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Intergenerational Dialogue

It’s important that as time marches forward and our community ages and grows, we learn to have intergenerational dialogs. There is so much we can gain from one another if we are able to communicate successfully and lovingly.
Read Time: 6 minutes

It can be difficult to effectively communicate across generations, which is unfortunate since the Christadelphian community is filled with individuals spanning five to six generations.

It’s important that as time marches forward and our community ages and grows, we learn to have intergenerational dialogs. There is so much we can gain from one another if we are able to communicate successfully and lovingly.

This article explores five conditions of dialog, as outlined in Catherine Cornille’s “Conditions for Inter Religious Dialogue,” in the context of dialog across generations.1


The first condition of intergenerational dialog is humility, or the acknowledgment of the possibility of growth. Growth requires space. This space is created through the putting away of arrogance and the taking on of a humble attitude: Be of the same mind one toward another.

Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. (Rom 12:16).
In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. (Phil 2:3-4).

We are all constantly learning and growing as brothers and sisters within the body of Christ. Young generations are listening “to advice and accept[ing] instruction, that [they] may gain wisdom in the future.” (Prov 19:20).

Our ability and need to grow in faith, knowledge and love never ends.

This never stops. Even Abraham, at a hundred years old, still had to make room for new understanding when he was told that Sarai would have a child in her old age. When he was told this, he “fell upon his face, and laughed.” (Gen 17:17).

He still had so much to learn and endure even at a hundred years old. Our ability and need to grow in faith, knowledge and love never ends. We must have humility to make space for that growth in others and within ourselves.


The second condition is commitment, or the recognition of one’s own beliefs and opinions. Though we must have humility in dialogs, we also need some commitment to our own thoughts. To have a productive discussion, each party needs to have a healthy grasp of their own position to use as an anchor so they don’t get lost in the sea of different arguments.

In Ephesians 4:14, Paul briefly mentions the need for an anchor of commitment—in this case Christ— lest beliefs float in the breeze: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”

The Bible often uses natural phenomena as metaphors for intangible concepts (e.g., milk and meat for superficial and in-depth knowledge (Heb 5:12- 14)). Another example of this is the connection of wisdom with old age and ignorance with youth.

This dichotomy can help obtain a basic understanding of the evolution of knowledge with time, but—like most dichotomies—it can be dangerous to lock these ideas into this metaphor alone, a mistake that can occur in intergenerational dialog.

We must have humility in dialogs but also commitment to our own thoughts.

The assumption that older generations are wise and younger generations are ignorant can create a power imbalance during a discussion. It is easy for youth to immediately accept elders’ positions since they are “older and wiser,” but this hinders the youth’s own commitment and contribution.

They risk falling into the trap of being tossed to and fro in every wind of interpretation. Elihu, for example, in Job 32, gave Job and his friends time to speak but was not persuaded by them. He states that he “had waited till Job had spoken, because they were elder than he.” (v. 4).

He then answered and said,

“’I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you mine opinion. I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom… Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.’” (vv. 6-7, 9).

Elihu found that the positions of these elders were not in alignment with his understanding of God. He challenged them and the idea that old is inherently wise and young is inherently foolish. He had a sense of commitment to his position.2


The third condition is interconnection, or the recognition of commonalities between the parties of a dialog. In the most basic sense, we are all connected in that we are all human. We all bear the same nature.

We are all growing brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter our age:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Cor 12:12-14).

Some of us are older eyes and some of us are younger hands. But we are all interconnected in the body of Christ.


The fourth condition is empathy, or the effort to understand the other party and their ideas in a dialog. Empathy means giving the other party’s side the time of day, giving their arguments time to breathe and develop before making a judgment. Trying to understand the perspective of the other party in a dialog is crucial to constructive engagement.

Generalized assumptions about one another based on age live in the back of many of our minds.

Omitting this condition can lead to strawman responses and other fallacies. To effectively meet the condition of empathy, it’s important to identify and remove the barriers between generations in communication.

It is common today to speak about other generations as stereotypical monoliths.

If you’re a Baby Boomer, you’re technologically inept; you’re out of touch; you’re entitled.

If you’re a Millennial, you waste money on avocados and plants; you’re lazy; you’re entitled.

If you’re Gen-Z, you don’t know how to live outside your phone; you have too short of an attention span; you’re entitled.

Like it or not, generalized assumptions about one another based on age—even those as condescending as these—live in the back of many of our minds. We’re constantly exposed to propaganda categorizing others.

We may even have assumptions about others based on the imagery and figurative language we are exposed to, as described above with the idea that the old are wise and the young are ignorant. This contrast between aged wisdom and youthful ignorance is a beautiful metaphor that Scripture uses in poetry and rhetorical letters to describe the growth of knowledge.

But it can be turned into a universal truth upon which assumptions emerge. Just as knowledge evolves over time, language is constantly developing. There are words and phrases used decades ago that some today wouldn’t recognize. There are also words and phrases used decades ago that mean something completely different today.

It’s important to keep in mind the potential for these differences when communicating intergenerationally. If one party can’t understand the other’s position, perhaps there’s a linguistic breakdown.

Reflective listening— repeating back the other party’s meaning—can aid in catching when this kind of miscommunication occurs. There are too many specific assumption and communication barriers to detail in this article. It would be beneficial for each of us to take a step back and evaluate our assumptions of others, generationally and beyond.


The fifth and final condition for intergenerational dialog is hospitality, or the consideration of the other party’s position in dialog. A physical aspect of hospitality is promoting positive body language and being conscious of gestures.

Constructive dialog can be instantly damaged by a simple movement such as rolling eyes, a shaking head or a grimace.

Instead, nodding along shows interest and empathy, even if you disagree with the position of the other party. This creates a welcoming space that encourages dialog and honesty.

The shared understanding that one’s opinions and interpretations won’t necessarily be dismissed but heard and considered is critical to constructive, healthy dialog. Hospitality in dialog involves listening, understanding and processing each side.

In meeting this condition, we hope to “maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4:16).


Intergenerational discussions are inevitable within the Christadelphian community, so it’s beneficial to keep in mind ways to aid that communication:

  • Having humility and acknowledging the potential for growth.
  • Being committed to your beliefs enough to contribute and be heard.
  • Recognizing each other’s interconnection as brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • Having empathy and trying to understand the other side’s position.
  • Having hospitality and welcoming other perspectives.

It’s a balancing act to uphold these conditions during dialog.

Hopefully, as we all try to replace negative or untrue assumptions about other generations with loving and honest efforts to understand each other, we can embrace the spirit of edification and help one another “run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Heb 12:1).

Sarah Hill,

Austin Leander, TX

1 Cornille, Catherine. “Conditions for Inter-Religious Dialogue.” The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Inter-Religious Dialogue, 2013, pp. 20–33.
2 Bro. Andrew Bramhill discusses this issue further in his articles in “An Appeal to the Older Generation” and “An Appeal to the Younger Generation”, The Christadelphian, 2019, pp. 98-99, 146-147

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