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Anne Zaki on New Ideas for Bridging Intergenerational Gaps

November 9, 2019

The World Evangelical Alliance recognizes that effective holistic discipling today must be intergenerational, integrating the wisdom of experienced leaders with the perspective and voice (and superior digital skill) of the younger generation. At the WEA’s General Assembly on Friday (November 9), Anne Zaki, a social psychologist and assistant professor at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, provided a thorough primer on how to address this issue in the context of Christian discipleship.

Zaki reviewed the characteristics of today’s five living generations—traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (millennials), and Gen Z—while reminding her listeners not to stereotype by generation since every individual is unique. She then discussed the implications of generational trends for Christian discipling.

Zaki explained that generational cohorts are shaped by historical events, but how they are shaped can depend on geography. For example, the humanitarian crisis at the Mexico-U.S. border is affecting millennials in the U.S. quite differently from those in Guatemala; heightened airport security has made Westerners feel more secure but has caused Arabs to feel threatened.

Analyzing prominent trends in global culture, Zaki noted how each one presents both blessings and curses. For example, the telephone and video calling made interpersonal communication more intimate than letter writing by transmitting voice tone and facial expressions, respectively, but smartphones have returned us to a new form of heavily content-based communication. “Our smartphones may be growing smarter, but our communications are getting dumber,” she said.

Similarly, personalization enables us to have services tailored to our needs but eliminates shared experiences; having a plethora of choices can add convenience but can also make young people susceptible to skillful marketing campaigns; and rapid availability of what we want brings instant gratification but can also lead to impatience and rage when something doesn’t arrive or occur as quickly as desired.

Zaki observed that the trend toward rapid fulfillment of needs poses a particular problem for discipling, since spiritual maturity cannot be achieved overnight.

“Emotional intelligence cannot be microwaved,” she insisted. “A sense of belonging is best achieved in intergenerational settings.” Zaki emphasized the difference between being multigenerational (which she defined as various generations being together in the same space but not interacting with each other) and intergenerational.

To achieve interaction across generations, Zaki proposed a model of mutual mentoring, recognizing that there are some areas (most obviously, modern technology) where older members of the church need to learn from their younger colleagues.


Zaki offered a compelling interpretation of Jesus’ parables of the new garment and new wineskins in Luke 5. “Jesus is concerned for both the new and the old,” she asserted. “He wants to preserve both. The tension is not between old and new, but between old and renew. If the old is willing to be renewed, it can have a new usefulness—just as old wineskins could still be used to hold water that won’t ferment. Jesus doesn’t want the old damaged; he wants to put it to a proper use in a new time and circumstance.”

If that situation can be achieved—with young and old humbly learning from each other—the future of the church will be much brighter.


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