Midlife Adults: Building trust
Midlife Adults: Building trust

Trust is a key attribute for midlife adults

This post by Jim Merhaut is part of a series inspired by the Seasons of Adult Faith Formation book, symposium, and issue of Lifelong Faith Journal. You can read the whole issue here.

Building trust is a key to success with Generation X. They will not be loyal to you because of the office you hold. You will have to earn their trust and respect. Healthy doses of organizational transparency and interpersonal honesty will take you far in the Gen X world.

Your level of ministry competence is also very important. Gen X will not initially trust that you know what you are doing, but when you display your competence regularly, you will gain their respect.

Organizational transparency is a key to success with Gen X. These adults have seen the moral collapse of so many institutions, including their own families, that they are always expecting you to let them down.

They have been taught by the school of hard knocks to suspect that something is being hidden, something that is going to sting them. They are always waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop.

Your role is to prove them wrong. Ministry leaders need to make extra efforts to show Gen X adults that everything is being done above board. There are no backroom deals being cut.

Turf wars are exposed and squelched immediately. Financial records are available for anyone to review. Planning processes are inclusive and dialogical.

There are no topics of discussion that are off the table. Questions are asked out of authentic curiosity rather than with a pre-determined answer in mind. They are not impressed with trickery and fantasy; rather, they want authenticity.

Interpersonal honesty is a general leadership trait that is important for all ages and generations, but Gen X at midlife is poised in a unique way to hunger for interpersonal honesty.

Honesty is the #1 character trait that people around the world want in their leaders. It is something that all leaders should practice, but church leaders working with midlife adults who happen to be Gen Xers  have several reasons to make honesty their best and top policy.

Honesty builds trust, which is something Generation X experienced in unusually broken ways in their lives. The government broke their trust. The church broke their trust. The corporate world broke their trust. The media broke their trust. Their parents broke their trust.

They will not trust anyone who is not completely honest with them. What Boomers will forgive, Gen X will expose. What Gen X will expose, Millennials will quietly walk away from.

Gen X will fight back if you break trust with them through dishonesty or broken promises. Gen X, growing up in the shadow of the Boomers, expects to fight to be noticed and nothing brings out their fight more powerfully than dishonesty and broken trust.

The threat of exposure and the fear of war with midlife adults are not the only, nor the most important, reasons to be honest with them. Midlife adults are at a point in their life when they are ready to pull back from the hyper activity of earlier years and settle into the warmth and slower pace of intimacy.

Honesty builds interpersonal trust and sets the tone for deeply intimate relationships, the cornerstone of Christian faith. Midlife adults will respond to any programs and initiatives that help church members become more authentic with each other.

Competence is another requirement for effective ministry with Gen X adults. You need to prove that you know what you’re talking about and that you understand why you do what you do in ministry offerings.

While older generations often preached that the “doctor knows best,” Generation X believes that the doctor with the best track record knows best. Because Generation X suffered so many personal and institutional betrayals, all trust has to be earned, and demonstrated competence is how a professional minister earns it.

Competence, by the way, also makes the Top Five of the Kouzes-Posner list of desired leadership traits, coming in fourth after honesty, forward-looking and inspiring. It would not be surprising if it rose to a higher position on the list if Gen X adults were the only ones included in the survey.

Church ministers need to be both smart and compassionate—sly as a fox and gentle as a dove, as long as your fox-like characteristics are full of integrity. Studies of Generation X parents reveal that they really want leaders in their communities to know what they are talking about.

They want physicians who can give clear and proven advice on how to keep their kids physically healthy. They want teachers who use proven methods in the classroom and who are willing to open the classroom door to parent participation, which Xers know is a key to educational success.

And they want their church staffs to be able to give sound advice on how to nurture their children into a healthy and helpful relationship with God.

This post by Jim Merhaut is part of a series inspired by the Seasons of Adult Faith Formation book, symposium, and issue of Lifelong Faith Journal. You can read the whole issue here.

Image credit: “Friendship” by David Goehring via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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