Kinda About Politics and Kinda About Church

Don’t discuss politics & religion, right?

Well, I think I can do this in a way that is actually thought provoking and interesting. It all started when I was reading an article about all the reasons President-elect Obama became President-elect Obama. You know, one of those post-game analysis type things regarding the election and campaigns and such. And, among many topics, one that came up was the “youth vote.” And one of the guys that weighed in was David Gergen.

Yes, that David Gergen. The one that has been a senior advisor in the White House to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. His day job is at Harvard.

Anyway, he was asked about the youth vote, and here was his response:

“The emergence of this millennial generation as a force in American politics is going to be one of the biggest stories in the country over the next 20 years or so…But the rising generation of millennials is bigger than what has come before. They are even bigger than the Baby-Boom population, and they are much more progressive and diverse…They look past gender and race in ways that Baby Boomers do not. They embrace diversity, whereas older Americans tend to be wary or even scared of it.”

Peter Hart of The Wall Street Journal added, regarding the election and how this youth vote added an element of technological advancement to campaigning, said:

“It was total transformation. The rules have been re-written, and we’re never going back to the old politics.”

Now, it wasn’t the politics that got my brain going. I was aware of the rise of the Millennials. It’s my job. And I’m pretty aware of how technology has invaded the teenage/young adult world. Again, it’s my job.

But I started thinking about how, even among what used to be termed the “evangelical vote” there was a gap between older “evangelicals” and the younger “evangelicals” regarding this particular political race.

And, my thoughts continued about how that gap in political thought extends to church life. I mean…all you have to do to get a rise out of the older folks at our church is to mention the “emerging church” and, even though most have little idea of what that really encompasses, they pretty much get riled up. They don’t like the idea that the younger group doesn’t love the way they do church services.

And, that street runs both ways. All you have to do to get the younger ones riled up is to talk about how much we can learn from the older generation about the importance of worship, and/or teaching the Word…and you get eye-rolls about boring music and lectures and how un-hip everything is.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This has been going on for centuries, man. That gap. Between young and old. This isn’t new at all.

But I do think that, for lack of more convenient terms, the political gap between the Baby Boomers and Millennials (and, yes, once again, us GenXers are sandwiched somewhere in the middle…just blank…but that’s another blog topic) has some profound implications to the church. Things we can learn from.

For example, the importance of technology. I mean, I’ve mentioned it here before, but the Baby Boomers use the Internet to get information. You know. They might go to a church web-site to find out where the church is located. Or maybe to find out what time an event starts or maybe even the doctrinal statement. Might even listen to a sermon. But the Millennials use the Internet for community. They want to go to the chat room and discuss the sermon, maybe even in a live chat with the person who gave the sermon. They want to interact with thoughts and ideas they’re reading on forum pages. They evaluate what a church values by what their page contains.

Or, for example, the idea of embracing diversity. They like it when maybe a missionary would come and teach them how they worship in their part of the world…even if it involved dance and drum beats. They’d be likely to enjoy the speaker and would want to participate in the experience with the speaker if possible. The older generation might enjoy the drumbeats and such as long as it wasn’t a steady diet of that stuff in the church service. And they’d be more likely to politely clap after a demonstration of how they worship.

Again, those are just examples…using stereotypes. I get that there are exceptions to those rules.

And, I get that both sides have drawbacks, too. I mean, you can’t have all your “community” on line. There’s got to be the addition of face-to-face getting together. I mean, you’ve got to have some consistency in services or things devolve into chaos. I get it. Neither is perfect.

But, I’m thinking about the future of the church here. In 20 years, things will be wildly different. One generation will replace another. And, today, I wonder about how we can begin to prepare for that shift in power while acknowledging that a gap exists.

So, I’ll get us started, and you guys can help out:

First, we’ve got to get the generations mixing up more in our services and in our classes. We’re pretty much broken down into age-specific class offerings and times. Now, sometimes, this is necessary, like, say a marriage class. But even in that, you could mix older, wiser couples with newlyweds, right?

This would mean that we’ve got to be open to new ideas in our services, too. So, if more video is used to enhance to point of the text and that isn’t our cup of tea, then we should acknowledge that and let it go. So, if they decide to go old-school in worship one Sunday and have an older saint lead worship on a piano with her favorite hymns, the younger in the church need to value and learn from that.

Second, we’ve got to realize that change is a good thing. I mean, not change just to change things…although that can be good sometimes, too. We have the chairs arranged differently in our Sunday School each week for a reason. But, I was asked to bring these ideas to a small group at our church once, and I talked about how we needed to make the younger generation feel welcome and gave some things we could do to make that happen, like acoustic music or darkened rooms or responsive readings or communion from a common cup, and a very nice lady who I care a great deal about remarked, “Brent, I appreciate that you love the kids, but in the main service, well, you can do that stuff after we’re dead and gone. We put a lot into this church and we like it the way it is.” She was completely serious. Granted, I think that’s an extreme, and maybe isolated, position. But I do think that when people say they want the young people “back in our services” or wonder “where are all the young people” they might want to understand that just by wanting those things, you’ve got to be open to ways of doing things that attract them even if you don’t particularly enjoy the things that will attract them. One major thing is to let them be influencers and decision-makers, giving them places to serve and lead (which might mean stepping out of the way on boards and such).

Also, we’ve got to teach our young people to value the wisdom and experience of the older generation. Sometimes, the younger ones need to get over themselves. Which is the one major drawback I’ve seen from the so-called “emerging” church is that they don’t like the way things are done, so they take their ball and go home. They just decide to form their own church and do all those things that they appreciate in worship. And they have excellent churches. The problem is that they miss out on how wonderful having gray hair can be when it comes to decision-making and all sorts of areas. Of course, that gray hair has to have a great brain underneath it, but the things they can teach us about the spiritual life and practical living should never be discouraged. We’ve got to find ways to involve them in meaningful ways to help the younger ones mature.

So, that’s my two…

…what’ve you got that will help us prepare for the church of 2028?