Relational Transformation: Bridging generations

Sep 2018    

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, NIV)

Most of us are probably where we are today because, along the way, some people invested in our lives. They were our mentors even if we might not have used that exact term for them. Mentoring is an expression of relational transformation—transforming lives relationally.

This is, of course, nothing new. Jesus’ main way of transforming lives was relational.  Although He ministered to the masses, He invested the most time on the 12 disciples, out of whom He focused on three—Peter, James and John.

Parker Palmer, in his book, On the Brink of Everything, describes his mentors’ impact on him, and the nature of mentoring: “My mentors saw more in me than I saw in myself. They evoked that ‘more’ in many ways—challenging me, cheering for me, helping me understand that failure is part of the deal. Then my mentors opened doors for me; or at least pointed me toward them. When I was willing to walk through those doors, I found purpose and meaning.1

We live in a rare point in history when four or five generations can be found in most churches. The two most influential groups are the Baby Boomers and the Millennials.2 Because of good healthcare, Boomers are living longer than previous generations did and are still engaged in our organisations and institutions. Millennials will be the largest group among the present generations.

Each generation is shaped by different forces and often does not understand the others. Many Millennials have left the church because they feel the church leadership—often Baby Boomers—misconstrues them.  There is, thus, a pressing need for the church to help the older generations understand and mentor the younger ones.

We also live in a time when the young have easy access to information through the Internet and do not look to the older ones to do so. But they still need mentors who will both show the way and inspire them.

Unfortunately, many older adults were never mentored when they were young and are reluctant to do it. They resort to simply telling their mentees what to do. There also seems to be a preference for staging large events. These are impressive and good for inspiration and instruction, but they do not provide the relational context for mentoring.

Churches that are serious about mentoring must provide teaching and training to help those who are willing to serve as mentors. What is at stake is not just our churches losing our young adults—it is critical to pass the faith to future generations.


1 Parker Palmer, On the Brink of Everything (Oakland, CA: Barrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018), 34.

2 Baby Boomers are typically defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, and Millennials between 1977 and 1994.

Tan Soo Inn, together with his wife Bernice, ministers through Graceworks (, a publishing and training consultancy committed to promoting spiritual friendship. His favourite movie is Star Wars: Episode IV and he has been supporting Arsenal Football Club since 1971.

Picture by Tom Wang/


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