More Thoughts On The Generation Gap

In my July 1 entry, I mentioned a news article that tells us that the generation gap is wider than at any point in American history…including 1969, when that gap was exposed by the rapid-fire cultural changes during those days. While I think about pop culture a lot, I’m really more concerned with how that generation gap affects my job as a pastor at a church. I mentioned that because I’m in youth ministry I spend a lot of time with members of the (let’s say, 3. Maybe 4.) generations represented in our church.

So, one random thought about the effects of the gap as it relates to my church:

I don’t think we’ll see any sort of increase in protests or mass gatherings to highlight issues or be the spark for change. From my vantage point, the young people in the ’60’s believed–really, truly believed–they were in a position to right the wrongs of the big picture of society. Race relations. Wars. Government policy. There were organized protests and marches and the like to create public awareness and highlight the issues and attempt to spur change in the various areas of society. Well, a couple of differences in this group of teenagers as I work with them every day lead me to believe you won’t see cultural upheaval from this bunch. First of all, they don’t think in terms of changing the world but rather in terms of doing whatever I can–big or small, but mostly small–to make my little corner of the world better. Their parents duly noted that all those protests really didn’t revolutionize society much so now the kids we raised think more in terms of making one family’s life a little better, or our group’s ability to make 15 families Christmas a little better or that homeless organization’s day a little better. They don’t view societal change as much of a possibility.

The second reason they don’t protest much is because their institutions (think public schools) are regimented and structured in such a way that any type of deviation or protest will result in discipline that in some way harshly punishes the individuals involved–including expulsion.

Finally, they’ve been trained by their parents to be good-busy so you can achieve achieve achieve. It’s hard to organize a protest when you know you’ll be kicked out of school or off the team which will crush your resume thereby killing your chance to get into a good college. It’s also hard to truly serve an organization passionately when most of their opportunities to make their corner of the world a better place are mandated by school leadership in the form of required service hours. Lastly, when you’re in school from 8:45am to 4:10pm, followed by 3 hours of band practice, Bible study and homework that can last a couple of hours, throwing in that grass-roots Tea Party Rally Against Taxes is the throwaway of all your options.

If this is true, what’s the response by youth pastors/pastors? What I’m learning is that we need to cut back on the methods of youth ministry that are programmatic and/or entertainment based to bring in kids. I’ve discovered that most Christian kids are pretty much church-hopping with each other anyway on that stuff (in other words, if your youth group is going to the Big Area Water Park this week, I’ll go, too, with my friends from that youth group. Next week, when my youth group has a movie night with pizza, all my friends will come with me to that.–The same things happens with parents enrolling their children in 6 different Vacation Bible Schools in the area. We’re really not reaching out to the community all that much, simply providing a quality program for Christian parents. This ain’t all bad, but let’s see if for what it is. I mean, families that left our church years ago enrolled their kids in VBS and it was nice to visit and get caught up, but they’re happy at their current church.)

What we need to be doing is finding service projects and mission trips that allow students to serve because they love Christ and the people that He loves. Usually, this doesn’t have many, if any, tangible benefits to the individuals going. This is why I really liked our church’s recent mission trip to Mississippi. We partnered with a government agency, and every now and then we’d serve truly needy folks. But some days, you’d wind up working for a system manipulator getting their deck washed and stained with your tax dollars. They learned from that, got frustrated by that, served through that, etc. Sure, the kids had fun relaxing together each night and certainly had a lot of laughs and bonding time, etc. But most of the trip was very hard work in extreme conditions, which isn’t what you really hear about. Kind of like stories from when we were in college. The fraternity stories get a lot of play and are entertaining and nobody wants to hear about the 30 hours of work you put into writing that paper.

How does this affect the older generation? Programming is dead. What “worked” for us that came through the Golden Age of Youth Ministry has come of age in the church at-large as we move into leadership positions in churches. We grew up in a world where you could put the Super Bowl on a big screen (well, what passed for big back then, anyway) and give out pizza and tell everybody, “Invite your friends to our Super Bowl watching party here at the church!” And we would. We’d have teaching times with cool lighting and maybe even a smoke machine and use video clips from movies on the big screen to highlight the lesson…and now many church services look just like old youth group meetings from the mid-1980’s. Coffee shops in church buildings popped up. Having concerts to “bring your friends” under the guise of “outreach” is dead. Officially. You didn’t hear it first here, but you heard it reiterated here. Giving away an Xbox 360 to whoever brings the most friends on “pack the pew” Sunday is long-gone. Nobody brings friends to church because there is a coffee cafe available.

In other words, the church needs to get back to loving the people that Christ loves in a genuine manner. Not viewing them as evangelistic “targets” to seek and “save,” but love people anyway expecting nothing in return. Simply be salt and light in areas where we’re already place (on teams, in jobs, with families, etc.) and love people. If you love people, you’ll see needs. If you see needs of people you love, you’ll find creative and innovative and meaningful ways to serve.

And, if you’re asking me, that works in concentric circles of influence. We need to serve and love those in our community. Sure, you can haul off to Africa or Haiti or Mississippi, too…and we should. But this generation thinks in smaller terms with more limited time-frames. With a more limited schedule to serve people and families, we should be using those times not to get together and entertain ourselves, but rather be finding ways to serve and love and make various little corners of the world a little bit more reflective of Christ’s love.

So, patrons, your thoughts?

Next entry on this topic: The role of Scripture/classes/worship services in developing that love & service attitude…as it plays out in how the previous generation gleans information and this one does.