Achtung, Baby (Boomers)

I’ve always seen the Church from the bottom up.

What I mean is that the students I serve happen to be teenagers. Generally speaking, they don’t give financially as much as those that are older–largely because they don’t have careers. They aren’t in the decision-making circles. They have more enthusiasm and energy but tend to be in need of gaining wisdom. Even the cynical and hardened among them would qualify as idealists and romantics by adult standards. They’re definitely a crowd whose brain engages much more amygdala than parietal lobe.

All of which makes a soup that the older folks smile. They like them at church. They want them at church. They appreciate the enthusiasm. They provide good resources to get them in church. They get involved on occasion, too, helping out with mission trips and Bible studies and all sorts of activities. It’s a nice set-up, all in all.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Big Church. Grown-ups tend to enjoy the status-quo. In most cases, they established the status quo. And, as is the case at our church, it’s a pretty effective status-quo. And the attempt to maintain, tweak and improve the status quo goes on. The people in charge usually make those types of decisions through their own eyes & experiences and that of their peers.

So, I sit in those meetings where those decisions are often discussed. I am a card-carrying member of GenX, which now puts me sqarely in the demographic that defines “middle age.” I know this because I saw a commercial the other day in which the product they were selling used the Violent Femmes music in the background. So, I get the thought processes behind the decisions.

And, at some point during those meetings, I’ll bring up a quote or idea from the constituency I used to exclusively serve (I guess I should blog about that little piece of information, huh?) but now indirectly serve. You know, advocacy for my voting bloc. It could be anything, but I’ll ask a question or give insight or throw out a constructive criticism from the perspective of my teenagers.

I get confused looks.

The people in the meetings want to help. They want to serve. They want the input that I give them. They simply don’t understand the thought processes of the next generation. They don’t know exactly what they want. They don’t know what to do with the information I gave them. They don’t know how to find a balance between serving their “voting blocs” and what they want with what my “voting bloc” wants.

In fact, generally speaking, they have a hard time getting their arms around what my “voting bloc” wants. They don’t understand the thought processes of the amygdala-using, idealistic romantics with more enthusiasm than wisdom, powerless & broke group I serve.

And I read a quote yesterday by John Burke in this month’s Catalyst (it’s a small-group resource for twenty-somethings with all the hip & with-it writers of right now writing Bible studies for folks. Yes, Donald Miller and Rick McKinley and Andy Stanley all wrote one, too) that just might have help with getting your arms around that mindset:

“Our generation longs for something authentic. They are searching for ‘the real thing,’ though they don’t really know what ‘the real thing’ is. Because this generation has endured so much ‘me-ism’ and let down from those they were supposed to follow and trust, they want to see a genuine faith that works for less-than-perfect people before they are willing to trust. They want to know this God-thing is more than talk, talk, talk. They desperately want permission to be who they are with the hope of becoming more. They aren’t willing to pretend, because hypocrisy repulses them. Most have yet to realize that every person is a hypocrite to some degree–the only question is whether we realize it and are honest about it.”

Now, you’ll have to read between the lines of what Mr. Burke wrote. See, the stuff he listed are reactions. Yes, I think it’s fair to assume that the next generation is reacting to the previous generation’s approach to spirituality. And, don’t get offended, folks…you did the same thing when you were their age. That’s why our churches look like they do now: Because you reacted to stuff from the previous generation and did things your way when you came into leadership.

The thing is…

…it’s the next generation’s turn.

If we take Mr. Burke at his word, we have to give them the real thing. They don’t even know exactly what it is they’re trying to find, which is a type of angst. We’ve all had that.

We have to focus on others, in particular the next generation. This might upset our status quo apple carts.

We have to be people worthy of their trust and followership.

We have to make it more than talk, talk, talk.

We have to walk worthy and authentically.

Yes, I know we have to design systems now (and maybe I should expound a bit more on that tomorrow) to let them see us. Let them get to know us. Being transparent and honest and knowable.

And it won’t be easy.

But we can ignore it at our peril.

Achtung, Baby (Boomers).