BEING a CHRISTIAN in a NEW ERA— it’s a generational thing. Part 1

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“We must become what we seek to create.”— Mohandas Karamchang Ghandi

(Oct 2, 1869 – Jan. 30, 1948  —assassinated on his way to evening prayers.)

     The fact of the matter is that people are different now. Young people find it difficult to relate to the church’s way of doing things. When family structures and society were more stable people did come to church to find answers, to find community, to worship God in a traditional manner. But the breakdown of our society, the dissolution of so many marriages, the Iraq wars, renewed racial conflicts, 9/11, the 2008 financial collapse, and our present political conundrum, have all contributed to the fragmentation of society and isolation of the generations. We have ceased to learn from the older and wiser; this alone constitutes a major fracture in our family cohesion. And thanks to the Baby-Boom of 1946-1964, YOUTH CULTURE (their children) does, in fact, dominate our world.

So when young people ages 14-25 come to church what do they find, generally?[i] They find a shape of Christianity virtually irrelevant to their virtual realities. They find a pyramid power structure contrary to their relationally oriented networked reality. They find generational separation. They find “lecture style” instruction. This is NOT true of every church; but it is true of far too many.

But fear not! Facebook has now has 2.3 billion subscribers, bringing us all back together…, maybe, sorta.  In recent years, more of the Silent Generation is flocking to Facebook to see their grandchildren. So their kids are fleeing for their lives to Instagram and Snapchat. If the Church could do anything to correct this generational drift, it should re-kindle intergenerational relationships; not online, but face to face.

Two American sociologists, Neil Howe and William Strauss, have categorized our generational differences in ways that might also be helpful in our understanding of those differences and in the efforts to bridge the gaps between us… and them. Check out MILLENNIALS RISING: the next great generation, (Randon House; New York, 2000). In essence, generational characteristics must be taken into account when any presentation of the Christian faith is expressed. If they are not considered, both our communication of the faith and its comprehension levels drop into the abyss of vacuity.

The Question for us becomes— How will I express my Christian faith in a way that is appropriate to my culture, to my generation, yet sensitive to other forms of expression, as well as to the world at-large?  In the church context—  how should my worship honor God in the Body of Christ?

Between early 2005 and 2015 NEEDinc conducted a series of interviews with genuine Christians across North America [“Genuine” being defined as a faith whose principles influenced at least 75% of their daily activities]. Each interviewee was drawn from a different generational grouping; each expressed answers to the interview questions in a manner with which they were comfortable.

What we learned from the interviews surprised us a little.

  1. Some saw church as central to their Christian worship while others did not. A common frustration and disappointment in the state of the church crossed all generational lines.
  2. Though all were genuine believers and held a rich faith in Christ, they expressed that faith through worship, music, and societal involvement in different ways and to different extents. This observation followed generational lines and complied with their peer group expressions.
  3. Though younger generations held a respect for their elder’s expressions of faith, it was not reciprocated. Older believers knew little about the formats and subtleties of twenty-somethingexpressions of faith. They judged the younger generation’s faith too emotion-based, too relational, and not grounded enough in a Biblical, comprehensive worldview.
  4. Everyone was willing to consider the other person’s faith expression…, in theory. In practice, well, that didn’t work out so well. “Getting together” at all was the first hurdle to overcome.
  5. ALL considered themselves in process; that is, they understood they were each at different places in their spiritual journey and had much growing yet to come.

Reflection

How would you respond to these five observations? How would you imagine older/younger Christians responding? What commonalities have you observed between different generations of Christians? What issues do you believe still exist between diverse generations? What passions might they share in common? How might different generations of genuine Christians teach each other about their own individual expressions of faith?

NEXT— Being a Christian in a New Era—  Part 2

Gary

[i] I am well aware that to employ the phrase “churches generally,” is impossible. What is at stake here is the general reaction of unchurched youth to traditional Christian worship, whether or not they employ more contemporary worship music.

[Note— If you can find a copy of James O. Gollub’s THE DECADE MATRIX: why the decade you were born into made you what you are today (Addison Wesley Publishing, Reading, MA, 1991), currently out of print, you will learn that the title just about says it all.]

 

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Ready, Fire, Aim!

merida_disney The rate of change during the twentieth century had a greater velocity than any century before. The certainty of how things worked was based on the assumption of continuous change— that is, that things change, but they have some connection to what has gone before.

     We are now in a transition of discontinuous change— that is, too much has changed, so rapidly, that it has little to NO connection to what has gone before. We have been in a paradigm shift from what was to whatever is to become.

     If you feel like you can’t seem to keep up, well, you’re right. You can’t. In industry, technology, communication, and nations it is no longer READY, AIM, FIRE. From here on out it’s READY…, FIRE…, AIM. 

     Let’s take a look at some of the sign posts that mark this present time period. Most scholars deem this era a postChristian era.

  1. postChristians trust in their own judgment rather than in traditional authority or group consensus.

            People no longer trust in BIG— organizations, traditional institutions (read the church), or business. Judgment starts and stops with ME.

  1. Young people conform to their generational peer values.

            The TV show FRIENDS was a fair representation of this. (Binge watch them all on NETFLIX.) Or, NEW GIRL, with Zoe Deschanel. Amidst the convolution of individualism and personal values there remains this hunger to be accepted. They are upbeat, positive, and do not like to be compared with older generations. Actually, they do not like to be labeled at all.

  1. Today’s generation seeks meaning in service, doing, living-life vs. becoming couch potatoes.

            They want to be part of a thriving, working society.  They want to make a difference in our world, they want to have an impact, leave a mark. They are not as rebellious as Boomers or later Busters (GenX). With no internal guidelines to provide perimeters for behavior, most perceive life as a challenge to be figured out, conquered, and shaped.

  1. Postmoderns are more visual than linear-sequential. They “think” in music. They visualize life more than they analyze it.

The emerging generation in this early twenty-first century have grown up with TV, DVDs (now passe), YouTube, Gaming, Smartphones, Snapchat; and 3D movies with special FX. All has evolved to produce a truly visually-connected generation. “Imaging” a reality makes more sense than stating that reality in a logical, linear form. Words have lost their reference points for most of this generation; unless they represent a visual image in their mental milieu.

  1. Twentysomethings create personal truth-value systems to make sense of life.

Having witnessed moral failures in the church and the ethical failures of our government and sports figures, most have lost all their confidence in external institutions to provide them with a basis for making sense of life. So they look within themselves to create truth-value systems that need only work for one individual, myself. They bond with other like-minded individuals intimately. Oh, you believe in a god/God?  That’s great; I’m glad it works for you.  My personal truths/beliefs work for me too. ‘Nough said.

  1. Emerging leaders value experience-based truth over propositionally proclaimed truth.

One of the byproducts of an exclusive reliance on personal truth-value systems is an eventual abhorrence for anything nailed down, especially written. Writing something down makes it binding, authoritative, final. They want to move with the flow, the immediate, the next, and the synthesis of the experiences and insights of life. Propositionally stated truth usually flows out of institutional conclaves; they are not to be trusted. Personal experience is the producer of truth and Truth (if there really is the latter).

  1. They seek a spirituality within as a Life-Reference point, rather than outside of their inner world.

In a conversation with one of my 20-something friends I was taken back by his surprise that I “needed a god” to support my spiritual self. He responded,“I don’t feel any need for an external reference point for my spirituality. It comes from within.” postChristians hold little confidence in historical religions, especially Christianity. Not only do religions write everything down, they are insistent on the supremacy of words over life. Thus the church makes little sense to them. “Christians don’t seem capable of living life.

  1. Our emerging culture resonates with transparent, caring people whose lives reflect an inner integrity.

Well, frankly, who doesn’t like these kinds of people? They have a lightness about them that is infectious. Whether it is from some inner urge to escape and play or a zest for experiences that radiate with life they inspire those around them. But they don’t put up with any crap; they don’t play the games of social niceties. They expect those they meet to be up front with them, honest about life, open with their ideas, even when it might elicit disagreement. They resonate with positive, upbeat, transparent people in any age category. (Informing them that they are sinners before a Holy God is NOT an understandable starting point. So, what would be?)

  1. PostChristians are very picky about how and with whom they spend their free time.

Got any free time with nothing to do? Right, neither do I. So also with the postmodern set. Life is f-u-l-l, VERY FULL! Every given chunk of time is packed with work, play, and appointments; going, going, going more and more and gone. The work-force set has very little time: take a number. The college/grad school set can’t pack any more into their lives. And the junior/senior high school crew should really use the calendar sections on their cell-phones. Get the picture? If not…“have a good-one.

So… !? How can the Christian message ever make it into the lives of people who don’t trust traditional institutions, especially the church, don’t relate to linear/sequential propositional Truth, who construct value systems based on their own experiences (exclusively), who don’t like the arrogant authority of written codes and beliefs, and who find a spirituality within themselves with no sense of a need for any external reference point? AND they don’t have any time for you. Does the word conundrum come to mind? Hummm.

            Well, please forgive me, but this conundrum excites me! What a great time to be a Christian in western society! We are truly living in a postChristian era— a culture that thinks of institutional Christianity as having already been tried— and found wanting. So much has changed. If you are a Christian, and you are alive, you have an opportunity to make one of the greatest contributions to human history— to participate in reshaping the interface between the Christian world and our postChristian culture.  You’ve gotta love it!

So, again, now what?!? READY! FIRE! AIM! Absolutely!

  Gary

Closing Doors #5 A Sliver of Light

prayer_for_usaAs we follow Christianity across the ocean to the Americas you must, by now, see that I have been covering large swaths of history in a single ¾ page offering. This has been unfair. Excellent books have covered far less time periods in far more pages. So this will be the final entry in my cosmic fly-over of the church and its interface with the world around it.

     From 1850 to the present, colossal revolutions swept the Church. The rise of American denominationalism, the struggle over the slavery issue, the Civil War, two World Wars, terrible conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East, and a seemingly endless cold war with Russia have overshadowed the Church’s stance in the public forum.

     Add to that the divisive nature of “Christian” personality cults, our flip-flops during the civil-rights movements, and Westboro Baptist Church’s antics, have all placed the Church at odds with the secular society around us. More recently, the conundrum over LGBTQ issues and the “cocooning” of many evangelical churches and ministries, the faith we love is pretty much a joke for the majority of the nation.

     On the plus side, the field meetings of Charles Finney, the urban popularity of Billy Sunday, and the incredible ministry of Billy Graham have done much to keep a positive spin on the true nature of the Christian faith. The ‘70s Jesus People ushered in a new face for a more youthful Christian expression. And where would we be without contemporary Christian music (Hillsong, Rend Collective); even the mainstream music industry has to take notice.

     So how do we keep these doors open so the waiting world can at least see a sliver of light of who we are?

     Well, at the least we need to unlock the doors from our side. Replacing Kingdom language (King, Lord) with less medieval constructs might be a good place to start. And fewer thee’s and thou’s mighteth help. Charles & John Wesley utilized popular well known tunes and put Christian lyrics to them. We’ve got a good jump on that; let’s keep going.

     90% – 95% of Church activities revolve around itself. Think we could change that?!? And what about revising that judgmental attitude toward others?!? Maybe a little more forgiving this time around?

     We could, believe it or not, get involved in local government, or run for public office! Maybe even start a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or a CEO’s Confidentiality Consortium. When I lived in the northeast, I was asked to join the Pioneer Valley Gentlemen’s Whiskey Association because I was a Christian. Go figure. Opening doors.

     God does not want any of us to spend the rest of our days cloistered inside our churches: well, unless you‘re the Pope; and even ee gets out!

     Our place is one of intermingling with the people of our society; both with those of influence and those who don’t have a place to sleep tonight. What has the Lord called you to? Get there. And bring the peace, forgiveness, and joy of our Lord with you.

 … a glimmer in the dust,

  Gary

From the Archives

Small_USPS_TruckFrom March 1998

Personal encounters with an obvious Work of God.
An obvious work of God-something that seems kind of rare; you don’t experience it everyday. So it’s nice to relate one such encounter for your reflection.
She was a postal worker; someone who had taken our packages and letters (like NEEDnews) and mailed them out for us over the past 10+ years. In many people’s eyes, someone just to glass over and get on with your life. But God had arranged a divine encounter, as it were.
My executive  assistant, was mailing out some correspondence for me last week when Anne noticed the NEED letterhead on the envelopes, “oh, you must work for Gary. Could you have him call me; there’s something I need to talk over with him.”
So Anne and I met at The Pub for some munchies. “I’ll be direct. I need to find a spiritual path for my life and I have no idea how to find one. You are one of the few spiritual people I know who will shoot straight with me. Where do I look?”
Anne went on to tell me of the personal unhappiness she carried with her, even with “the best husband in the world.” She talked about the 2-3 years of counseling she had just completed when her therapist told her “I don’t know what else to do for you.” She talked about her dreams and the weight of feeling unfulfilled as she approached 50. Then she said, “How would you guide me in the quest for a spiritual path?”
It was obvious that the Lord was drawing her to himself. It was his Spirit at work in her. I was just the guest at the party, the interpreter, the navigator.
So I told her of how Christ came to reestablish a connection between us and our creator. I told her that our ancestors rejection of God’s perimeters for our protection (that’s sin for most of us) had broken our relationship with God and badly damaged our human relationships.
“What you need, Anne is to be reconnected with the God who made you and loves you.”
“But that’s a big step, Gary, and I’m not a risk taker.”
“Anything in life worth going for is a risk, Anne.”
“I know. That’s why I need your help.”
“Well, okay. But really need to talk to God himself. He’s a lot more help than I’ll ever be.”
We just gave her the Guide Book, a Bible.
Gary

Phases #11 Delight, over and over again

gary davis, delight, deliverance, grace, depression, journeyYour first pony ride. The first snowfall of winter. The first ice cream cone of summer. Your first car. Your first kiss; okay, and the second. Your first REAL job. Your wedding. Your first child. Delights all!

     Do you remember when you first realized that your sins, your rebellion, were truly, genuinely, completely forgiven? Now run those feelings, those realities throughout the rest of your life.

     Oh, not there yet, huh? I’m not talking about people who don’t know Christ; well, in a way I could be. Rather, I’m talking to Christians who always get stuck in their lethargy, or who never quite entrust their lives to Christ; guarded Christians.

     Seriously, why would anyone want to live as a ½ committed Christian, hanging on to their ownership of who they used to be?!? That has to be one of the most frustrating, exasperating lives imaginable. Too much work, always keeping track of what you’ve said, or done wrong. No way!

     Delighting in Christ, knowing the freedom to dance before God with a clean slate, is one of the most amazing realities about being a genuine Christian, instead of a half-hearted, morbid self-condemning “Christian.” How does anybody live like that? Who would want to?

     Check yourself. How are you living? Like a guilty Christian or as a forgiven sinner? This is NOT just a matter of perspective: it is a reflection on how you view Christ’s work on the cross— for you. I’d rather be dancing and delighting than constantly wondering if I’m good enough for God.

     An end-note— I struggle with depression. [See this Patheos article for further insight.] I’m on meds to correct the imbalance in my body chemistry; but there are some days when even they don’t work. So I’ve learned to push through, to live through, to tough it out; but not everyone can do that. In the end I wind up doing what I should have done in the first place— turning to God for mercy, healing, and forgiveness.

     It is in those times that our Lord asks me—

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.

~Psalm 41:11 (NKJV)

     Delight, joy, and hope. This is a description of the normal Christian life. Get into to it.

I’ll be on the dance floor,
  Gary

Phases #9 Dedication

how-to-be-successful-with-weight-loss_1-1024x682There is a section in the Judeo-Christian scripture that asks a question—

“O Lord, who may abide in your tent?

Who may dwell on your holy hill?”

In other words, who would live long in Your presence? The Psalmist offers a number of criteria. For our consideration, I will choose only one—

“He swears to his own hurt and does not change.”

~ Psalm 15: 1, 4. NASB

     Dedication is our internal, decisive will power to stick to the matters at hand. It is commitment, determination, stick to-it-tiveness, perspicuity— call it what you will; it is a critical obstinacy that we use to fulfill a decision we’ve made, no matter how hard the road.

     When it comes to the Christian faith, this is the one characteristic that must be exercised the most…, after prayer, and worship, and probably a few more. But for me, it has been the one thing that has pushed my faith to the limit. Remember Never give up!? Well, never give in, either.

     In marriage vows we swear to be faithful and committed to one another. Loving, too. The primary reason marriages shatter is our lack of dedication to make it work, no matter what. The same is true of our faith in Christ.

     Too often in our life of faith, things go wrong, or we sin, rebel against God, or just find the journey too tedious and binding. So we jump ship. Or sex grabs us; and I don’t mean the kind within our marriage. Our entire faith gets dumped for some handsome guy or cute little thing. Just brilliant!

     G.K. Chesterton once said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. As long as WE continue to set the perimeters of our faith, it will remain just that— our faith. But if we are serious about our decision to truly follow the claims of Christ, no matter what, that’s when the required dedication needs to kick in.

     Setting our minds to the task of being a Christian is not a simple matter. The most probable reason Christ sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us is that He understood that. He knows our weaknesses, our whimsical nature when things get tough. He knew our dedication to Him would be challenged. Therefore…, God within us: establishing our commitment to Him: forging a faith within that is unshakable.

 Dedicated, determined, and heading in the right direction,

  Gary

Phases #4 Discipleship

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PHASES— #4, Discipleship

    Welcome to the Christian life!

The word DISCIPLE is from “Old English, from Latin  discipulus ‘a learner,’ from discere ‘to learn’; reinforced by Old French deciple; to follow. Same root to DISCIPLINE ones self.

To be a disciple is to be a learner; it means to sit at the feet of one more learned than yourself and to listen to them, to learn from them.

Following deliverence and delight, the next thing you will experience in your Christian journey is discipleship. That is, a deep desire to know more about Jesus and the context for His leadership in your life. You will hunger to follow His precepts for living, His teachings, His admonistions to live a righteous life within a society that has rejected most, if not everything, of what He represents. Some of the things you will learn are—

1.      Christian faith is much larger than you may have first surmised. It holds a grandeur that exceeds the simple recognitions of trust and forgiveness. It is a way of viewing and living life that extends well beyond the limitations of human intellect and the vastness of the universe itself.

2.      It is learning your place, your role, in the grand scheme of things. The Lord has designed you to make a difference on this planet. How will you discover what that is?

3.      It is taking on the role of a Servant; not when you feel like it, but even when you don’t. We who claim the name of Jesus grow through serving others and in worship of God. How are you doing with that?!?

4.      Righteousness comes more readily as you accept the Father’s design for your life. The more you allow God to sculpture your life the more your desires will coincide with His. We are declared righteous, and so we will grow into it…, one way or another.

5.      You will be able to bear more suffering in your walk of faith. Yes, suffering. Whether from those who reject and ridicule Jesus Christ, or from those who claim His Name and find your faith warrants some correction. Consider first the extent to which they might be right in their judgment; Then turn to the Lord for either admonishment or vindication.

    To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is first and foremost to sit at His feet…, and to learn. Never confuse this with anything else.

 

Growing in grace and forgiveness,

  Gary