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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A Generational Thing

Clueless, Christianity, Christian, Book, Dr, Gary, DavisBeing a Christian in a New Era:
 a generational thing.

I just don’t care! I’m not going to church this morning!

            Don’t speak to me in that tone of voice; and you ARE going to church.

            No I’m not! Church is boring. All we do is sing songs that are really out if it and then the same sermon every week—three points, there’s always three points, and then you either change or you’re guilty. I’m just tired of not measuring up week after week. So I’m not going to church. You can’t make me.

            Well, whether you want to or not you ARE going to church and there are two good reasons why you have to go.

            Two good reasons—what are they?

            First, you’re 32 years old and need to go to church. Second, you’re the pastor.

 

We all joke about this, but underneath we know it’s a real problem. So many people come to church and find it boring, or irrelevant, or strange, or just plain confusing. If it’s your church, whether you are in leadership or attend regularly, you want your worship services to mean something, to make sense, to be relevant, to truly minister to those who come. Our wellbeing and feeling good about ourselves notwithstanding, we need to praise, honor, and encourage the heart of God. But people are somewhat different today than they were ten or twenty years ago. It used to be that if you were seeking the answers to life’s questions you would go to your church, schedule an appointment with the minister, or seek reading material to help you sort it through. Nowadays the BIG questions just don’t seem as important to people. Life has grown so complex; even Christians find it difficult to make consistent commitments to church services or programs. Then there’s this generational thing. Blended worship services, youth councils, and contemporary Christian music, always the music, seems to overshadow everything else. You start with a call to worship, worship songs, maybe a hymn from the hymnal (You remember hymnals—  they came before song sheets, overhead projectors, and PowerPoint presentations). It’s as if the sermon has become secondary to the music! And we still can’t keep our young people. What’s going on?

The fact of the matter is that you’re right— 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, hippies, Vietnam, Columbine, 9/11, the financial collapse, and two wars have all contributed to the fragmentation and isolation of the generations.  This fragmentation has had a greater impact than we could have imagined.  We set our senior citizens aside to die so we can get on with our lives; this alone constitutes a major fracture in our family cohesion. And thanks to the Baby-Boom of 1946-1964, YOUTH CULTURE does, in fact, dominate our world.

In the summer of ’01 my wife and daughter went on a humanitarian mission to Belarus, a former Soviet “satellite nation.” They were assigned to a summer camp that had formerly been a prison. Living conditions were sparse; meals, no matter what the main course, offered “pasha,” a granular, crunchy, Elmer’s glue-like substance (so reported our daughter). As a fourth world country[i], they were a beleaguered nation—but at night they still danced to the music of the U.S. pop-star Brittany Spears at the discos. And, oh yes, and there was never a shortage of vodka.  Never.  In a country where physicians earned $300 a month, their children moved to the music of the West. If you look you will find the same thing happening around the world from Hong Kong to central China, from Australia to Myanmar.  The music of the West, translated or not, permeates the culture. And the youth live by it. Youth culture has become a culture unto itself, nurtured and fed by older generations who want to grab some of their estimated disposable annual pocket change of close to $153 billion in the US alone. [ii]

So when young people ages 14-25 come to church what do they find, generally?[iii] They find a shape of Christianity virtually irrelevant to their virtual realities. They find a pyramid power structure contrary to their relationally oriented internet networking. [FaceBook, a social networking website, founded by Mark Zukerberg and his college roommates at Harvard in 2004, now has more than 550 million subscribers.] They find, for the most part, the music to be somewhat archaic. One example is the SONIC PRAISE CD (by Sonic Flood) in which the worship leader tries to convince his audience that even “oldies” can have meaning if they are updated musically. I was expecting Amazing Grace or a 1950s youth hymnal chorus spiffed up a bit. The reference was to Shine Jesus, Shine, circa 1982. Ancient history.

But has it ever been different? Well, yes and no. Youth have always found fault with the status quo. They have always wanted to move ahead a little faster than their more conservative seniors. And their parents, grandparents, teachers, and seniors in general, have always criticized their music and style of dress. If anything, with the acceleration in the rate of information exchange and the ease of international communication (Def.- Teenager = mobile phone + texting + ear), teens & twenties not only have easier access to each other, but they can connect so much faster and in so many more ways (cell-phone, texting, Skype, Facebook, etc.) than a few years ago. This, plus their ability to be “early adapters” enables them to become more insular than any generation before them. When our daughter was in high school I joined her to watch an MTV show called Real World. The scenario is a gathering together of 5-8 select teens/twenty-somethings who live together, live on camera, 24/7.[iv] The show presents life as they experience it, with all its romantic developments, breakups and heartaches. As Bethany and I watched Real World it finally hit me like a jolt— if this show was about anything it was not the real world!  It’s a world with no adults, no societal guidelines, no children running, and little personal responsibility beyond remembering to get dressed when you get out of bed in the afternoon and to brush your teeth in case you meet someone. But from this experience I learned something: there is no such thing as “western culture”; rather, there are “western cultures.” The West, has in reality, multi-cultures, defined by generational differences in a big way, by geographic region, by the urban-suburban-rural context, and, of course, by economics.

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[i] First World- Europe/China. Second World- the Americas, Australia. Third World- Africa, Latin America. Fourth World- recovering/emerging former Soviet nations.

[ii] Teens themselves spent $105 billion and influenced their parents to spend, on them, an additional $48 billion, for a total of $153 billion annually. “Report of Teen Research Unlimited Study,” Discount Store News, January 3, 2000. Statistic for fiscal year 1999.

[iii] 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.

[iv] MTV also offers a similar show called Road Rules. The difference being a travel ingredient.