my social media experience, especially Facebook, is skewed. The majority of my friends list are white, southern and predominantly evangelical (with a heavy Pentecostal leaning). Therefore, I know this is not a comprehensive reflection. I would say on Facebook, my age (39) is probably the median age of my friends list whereas on Instagram and Twitter I am interacting with a younger crowd. I will use my age as a line of demarcation between “generations”. This comes as no shock, but those under 40 years of age tend to think differently than those over 40 years of age. The wider the age gap the more unique the differences. With all of this established, below are a few observations on generational differences.

**Please note these are generalizations. There are always those who do not fit the generalization. Also, these are not comprehensive but simple, quick thoughts.

1. The older age group places high value on institutional loyalty. The younger age group trends toward institutional skepticism.

2. The older age group tends to value the institution more than the individual. The whole takes priority over the parts. The younger age group tends to value the individual more than the institution. The parts take priority over the whole.

3. To the older age group, issues are more definitive. To the younger age group, issues are more ambiguous.

4. The older age group trends more frequently to right & wrong, black & white and yes & no. The younger age group gravitates more frequently toward subtleties, things being gray and maybes.

My intent in pointing out these different thought processes is not to label one correct and the other incorrect. Nor am I posturing on one side more than the other. There are positives and negatives found on both sides of each point of difference. Sometimes things are black and white and sometimes they are not. Sometimes you must place the institution above the individual and sometimes you must do the opposite. My bigger concern is how we relate to one another. 

I am a member of the Assemblies of God (AG) fellowship. Within the fellowship there is a palpable tension between generations. Occasionally it is voiced, but more often it flows as an undercurrent affecting decisions, policy and harmony. I feel comfortable in saying this tension is not unique to the present day iteration of the AG, but rather, is a pressure as old as time. I don’t know if it will ever fully fade because it’s understandable that different life experiences create different perspectives. Where it becomes problematic is when we are so busy defending our position and justifying our thought processes that we become incapable of hearing and receiving.

The truth is, we all have a world view shaped by our experiences, geography, affluence, poverty, parents, race, church affiliation and a myriad of other influences. The lens over my eyes through which my world view is filtered is multi-layered. Some of those lenses are beneficial and others are detrimental. One of the primary functions of Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is to help in the removal of filters that cause us to see Jesus, the world and specific situations poorly. When submitted to God’s word and committed to walking with Holy Spirit, we enter a journey of ever improving perspective. However, along the way we would be wise to offer grace to those around us and temper our frustration when their perspective is not synced with our own. Why? Because their walk through the years on this earth has shaped their thinking and view. And much of their perspective is inherited, thrust upon them with little choosing of their own.

My heart’s desire is to see older and younger generations sit across the proverbial table and share their story. Share in the sense of telling their life account and share in the sense of partnership and camaraderie. We are frequently so focused on making our point and hedging the narrative that we fail to realize there is a meaningful reason why the person in your Facebook comment section is so frustrated. Can I speak to the world in which I have a voice, the Assemblies of God?

To my Millennial friends (and the up and coming “Generation Z”), there are reasons older generations have “brand loyalty”, place a premium on the institution and live with definitive ideas on issues of the day. They were children of a different era, raised by parents with particular ideals in a society with different tensions. They are not wrong. They have a lens difficult for you to comprehend because you lack context. 

To my GenX and Boomer friends, there are reasons why younger generations are hesitant with institutions, are comfortable in gray waters and are less definitive/dogmatic in their ideals. They were children of a different era, raised by you in a society much different than the one familiar to your childhood. They are not wrong. They have a lens difficult for you to comprehend because you lack context. 

Agreement is not always attainable, and really isn’t necessarily the goal. Understanding often is better than agreement. Contending for agreement routinely propels us to insulate ourselves, fortify walls and make assumptions when invariably, total agreement cannot be reached. Understanding allows us to breathe the same air with empathy and compassion. Understanding allows for journeying together. Understanding creates room for giving the benefit of the doubt and leading with grace. Certainly some issues are of such great importance that agreement is a non negotiable. However, this is not applicable in most scenarios. In most cases, the demand for agreement draws a line in the sand and makes the death of partnership an inevitability. Understanding mediates in a way that preserves relationship, partnership and fellowship perpetually. Understanding permits walking together for an extended time, growing in admiration, respect and affection.

When is the last time you legitimately sat across the table from someone of a different era and heard them? Asked questions? Listened for understanding? All the while disarming your need to defend your ideological turf? In life I have learned, in most tense situations I am usually both wrong and right. To walk humbly with God is to acknowledge that possibility and submit to its probability.

Here is another article I wrote on generational challenges.

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