When I Stopped Arguing with Old People

You know the feeling when you’re about to lose your mind? The moment that has been compiling for a while and you feel your blood pressure rise? You know, that feeling where you can’t hide it in your face anymore?

Okay, good. Stay thinking about that experience — it will help the narrative to my ‘jumping off the cliff’ story.

The first song of our morning worship had just concluded when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Nevermind the typical awkward moment when your singing (off key) with hands lifted and you’re immediately interrupted (we’ve all been there). An older gentleman, or “old person” as I called them, signaled me to the church lobby.

I knew this was going to be fun. After all our senior pastor was gone, and it seemed like every time he went away everyone always acted just a little bit more crazy.

He put his face in a close uncomfortable proximately to mine — yes, that close — and demanded me to tell the worship team to play softer. This type of problem was the usual occurrence at this time. I told him, in my inside voice, it would be impossible for me to do that with worship already starting and with the sound being controlled on stage.

His next statement was the volcano moment. It was his blood pressure moment. He unloaded a few previous incidents, pointed in my face, and said the real statement he wanted to convey: “You are going to run the old people off. Matt, you know it — they pay the bills. We need to cater to them.”

Message received. Now time for my blood pressure moment. I went off about similar previous incidents, pointed back and said, “Look around. Tell me how many people under 60 are here. If you all don’t change, this church will die and be a Mexican restaurant in three years.”

Yes. I said a Mexican restaurant.

We mutually walked away. The problems were never resolved and we eventually transitioned out of our roles.

Confrontation with an older person was the norm for me, and it led to built up resentment for an entire generation. I put a very small glass ceiling over everyone 60+ and wrote them off as crazy, delusional, and resistant to change.

I spent so much energy and time disagreeing and trying to convince. They did the same thing. We constantly fought a battle with no end result. Neither party intended to change — it was a lose-lose battle.

Over the last year I’ve wondered what if in our conversations with older, or younger people, we don’t have a hidden agenda to make them change but instead gain perspective and be better, more well-rounded people?

Here are some ways I handle conversations with older individuals/church leaders now that I’ve stopped looking to argue.

Listen First

This is a universal principle. Everyone wants to engage with someone who will listen to what they have to say. We all want people to care and interact with us. There’s a time to talk and a time to listen.

A lot of my mistakes in leading people three times older than me was I wanted to change and challenge before listening and understanding. I’ve learned the first step is to listen. Are their stories long and probably fabricated? Absolutely — but are they important to them? Absolutely.

You can’t effectively lead others if you first don’t show them you care — I’m sure John Maxwell said that somewhere.

Understand the Why

Chances are the very perspective or thing you’re trying to change is really significant to that person. It is essential to discover the why — why are they so passionate about it? What experience did they have?

Jon Lindell, pastor of James River Church, told a story about the drastic dress code change at their church. For many years the majority of the individuals wore suits and dressed very business centered. When Lindell shifted this culture, he explained that he and his team talked with those who have been wearing suits for years.

Those people mentioned their fathers and grandparents would dress up and conducted their image at a certain standard as they grew up. When Lindell and his team found out the why, they were able to gain perspective.

Lindell pointed to the culture of their fathers and grandparents. At the time a suit and dress clothes was everyday clothes for their jobs. These people simply wore what they did everyday. So, Lindell proposed — why not do that today?

When both sides understood the why it created a positive environment and understanding.

Take in the Good

We may never dress the same. We may never agree on music. We may look at how the church functions completely differently, but there’s still good to be had. This was something I failed to capitalize on.

As stated, I concluded in my mind that ANYTHING said from someone over 60 was “old fashion, out dated, and not needed.” When we take in the good it demonstrates that I’m not trying to change someone, I’m trying to get better from their experience.

I’ve recently started to engage with an older pastor about different pastoral areas with the hope of becoming a better leader. This pastor leads a church smaller than the one I serve at and his ministry style is vastly different than mine. Aside from our connection to Jesus, there is little similarities, but he has wisdom and experience in areas I’m particularly weak in.

The funny thing? In a recent conversation, he asked my wife and I questions about something his church is working on that he knew little about. He wanted our insight. It works both ways!

There are many other variables that could be discussed through these dynamics, but for surface discussion this is a great place to start. These elements can, and should, be applied with both sides of the communication gap.

While my personal experience engaging with the older generation has been tough, you may be thinking the same thing with the younger generation. Thankfully, there’s beauty in that conversation as well. Here’s all you have to do: listen, understand and take in the good.

I may be a little naive, but I feel like if we can grasp these three elements the gap would begin to shrink, and we would all be more effective leaders and communicators.