My head started spinning when my daughter-in-law posted an article on her Facebook page called Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials. As a boomer I am still trying to understand Gens X and Y and now they tell me Gen Z is totally different.
My second thought (after reflecting on how much I don’t know about Gen Z) was, “Oh, the implications for the leaders we are training in other parts of the world!” Let me explain.
Sociologists tell us Western culture has accelerated since the mid-18th century. But consider the whiplash effect experienced by our brothers and sisters in the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, living in cultures seemingly bent on catching up in just a few decades. Change has rapidly become their new constant, a disrupting tsunami washing across all continents.
An African family of three generations could consist of functionally illiterate, almost Stone Age grandparents, a generation of professionals living in Paris and another generation somewhere between the two. In previous centuries, each generation adopted – wholesale – the values and livelihoods of their parents. Now succeeding generations, brought up in an accelerated context, develop values and priorities in distinct contrast to those of their parents. People groups that previously gave little thought to life beyond their local borders find themselves buffeted by cultural forces emanating from halfway around this shrinking world.
Fittingly, it was my daughter-in-law’s Facebook post which prompted me to try to get ready for Gen Z. (Does babysitting my grandchildren count?) As a child in Africa, it took two weeks for us to learn of the death of my own grandmother by way of a telegram relayed from continent to continent and handed off to a bicycle courier who made the day-long trip in hopes of a gratuity upon delivery. Things have changed.
Reflect for a moment on the complexity of equipping church leaders across such diverse generations. In cultures which defer to older generations, patriarchal church leaders understandably feel threatened by a sophisticated, more educated younger generation; they may have little idea how to mobilize, let alone evangelize, members of that seemingly strange generation. In cultures where women are not considered to be “of age” until they’re 40, highly capable young women hesitate to step out and lead other women.
This tsunami of generational change reminds me again that one size does not fit all when it comes to training church leaders. In order to equip leaders overseas, we must understand the extent of change impacting a given culture and work together to develop ministry tools to deal with change yet to come.