I first realized my calling to vocational ministry when I was 17 years old. I was standing in a youth service, worshipping and asking God to lead someone (older, wiser, and much better at being a Christian than me, of course) to speak at a weekly outreach I had started leading with a friend at my high school. A small voice suddenly whispered to me, “Why not you?”
At the time, I thought there were plenty of reasons why I couldn’t do it (speak at our outreach and pursue ministry in general). However, by taking a risk and doing the former, my courage and conviction for the latter was formed. The key was that I didn’t do it alone. The presence and contribution of several older leaders who served our high school outreach during this time were key for me. There was a local lead pastor who would faithfully show up with home-cooked meals from his church for our lunchtime meetings. There was also a ministry team of young adults who were granted permission to come in and play music for us.
I don’t think I was seasoned enough in ministry to fully appreciate just how significant their contribution was to our outreach, or to me personally. However, when I look back, I can see just how impactful their feedback, encouragement and support were as we led our very first ministry. We stumbled upon a dynamic that worked, seemingly by accident—but with God, of course, there are no coincidences. I believe that our team dynamic worked well because of a key value in our interactions: hospitality.
Hospitality in the Bible is fundamentally about providing a “space into which people are welcomed, a place where unless the invitation is given, the stranger would not feel free to enter.” To reduce it to a term that describes the coffee and cookies that are put out for Sunday morning services is to deprive it of its full, wonderful character as an expression of the gospel because, as Paul writes in Romans 15, we are to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed [us]” (Romans 15:7, ESV).
Many leadership articles or journals will refer to intergenerational collaboration as a strategy or tactic; very few describe it as a crucial expression of Christian hospitality, even though that is fundamentally what it is. As Western society becomes increasingly fractured and divided by the lines of generation, gender, politics and more, it is crucial that the church recover the intentional fostering of healthy relationships across the generations as an act of radical hospitality. By shifting our conviction on this from strategy to hospitality, it is possible for us to foster intergenerational collaboration in our churches (and in our denomination) in a more genuine and organic way.
So how should hospitality shape our thinking about relationships between the generations? At the bare minimum, it means we must make room. For seasoned leaders, it means inviting younger voices into leadership spaces where they may never have imagined themselves being welcomed in. It means identifying their God-given gifts and inviting them to serve as board members, project directors, and pastoral staff. It means welcoming younger voices in the pulpit and in committee meetings.
Additionally, part of being a good “host” (to use the language of hospitality) is to help others become oriented in a new space: to graciously lead them in the right direction, answer questions, and help them feel at ease. Think about the last time you were in an unfamiliar place (for example, a new church). Did someone help you find the bathroom, direct you to some coffee, or tell you where to sign your children in? Didn’t that help you feel, at least marginally, more at ease?
It’s the same way when we lead those who are younger. Think about the example Luke leaves for us in Acts 18:24-28. Apollos had already begun preaching, but Priscilla and Aquila are hosts in the sense that they help him get “oriented” toward the right teaching without discouraging him from the act of preaching itself. Mentoring and coaching are hospitable acts; they require the attentiveness and care of an older leader who empowers someone younger to learn and grow while they are becoming oriented in the space of leadership.
Hospitality is required on the part of younger leaders too. We can play a unique role in the church by helping to “reorient” its traditions and practices in the rapidly changing Canadian context. Millennial and Gen Z leaders can breathe fresh life into the church by leveraging their Spirit-led creativity and cultural sensitivity within their roles of leadership and influence in both church and culture. On this point, I’m always struck by the different takes that the writers of Kings and Chronicles have on the same stories of Israel’s history. To me, this is an example of how God often allows His people to tell the same story with a different slant, according to the needs of the people hearing it. The God story we proclaim hasn’t changed, but the needs of the people hearing it have. How can we share the story in new ways—ways that speak freshly and profoundly to the needs of the people hearing it? I believe the answer to this question lies in the insights of the leaders in my generation and younger. If we are willing to help “orient” our communities in the present, the church is full of possibilities and hope for the future.
Those who are younger must also make room in their own lives for the wisdom and perspective of those who have come before them, just as Gen X, Boomer, and Builder leaders need to make space for millennial and Gen Z leaders. Hospitality has been called “The practice of providing a space where the stranger is taken in and known as one who bears gifts.” Leaders who can share the wisdom they have gleaned over the years through success and failure can certainly bear gifts for those of us who are just starting on the journey of ministry. Good hospitality involves learning to receive graciously from others too.
In fact, this is perhaps the most interesting characteristic of hospitality. In early Christian tradition, one of the key Greek words for hospitality is philoxenia: a combination of the terms philo (“love or affection for people connected by kinship”) and xenos (“stranger,” “host” and “guest”). The roles of stranger, host and guest are interchangeable on purpose. This speaks to the mutuality that is at the heart of hospitality. None of us are only ever guests, nor are any of us only ever hosts in the kingdom and mission of God. When we are welcoming people into our lives who are older or younger than we are, we can’t expect to be the only ones receiving, nor the only ones giving. There are valuable insights to be found in the hearts and minds of every Gen Zer, Millennial, Gen Xer, Boomer and Builder—if only we are humble enough to listen.
In a society where the terms “OK Boomer” and “millennial snowflakes” are tossed around with casual condescension, imagine how radical our Christian communities would be if they were known for fostering healthy relationships between the generations. Perhaps, with intentional hospitality in this regard, we could truly demonstrate that we are Jesus’ disciples—through our love for one another.
Elyse Brouwer currently resides in Surrey, B.C., with her husband, Christian. She serves as the connections pastor at Westwinds Community Church, and as a member of the PAOC General Executive. She is currently working on her M.A. in Theological Studies at Regent College.
This article appeared in the April/May/June 2020 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2020 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.