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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OF PASSION & PROPOSITIONS: growing a non-balanced faith

6874balance_scale     When I was in the final stages of producing my doctoral dissertation I ate out a lot. Escapism, most likely. During one such luncheon at Panda East, a Chinese restaurant in Amherst, MA, I opened a fortune cookie which read— Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without passion. I thought of some of the great names throughout history for whom this proverb has proven true— Hammurabi, Moses, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Christopher Columbus, Albert Einstein, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Thomas Edison, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan— all were driven by passion and tenacity to accomplish something beyond themselves.

     Yet, the church in North America seems driven by balance— balance in life, in our families, in faith, in our behavior— moderation in all things, no rocking the boat. Straight-forward, rational explanations of life should suffice to renew the mind and focus our resolve. It is almost as if being out of balance, or slightly extreme in any way, is viewed as the real threat to the church and to the stability of our individual faith.

     But if Truth is primarily personal (though certainly not exclusively), found in the Person of Jesus Christ, there are some very critical implications for us that impact our Christian lives, balanced or otherwise, and how we exhibit our faith to others. This will probably flip me from the frying pan into the fire, but it is time we examined belief and emotion in light of Scripture. After a great deal of scrutiny, I must admit that I do not find a lot of only believe-ism in the Bible.

     In many churches across America, there are large banners running across the front or the back of the sanctuary— TO KNOW CHRIST AND TO MAKE HIM KNOWN. Now hear me out on this one. I find no fault with this banner. But I do find it curious that it seems to be all about the knowing. It is assumed that everything else will flow out of that, even the “making him known” part. There are many churches that excel in fulfilling the first part: teaching their members to know a great deal about their faith.  But I find very few exerting much effort in training their members to fulfill the second part: making Him known (to those outside the church). Most sorrowfully, our interface with those outside the church has become solely an effort to pass on the information about Christ, rather than any genuine immersion in the lives of normal people.

     Why is this? I fear it might be due to our fear of the outside, or, much worse, a simple desire to remain in control. If we learn anything in our walks of faith it must be that God is in control…, not us. I’ve often wondered if the failure of our evangelical culture in the West to be part of our culture is that we fear being out of control.

     We need to learn to grow a nonbalanced faith: one where God is in control, where we don’t have all the answers, in which our passion for people, and for our Lord, takes over our whole being. For reference, I point you to an account of the revival of religion in Northampton in 1740-1742 as was reported in “The State of Religion at Northampton in the County of Hampshire, About 100 Miles Westward of Boston.” The letter was published in The Christian History, January 14, 21, and 28, 1743, written by Rev. Jonathan Edwards, [ http://www.jonathanedwards.com/text/jeaccnt.htm ].

NEXT— Being a Christian in a New Era:  it’s a generational thing.

Balancing my faith on one foot…, now the other one; whoops,

  Gary

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

Closing Doors #4 The power and the glory?

img_8814     From 1,000 to 1,500, Europe saw unprecedented changes in virtually every aspect of life. The Black Plague and a “Mini Ice-Age” [1312-1850] had decimated the population, while the crop failures of 1315-1322 devastated the economy and the population. The Church in Europe had sunk to the level of feudal governance, charging their adherents for everything—baptisms, funerals, penances, and indulgences (to buy their way into heaven).

     The priesthood became exorbitantly powerful and wealthy. During the famines and cold weather they were able to wear warm, elegant clothes and live in luxury, while the hoi polloi could barely keep their rags mended. The Church also had a plentiful storage of food: at one point, wheat prices rose by 320% (France).  It was these extravagances, practices and heretical theology that led a monk in Germany, one Martin Luther, to lash out in protest against the Catholic Church. His actions resulted in what we now call the Protestant Reformation.

     Alongside the Church, the rest of Europe witnessed great strides in technology, art, and exploration. The “new world” was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Themovable type Printing Press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455, ushered in the first days of the Information Age. In architecture and art, grandiose style of Baroque prevailed. Albrecht Durer (Praying Hands) imported Italian influence into Germany. Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo became the quintessential artists who developed perspective in their paintings and sculpture. Hayden, Handel, Bach, and Mozart scored complex orchestral pieces. Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler proposed a heliocentric (not geo-centric) understanding of our solar system.

     The idea of human reasoning as a way of determining Truth was proposed by René Descartes. The idea of common sense came from John Locke. These philosophers, and others, influenced the ideas found in the U.S. Constitution.

     In the midst of all these revolutionary inventions, discoveries, new ideas and technologies, where stands the Church? In two words— wealthy and split: no longer between East and West, but between Catholic centralism, and Protestant diversity and expansion. The new Protestant ideologies fostered a rise in creative reorganization and reconstruction. In some ways, this freed Christian thinkers to reexamine Scriptural Truths in the light of the cultural and scientific revolutions of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Protestant churches became the churches of the people, rather than the authoritative dominance of the clergy in the Catholic Church.

     But things were changing. Between 1500 and 1850 the relationship between the Church and her surrounding cultures witnessed great strides in compassion, but also great assaults from the spread of Enlightenment and Renaissance ideologies. Eventually, even American individualism spread throughout Western Culture…, and the faith, with both positive and negative effects. A new secularism in the Church began to erode her influence in our world.

     True, the Church had finally opened her doors to the outside world— and she had lost her healing edge.

 In…— not of,
  Gary

Closing Doors 2-Changing Arenas

jean-lc3a9on_gc3a9rc3b4me_-_the_christian_martyrs_last_prayer_-_walters_37113     Images of Christians being eaten by lions or slaughtered by gladiators in Rome’s Colosseum can be found in many of the West’s museums of art. Oddly, many of these paintings were commissioned by the Church to recall our less than auspicious beginnings.

     From the crucifixion of Jesus to the stoning of Stephen, to the persecution of Saul, the Church got off to a precarious start. In its attempt to squash this new, blasphemous religion the Roman Empire did more to coalesce early Christian resolve than they could have imagined.

     By the early 3rd century thousands of “Christ followers” had been tortured, crucified, and ripped apart by lions. Because of their sacrifices, many people saw the principles of the Christian faith as a viable alternative to the gods of Rome. One such martyr was a young convert to Christ named Perpetua. Her death in the arena served to solidify the faith in a myriad of Christians who followed, including Augustine.

     In the early 4th century, Roman Emperor Constantine (272-337 CE) declared Christianity the official religion of the empire, leaving Christians alone to believe what they wanted. This act (some say on Constantine’s deathbed) changed the lot of the Church forever. The Roman government had cleared the way for the early Christians to spread their beliefs freely; and spread they did.

     “Missionaries” ventured forth into the unknown to tell people of the salvation found in Christ. From China in the East to Gaul and Britannia in the West, individuals with godly passion and personal dedication spread the message of Jesus wherever they went. Roman roads, designed to move Rome’s troops rapidly throughout the Empire, now carried the Gospel to the ends of the known world. The Church grew and expanded. And it also became enormously wealthy, possessing lands and holdings funded by her adherents, sometimes willingly, other times, not so much. Eventually, this wealth resulted in a vicious rivalry between Church leaders and Feudal Lords; both vying for political power and possessions.

     Many Monastic orders grew out of the perceived divisions and commercializing of the church. Men and women would cloister themselves in monasteries for scripture study, service, and escape. These movements, and others like them, began the separation of the church from society. However, some sets their minds to preserve the codex of Scripture, provide “monastic escapes” for those who required silence, secrecy, and protection. And they provided basic life sustenance for their surrounding communities.

     However, they never understood the importance of being IN the community, rather than an evasion from it.

     A story— One of the men I mentor is teaching a course on 21st Century Evangelism. When two of the students learned that we were actually going to talk with a realnonChristian” they dropped out of the class. What have we come to? Should we build more walls and defend ourselves against the onslaught of our “evil” society?

     Jesus didn’t.

What will it cost you to engage your world?

  Gary

Phases 12-Where do we go from here?

 we_can_do_itThis will be the last entry in our series- The Phases of the Christian Life.
     If you have been following this series, by now you have tried to determine where you are in the phases of your own Christian life.
  • Deliverance
  • Delight
  • Discipleship
  • Distraction
  • Disillusion
  • Discouragement (Despair)
  • Decisions
  • Dedication
  • Deliverance (again)
  • Delight (on and on and on)
Well, don’t bother. Time for me to ‘fess up.
     There is no sequence of phases to the Christian life. You might find yourself in one phase or another depending on your life circumstances and your responses to them: you may find yourself delighting in one area of your life and discouraged in another; this may last for a long time. Get some help.
     The goal, however, remains the same- Delight. Delight is the culmination of all the facets of our Christian journey: accepting Christ’s deliverance from and forgiveness for our sin, overcoming distraction and disillusionment, deciding daily to dedicate our lives to the joy of becoming Christ’s disciples; bringing all aspects of our life under His authority until it feels more like freedom than obedience.
     Do keep in mind that this is a life-long process. It is NOT an instantaneous “poof” and all is well. Some Christians never fully accept Christ’s forgiveness for their sins, deciding instead to wallow in chronic guilt and confession. Others rarely delight in their Lord; they always seem to be working harder at their Christian life. Still others avoid decisions at all costs, dreading they might make the wrong choice. Some never fully dedicate their lives to Christ, fearing they may miss something our world dangles before them.
     There are some practices that will help you stay the course, especially through the rougher times.
  • Private Prayer
  • Friendships
  • Time Alone Time in Community
  • Scotch
  • Exercise
  • Rest
  • Time Away
  • Productivity
  • Scripture (en mass)
  • Reassess your Routine
  • Prayer with Friends
     Everyone needs a Safe Person, a Safe Place, & a Safe Activity. A great meal out would be a good place to discover what yours are; and to put to use some of the ideas in the above list. My favorite place is the Sonterra Grill in Colorado Springs. Great Pineapple-Habanero Salsa. Bring a friend.
     Whatever you do, give God room to work in your life the way He wants to work. Don’t dictate to Him how things are to be done. It’s just not safe.
In Phase 3, or 5, or is it 7? Whatever!
  Gary