Editor’s Note: The church of our Lord is made up of men and women who are older and younger. Sometimes there can be a disconnect between the generations. It’s natural for one to easier relate to one’s peers within one’s own generation, but this can easily become a stumbling block to the unity between the young and the old which our Lord would have in His church. I taught a young man in one of the Carolina schools of preaching who had graduated high school the year before. One day in class he expressed his frustration about his perception that older brethren were dismissing out of hand any scriptural points he would make in a sermon or devotional due to his youth. As one who started my preaching career while in my twenties, I could relate. On the opposite end, I can also remember in my youth dismissing the insights and counsel of those older than me simply because they were older and thus “were out of touch” and “couldn’t relate” to me.
This generational disconnect between some of our older and younger brethren stands in the way of the church applying the commands and obtaining the benefits of passages like Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Timothy 4:12. To explore this subject further, I’ve asked a Christian mother, Autumn Richardson, and her college-age daughter, Kaitlyn, to share their insights about the different generations within our brotherhood, particularly among older and younger Christian women. What follows are their thoughts. — Jon
Carolina Messenger: Ladies, thank you for being willing to sit down with us and share your thoughts about this important subject. To start off, Autumn, has any older woman in your life done for you what Titus 2:3-5 is commanding them to do when you were a very young Christian and a new wife and mother? If so, how did you react to it? What benefits did it bring to you as a younger woman, wife, mother, and Christian?
Autumn: I have been so very blessed to have had Titus 2 role models throughout my entire life. When I was a teen, a lady named Laura at my home congregation taught our girls’ Bible class and sought out ways to encourage and bless us outside that classroom environment as well. She was in a struggling marriage herself, and the way she lived out the words in 1 Peter 3:1-6 still impacts me today. However, during the times she was trying to have a direct influence on me, I did not always receive it well. Our relationship was great while I was doing good things, but I recall one time in particular when my parents asked her to attempt to “talk some sense” into me because of some bad choices I was making. I was horrified she knew something less-than-perfect about me, so I became very defensive instead of soaking up her wisdom and appreciating her vulnerability in revealing things about herself to me. If I recall correctly, we were sitting in a car in the church parking lot, and I sat with my arms crossed and leaning against the door, just waiting for the word that she was done with me so I could bolt. Looking back, I know that it was my shame making me act that way. I did ultimately heed her advice that night, and I have learned from her example in many ways, but because of my pride in that moment I did not respect her. Thankfully, Laura never held my rudeness in that encounter against me, and she and I still enjoy a great relationship to this day.
When I married, these Titus 2 women, as I’ve always liked to call them, became so much more important to me. When Adam and I first married, I remember the lady whose casserole recipes I always needed and those whose advice I always sought in learning how to host church events in our home. A couple years later, new mentors came into my life as we became parents. Some helped me with things like breastfeeding and sleep schedules while others made sure I still valued my husband and my marriage. We moved several times during our first five years of marriage, and it was always a priority for me to establish a Titus 2 relationship with a lady in the congregation as soon as possible. It was the thing that grounded me, helped me grow, and gave me an outlet when things were not going well. The younger I was, the more I tended to buck or push against the advice I was given, especially when unsolicited. However, I still seek out those relationships now, knowing I have so much more to learn. I think that all goes back to the positive relationship that I had with Laura, my first Titus 2 mentor. Otherwise, I might still be trying to figure everything out on my own.
Kaitlyn: I think it is definitely easier to look back and see who your mentors were. Hindsight is 20/20, and I agree that in the moment it can be difficult to see what a benefit such an amazing woman can be. I don’t think we as kids always know what we need until after we have received or lost it. It’s hard to listen to advice because we often feel attacked, but it is really just our own issues that cause us to feel that way. I really can’t think of a time that I have looked back on the advice someone I respected gave me and regretted listening. Even if I disagreed or went in another direction, I always wish I had listened.
C.M.: Kaitlyn, 1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Let no one despise you for your youth.” Do you believe any in the church or in our society who are older despise you and your peers for your youth? If so, in what ways? How does that make you feel as a young person and as a Christian, especially if it’s coming from fellow Christians who are older? In hindsight, are any of their critiques and stereotypes about the younger generation right? Are any of them mistaken? If so, why?
Kaitlyn: In the letter from Paul to Timothy, the word he uses for “despise” literally means “to think down.” I felt the need to clarify that due to the more modern connotation being more about hating than disregarding.
I often feel overlooked by older generations. A lot of it is just in passive-aggressive comments here and there about how our generation is “so soft-headed” or “stupid little snowflakes” and so on. It makes it very difficult to get people to take you seriously when they are so caught up in the little things we do differently than they did, whether it be what we wear, our phones, or any mention of anything modern. I feel as though we are made to feel shame when we even show a slight interest in the latest fad, like we’ve disappointed them somehow.
It also has a lot to do with the fact that people are often patronizing toward my age group. They pretend to give us credit, or say what they think we want to hear, or tell us how we “just can’t understand” and forget to even listen to what we have to say, often ignoring us completely. They tell us to grow up and become more mature, but when we try to talk about mature subjects we are shot down and no one will help us learn how to have those conversations. So the cycle repeats. Especially as teens, I feel like we are stuck in the middle. No adults want to hang out with us because we’re immature, but no kids want to hang out with us because we’re too mature. Funny how that works, huh?
Adults often get so caught up in reprimanding us and becoming exhausted by us that they forget to hear what we have to say. I mean, everyone who ever changed the world was a kid once, with dreams and plans. We are important, and we deserve a voice. I have occasionally made a comment that was just brushed off, but when an older person made the same comment they were recognized and applauded. We really do think through things. We just need a lot of guidance, and I feel adults feel more compelled to give orders than to give guidance. Teens hate orders. We aren’t soldiers. We aren’t all the same. We don’t all think the same way or want the same things or dream the same dreams or have the same pasts. We aren’t you, either. While we may be similar, and you may see yourself inside of us, we aren’t you. You don’t know our whole story. You have to listen for that to happen, so please hear us.
Autumn: I have definitely been guilty of brushing off you and other young people because it is the easier thing to do. It is much easier to load the dishwasher myself than to train a child to do it correctly. Just like it is so important to train that child anyway to do the dishes, even though it would be simpler, faster, and much less frustrating to do it myself, the same is true with life’s bigger tasks and issues. It is easier to do things myself and not have the hard conversations that stress me out. I certainly have never thought of that as “despising your youth,” but if the term means to “think down,” then that is something I have been guilty of from time to time.
C.M.: Autumn, Titus 2:3-5 commands older women to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to wine, and to teach what is good and train younger women to love their husbands and children, be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and submissive to their husbands so that God’s Word will not be reviled. What efforts do you make to apply the teachings of that passage to your relationship with the younger Christian sisters in your life? Which of these efforts seems to work best? In hindsight, would you do anything differently? When opportunities to teach younger women these things rise, do you find it natural to do or do you have any misgivings or fears about reaching out to the younger generation?
Autumn: I have attempted to live out being the older woman in Titus 2 in a variety of ways. It is not something that comes naturally to me, so I have sought out the help of several tools within the church to facilitate that relationship. I am very involved with the Lads to Leaders & Leaderettes program, whose sole intent is to mentor young people into active service in the Lord’s church. Through this program I am able to teach skills, but it also enables me to spend time with and get to know these girls so they see me as a part of their lives. I also teach the teen girls’ and women’s Bible classes, and I frequently remind both groups of their responsibilities toward one another.
The two primary commands of Titus 2:3-5 to older women are to teach and encourage. Sometimes, probably too often, we do one but not the other. We have some older women who are strong in encouragement because they value friendship or popularity with the younger generations over teaching and modeling truth. Others emphasize teaching in the form of pointing out ways to fix or improve behavior, failing to encourage through positive communication and praise. I believe Paul is expressing a need for balance in this area, similar to what he tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2: “rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.” I remind even the toughest, most hardened girls at our congregation that I love them and am always there to listen if they ever need me, while still teaching the things they need to hear but might not want to hear in Bible class.
My active role in being a Titus 2 woman to younger women and girls has become much more intentional in the past few years, partially because of seeing the outcomes of people I cared very much about who did not have those deep connections. My personal insecurities were what hindered me then, and until recently I never pursued a mentor role in a young girl’s life unless she sought me out. Until I saw how bad things went without a godly mentor present, I did not realize the seriousness of that relationship. It had always been present in my life, and I made assumptions that everyone else had that available to them as well and that those relationships happened organically. That is one of the deepest regrets I have.
Kaitlyn: I think Mom does a great job of being a Titus 2 woman, even though we mess up sometimes. I think there are times in someone’s life where they need more encouragement than they are receiving, and there are times they should be encouraging more than they are. The purpose of Titus 2 women, in my opinion, is to be there for all of those times and to be the level head, the one who can look at it from an outside perspective to help guide you.
C.M.: Kaitlyn, in what ways do you as a young Christian woman work hard to set the believers an example in the ways listed in 1 Timothy 4:12? Do you feel you could improve upon any of them? Have you observed any positive impact in your life or perhaps in the lives of others as a result of working hard to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity”?
Kaitlyn: I have a “loud mouth” and I like to talk about issues, so showing Christ in speech is both my greatest trait and my biggest weakness. I fight for those with no voice. I interact with those younger than me to try to help them. I am respectful. I try to make sure I show Christ in everything I say. I am also a perfectionist and I expect a lot from others, so when they don’t meet my expectations I fall into that deep pit which is gossip. I live and die on the way others view me, so sometimes I lie to hide my faults. I am prideful.
I know I am not perfect, no matter how hard I try to be. Yet I always try to live my life as an example of what a young Christian can look like. I say “can look like” because I know the way my life looks is not the only way a good, young Christian can look. Some are quiet and show their Christianity in being submissive and peacemakers, some are talkers and preachers, some are kind, but we really all are amazing human beings.
Autumn: You got your passion for discussing issues from your parents, so I can empathize with the fact that your speech is your greatest strength and greatest weakness. I can see your growth in that area, I know others can as well. James 3 tells us we will never be able to tame the tongue completely, but we have to keep trying. You set an example for those who are older in so many other ways as well. In speech, you stand up for what is right no matter the cost. In conduct, you gravitate toward people who are underserved, unpopular, and disenfranchised and treat them with grace and respect. You love everyone fiercely and with actions. With regards to your faith, you teach both those older and younger than you and always are ready to give an answer for that belief (1 Pet. 3:15). In purity, you strive to keep a clean conscience, something many your age care nothing about. I believe all of these things have and are having a positive impact on older Christians all around you. IN the same way that we don’t always acknowledge or appreciate our mentors as they teach, older people sometimes realize the power of the younger generation’s example in hindsight as well.
C.M.: Autumn, do you see any ways other Christian women apply Titus 2:3-5 in their relationships with their younger sisters in Christ? As far as you can tell, is this something happening as much as it needs to? If it is, elaborate on how. If it isn’t, what do you see in its place in the relationships older sisters have with the younger women? What suggestions would you make to change it for the better?
Autumn: I see many women who apply Titus 2:3-5 in the church through formal and informal teaching and training, but there is always a need for more. Several recent studies over the last ten years have shown that if teens develop meaningful relationships with adults in their congregations, they are much more likely to remain faithful as adults. I don’t think that is something those of us who qualify as “older” can take lightly. Souls are on the line! We have the opportunity to give young Christians a place to belong in a meaningful way and model the love of Jesus to them. Youth group activities alone can’t do that. Bible classes alone can’t do that. This requires intergenerational interaction, something which is very easy to avoid in many of today’s congregations. Every congregation needs to foster and facilitate opportunities where young and old serve, enjoy, appreciate, and learn alongside each other. Service activities where young and old work on a project together or reach out to the community in some way can provide the soil for these Titus 2 relationships to blossom. Having people into our homes is the easiest way to model the teachings of Titus 2:3-5 to others, because it provides a chance to see it in action as we prepare food, interact with our families, and show hospitality. Teaching from a pedestal of knowledge and experience may look nice but rarely has its desired effect.
Kaitlyn: I don’t think there could ever be “too many” Titus 2 women, but I think that often there aren’t enough. It’s very easy to segregate ages and to stay on our own sides with those we connect with more easily, but it is very much worth the work it takes to come together. I believe both sides will always be better for it. It may be hard. In fact, it probably will be. It may be tiring, but I know it will be worth it.
C.M.: Kaitlyn, how do you believe the church as a whole and your fellow Christians in your own life — both younger and older — could help you as a young Christian woman to set the proper example in the ways listed in 1 Timothy 4:12 so that your youth will not be despised and, more importantly, Christ will be glorified through you?
Kaitlyn: I think the best way is the “Paul, Timothy, Barnabas” method. Everyone in life needs at least one Paul, one Timothy, and one Barnabas. A Paul is someone to whom you look up as a mentor. You watch them in an effort to imitate them because you respect them as wiser and more experienced than you. They are the people you can go to when things are really hard and you need advice. A Timothy is someone who looks up to you. You are their Paul. You should want to guide them, help them succeed, and you enjoy watching them blossom into the great person they can be. You make sure they know they are safe with you and can rely on you for anything. A Barnabas is someone whom you view as an equal in experience, someone you can go to when you need the link that comes from being peers and sharing similar lifestyles. Someone you have fun with and connect to.
If everyone would try to make sure they kept friends on all of those levels — find multiple Timothys to love and aid, Pauls to go to and lean on, instead of sticking only with Barnabases that are easier to empathize with, I think the church would be more united. Young girls could grow knowing they are worth something, and older women could see what we have to offer while sharing what they have to offer. If we would mingle among those who aren’t our peers, the church would learn so much from everyone else and we would be more like family.
We all need each other. We all need to respect each other. That is the first step, respect. Don’t talk to those older than you like they are dumb and close-minded. Don’t talk to those younger than you like they don’t know anything and are all immature know-it-alls. Talk to Timothys like you would talk to Pauls. Give us the benefit of the doubt. Love each other and listen to each other.
Autumn: I couldn’t agree more. We taught you, your brother, and your sister the “Paul, Timothy, Barnabas” model several years ago because it works! That balance of having all three in place is necessary for the growth and unity of the church.
C.M.: Generally speaking, how would you both describe the relationship between older and younger generations in our society and in the church? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this relationship?
Kaitlyn: I don’t think there is much mingling between generations, especially in society. There are very few things that encompass both old and young women. We kind of tend to stay on our own sides. I mean, we even eat at different times than each other, so we barely even see them in restaurants. At church we have separate classes (which have their benefits; I’m not knocking that), youth events which rarely overlap with the older generation, events between the youngest and even the “youth groups” are very rare.
At the same time though, youth in the church generally respect their elders. They try to please them, even though they barely interact. The older generation does try to reach out, I think. I just think they don’t always know how. Because we have grown up in such different worlds, it’s really easy to see all the things that are different and we nitpick at them. Things like fidget spinners manage to cause division. Progress is always going to happen. I believe there are things that should be kept as they are, but I also believe we need to move forward. Jesus brought a lot of social change, so I know it isn’t wrong for things to change. We just have to stop fearing it.
Autumn: I would call the current relationship between older and younger generations strained. If we use tension in relationships as a time for self-reflection rather than judging and blaming, it can be very beneficial. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the norm right now in our highly charged political climate. Satan is using this to hurt our churches by dividing us. Issues that are debated politically in our society often have moral implications, so how Christians respond to those things matters. Yet, how we respond to each other matters too, as people outside the church are watching how God’s people treat each other.
C.M.: What benefits would result within the church if all of the older and younger Christian sisters in the church actively applied Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Timothy 4:12 to themselves and their relationships with each other?
Kaitlyn: There would be so much peace! I mean, imagine if we all respected each other and stopped fighting over silly generational differences! Then we could talk about the real issues and start making change in the world. We can’t unite the world if we are divided.
Autumn: If everyone fulfilled their roles in the church the way Paul describes in these passages, we would have healthier churches, healthier families, and emotionally healthier individuals. Older people valuing and acknowledging those who are younger makes them feel wanted and useful. Younger people listening to the wisdom that comes with age helps them build stronger families and make better decisions. When our congregations are made up of healthy families and individuals, they can devote more time and energy to serving others and reaching out to the lost.
C.M.: Last question. What steps need to be taken by both the older and younger generations within our society and within the church to improve their relationships with each other?
Kaitlyn: We need to stop focusing on the differences and instead expound on the similarities, the best of all being Christ. If the younger generation would realize the older generation is trying to do what is best for us (even if it isn’t always what is best), we could listen and offer our own ideas and solutions so we could talk. We aren’t right all the time, and we need to accept that. We need to have an open dialogue between groups; we could get so much accomplished and we will realize we have much more in common than we think. If the older generation would be more open to what we say, that would change so much. I mean, really listen, hear what we are saying, ask us to clarify if you don’t understand. Just honestly try to see how we think and be willing to see that maybe you were wrong.
Autumn: I think the two verses that Christians of all generations need to remember when interacting with others are Matthew 7:12 and 1 Corinthians 13:7. Both of those verses can help us temper our responses to people we don’t understand or agree with, particular with respect to generational differences. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says that “love believes all things.” Love sees the best in others and gives the benefit of the doubt. This means that when I hear someone younger than me say that they support something I believe is wrong, I don’t automatically assume they have sinful intentions. Instead, I might assume they don’t realize the far-reaching consequences of what they support or that they are naïve about the reality of the situation. Matthew 7:12 then tells us how our interactions should look. Once we assume the best in a person, we can teach, instruct, model, and treat them with dignity and respect — no doubt they way we would want to be treated if someone disagreed with us.
When those of us who are older happen to be in the wrong, we need to own up to that and trust younger Christians to deal with us in this same way. When younger people are corrected by the older, they need to feel and see the love and patience from which that correction comes. When disagreements come that are just differences of opinion, we need to not dismiss or downplay the value of those opinions, whether it comes from a younger or older Christian.
The biggest thing I hear from talking with young girls is that they want older Christians to listen to them. I think, likewise, the older generation feels that the things they say or teach are being mocked and rejected. We can’t listen to people we aren’t spending time with, and we certainly won’t have a foundation of where they are coming from to know how to filter the things they have to say.
C.M.: Ladies, we really appreciate the insights both of you have given to these two passages of scripture and how to improve the generational gap existing to some degree within the brotherhood and our society. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.
Kaitlyn: Thank you! I really enjoyed getting to think so critically about all of this! I hope someone else can glean some information from it as well!
Autumn: I’m so appreciative for the chance to be a part of this very timely discussion for today’s church. Thank you.
Autumn is the wife of Adam and mother of Kaitlyn, Logan, and Macey. She is also the Assistant Director of Distant Learning at Heritage Christian University in Florence, AL. She worships with the Petersville congregation, where she loves teaching women’s classes and working with Lads to Leaders.
Kaitlyn is a freshman communications major at Freed-Hardeman University. She has a passion for mission work, social issues, and mental health awareness.