Grant Skeldon: The Power of Intergenerational Ministry—Part 2

When different generations work together for the health of the church it’s a beautiful thing.

Don’t miss Part 1 of our interview, where Grant Skeldon talks about churches having a new scorecard to reach millennials and the importance of mentoring and intergenerational ministry.

As I was reading your book, the word “reconciliation” came to mind. Generational resentment is mutual. A young man I know recently said, “It’s like the boomers borrowed the car of America with a full tank and brought it back dented and empty.” Across nearly every metric, boomers enjoyed unprecedented entitlement and security—yet they blame those younger than they are for “disrupting” deeply broken systems. With much of this simmering under the surface, don’t we have to speak to some hard truths to really move forward effectively between generations?

Yes. Behind the scenes I’ve begun to lead small retreats of radically diverse young Christian leaders in their 20s or 30s. I have an affinity for young Christians working in culture and influencing culture. We often talk about reconciliation in terms of race, but it applies to generations too. When that happens it’s usually because of shared experiences.

It all comes down to relationship. If you really want reconciliation, you need to have empathy and compassion for people who don’t look like you. Have dinner. Get to know their family. Invite them over. Slow down with them for a minute. Really talk.

Fair enough. What are some of our biggest excuses for neglecting discipleship?

From older generations, “I don’t have time” or “I don’t feel qualified” or “I’m afraid I’m not living a life that I’m proud of a younger person seeing.” In that sense, discipleship is great accountability for older generations.

From younger generations? Busyness. The young person has to be hungry enough for this relationship to prioritize it, and move their life around to fit the older person’s schedule.

What do you say to an older person who just feels like they can’t fit discipleship into their schedule?

If you’re really saying to someone, “Come, follow me,” then you’re not adding another event to your calendar. You’re including someone in your calendar. That’s discipleship.

What are millennials looking for in a mentor?

Often, a parent figure or an older person in a healthy marriage. We are a generation hugely impacted by the divorces of boomers. Authenticity, as well. People in my generation are extremely attracted to figures like Francis Chan and Bob Goff or Beth Moore. It’s not because of the speaking or events or books. It’s about being honest and raw and real. We think, Man I want to live like that when I get older. What is that going to require of me today?

Sometimes, too, it’s specific mentorship in a skill or craft that they want to practice. Many of us haven’t found our careers yet, or are still growing in them.

What’s one myth many older Christians have about connecting with younger believers?

That they must be “relatable”—hip or cool or relevant. The worst thing you can do is to get a tattoo or skinny jeans or a cooler worship band to try and connect. This generation has been marketed at by older people their whole lives. They are really good at sniffing out when someone isn’t genuine.

Don’t look for tips and tricks. There’s no shortcut for how to reach the next generation. Our job isn’t to be relevant; our job is to make disciples. Those disciples will be more relevant than we could ever be.

Many of the problems we face today are really problems of the status quo—whether they’re economic, environmental, religious or political. How does a young person know when to ignore the advice of older generations—perhaps because it got us into this mess? How do we glean wisdom without internalizing their mistakes?

We all need grace and patience with each other—old to young and young to old. None of us has arrived—not boomers, not Gen X, not millennials. We are to follow our mentors as they follow Christ. They are trying to become more like Jesus. We need to remove the burden of being perfect before we begin to teach others. We just need to be a step ahead. Not perfect.

I define discipleship as “frequently following someone who is spiritually a step ahead of you.” I say “frequently” because it is about making this a life. It’s not as simple as following a curriculum or memorizing a book.

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When I ask, “Do you feel qualified to disciple someone?” people usually will say no. But if I say, “Do you have someone younger you feel like you’re spiritually a step ahead of?” the answer almost always is yes.

That means we’re ready to follow Christ, even if we stumble. The simple beauty of that gospel looks very attractive to a generation that has seen the portrayal of “perfect” Christianity break down. Older generations can say, “God’s perfect, but he still loves me even when I fall over and over. You’ll fall too, but I’m going to try to help you fall less than I did.” One of the greatest gifts you can give is letting other people learn from your mistakes.

Ten years from now, what would you dream for the church?

That we measure and normalize discipleship in the church. I want it not to be odd. I hope that we wouldn’t be wowed by people doing discipleship. Instead, I hope that it’s literally what they expect of Christian leaders.

I don’t have the market cornered on this conversation. I’m not saying I have found the way to do it. I’m listening. I’ve spent a lot of time in serious thought and in prayer and looking at the work, and I found a way that has been effective. (I discuss this in more detail in the book.)

What’s our first step in normalizing discipleship?

Well, at a church level, measuring. Our models really won’t change until we understand where we are.

Tied to that is simply being clear about what discipleship is and the part it plays in our churches. You’ll know you’ve hit a milestone when you’ve been so clear about what discipleship is and why it’s important that you can get 100 people in your church to go into 100 separate rooms and give the same answer to the question, “What is our discipleship strategy at this church?” It doesn’t have to be a completely common language, but we must have a common goal.

We have to consider that we may have asked people to do something without really giving them any idea what it looks like.

I struggle with the fact that no business would ever get away with how careless the church is about this central mission. Tesla knows exactly how many cars they sold. Chick-fil-A knows exactly how many sandwiches go out the door each day. But go to a church and ask about their disciple making …

And it’s central! We weren’t called to start small groups or even to plant churches. Both of those things will happen—if disciples are made.

A church of strong disciple makers is resilient too. It’s not, when built around a single person. That habit isn’t healthy and will catch up with us. It’s not a healthy situation if a church lives or dies because of one person.

But unfortunately, you don’t usually get invited to conferences for being a great discipler. It’s about being a great communicator or whatever. When younger people come to me asking for my input, it’s usually about being a better speaker. Why? Because that gets more points in the church.

So, looking ahead?

I want to encourage people. I’m not trying to make anyone mad. It’s very hard to read the Bible and see story after story of discipleship, and then so often the church acts like it’s not in there. I mean, we’re losing a lot of the next generation. They don’t care about a newer or better church marketing event. That was never the game plan. Jesus focused on the Twelve, not the 5,000. For a long time I felt like in order to be a great Christian leader you had to be a great speaker, leading your own church.

I once had a mentor tell me, “What you count and what you celebrate creates your culture.” We celebrate the gift of speaking more than the gift of pouring into generation after generation.

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As the years keep passing, we should actually stop talking so much about millennials and start talking about Gen Z. The concern we should have with millennials is not just how to reach them, but how to train them, how to leverage them, how to send them into action. Millennials are going to have to disciple the next generation in what may be one of the most difficult spiritual climates in history.

Talk for a moment about the unique gifts of millennials to rise to that challenge—we are the Great Disruptors after all.

Yes! Fresh energy. Excitement. We thrive in the challenge of the new and unfamiliar. We adapt fast and are used to traveling lightly in a much more difficult environment than our parents ever had to navigate here in America. There’s a reason why church plants attract young people. We are about mission and change, something new and fresh. But it’s not just novelty—we also long to be part of something big, where we have responsibility. That fresh perspective and energy can be poured into new things—but it can also restore and revive old ones.

Established churches can be revitalized with some of this new blood, new energy and new perspective. When young people go all in with established churches, it’s a really beautiful thing. To see that marries the best of both worlds—the resources of older Christians with the passion of the young.

As we wrap up, what fresh idea is on your mind as you continue to encourage the church?

There’s a verse that’s been encouraging me recently—for boomers, millennials or any Christian as they train the rising generation. It’s where Jesus says that his disciples will do “greater things” than he has. Why is there generational tension or indifference? Often I believe it’s because older generations are insecure. They’re afraid that this verse is true. I’m not sure many of us really do want the next generation to do greater things than we did. They might do things in a different way. They might mess up what we did. That can be scary.

But we need to sincerely want the success of those younger than we are. I once was speaking on a panel at a large event. They sat me next to a 19-year-old kid—about a decade younger than I am. He has been doing these evangelistic crusades globally. Just out of high school! This kid was talking about the “next generation,” and I’m thinking, Wow. He’s doing way more than I did at that age. And even I have to say, “Do I make this about me, or do I want to help that guy get farther faster than I could ever have gone?”

I once heard David Platt say something to this effect—that we all want to raise Jesus’ name. The problem is that many of us internally want our name to rise with his.

Think of Jesus—he sincerely wanted his followers to do greater things than he did. Or think of David. Saul gave one of the biggest responsibilities ever to this young guy. David didn’t seem qualified or equipped to fight a giant. He literally wasn’t even in the military, from what we understand. But Saul allowed him to face the giant. I think that’s one of the biggest things that Saul ever did. No one gives him credit for it. He gambled everything on the next generation, and it worked and it was massive. If only he’d been OK with David’s success.

Israel won because of what this guy did, and it only went bad after Saul saw his reputation pale next to David’s name. Do boomers and Gen Xers want millennials to do greater things for the kingdom than they did? Or are they trying to hang on to the credit? That’s not going to work. We know Christ is going to get it all in the end.

We’re on the same team. All of us.

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