It’s Not The Book…But, Hey, At Least It’s Something!

This is for our own good.

Trust me, patrons.

If we pay attention today, the greater good will be served and we’ll have personal benefits. In layman’s terms, patrons, this is a win-win scenario.

So, let me set the scene for us:

It’s been going on since Bill Cosby recounted the story of his father telling him how rough he had it…you remember, right? How Bill would complain about something like riding the bus to school and his father would go into detail about how he had to walk to school in the snow…

…UPHILL…

(pause)…

…BOTH WAYS!

If we’re honest, we all have a case of “Good Old Days Syndrome.” You know, where you look back on your youth and deem it somehow “tougher” than the kids today have it. I mean, I do it all the time. Like when I watch teenagers play a game on Wii and make a graphics comparison to Space Invaders (or worse…PONG!). Or when my cable television only had something like 20 channels (and now ESPN has about 20 channels, right?). Or how I had an 8-track player in my first car and now they hook up their iPods. Or how our phones actually had a cord attached to them and were only in two or three rooms in your house. Or how my first home had no furniture and was a real “fixer-upper” and married couples move into 3,000 square foot houses when they get back from their honeymoon.

And, yes, I realize that those of you who are older will make fun of my list, too…how you had to make your coffee in the fireplace and didn’t have a fancy-schmancy Mr. Coffee. Or possibly regale me with stories of how you’d go watch the one neighborhood porch light come on every night or when you got your first color television. I get it. You do, too. Like I said, every generation does it.

And, truth be told, we kind of like the new advancements, don’t we? I mean, getting all High-Def and increasing the bandwidth on our crazy Internet machines and seats that get warm in our cars before we get there are all little things that make us smile a bit, right? We’re glad our kids have some things better than we did and more opportunities and all that jazz, aren’t we? Even if we have to explain who Joey Ramone was. Or, in my case, teach my children the names of all four Beatles because they didn’t know them off-hand.

Anyway, as I age, I’ve noticed that we also get kind of comfortable and prefer things a certain way or assume things still operate the same way it did when we were in it. So, for example, when I applied to colleges, it was pretty simple. You got your ACT score back, which more or less told you the kind of colleges you were eligible for and you applied there. The process was quick and simple for the most part. Sure, some kids at the top of the class were padding resumes and joining clubs because they looked good on paper so they could catch the eye of admissions directors at better schools, but for the most part, you joined clubs or teams because you were interested in doing those things. If your grades were decent and you played a sport or were on student council or whatever, you pretty much got into wherever it was you wanted to go.

Not so much anymore…as the father of a senior who’s DEEP in the game at this point, it’s highly stressful and ultracompetitive for all involved.

And, yes, my mom did it to me, too. See, I was looking for a job after my first stint at seminary (long story). I had my degree in liberal arts and needed a job. I had this fiance and all, see.

My mom’s suggestion: Just put a suit on and take your resume to all the public utility companies in town and the banks and they’ll “take anybody that has a college degree for their management trainee program.” She said this because that seemed to be the case for anybody that had a college degree in 1964.

Suffice to say that this wasn’t the case in 1987. The public utilities and banks were looking for very specific college degrees when Reagan was in the White House. My suit and resume were powerless, but my mom thought I was dogging it.

Now, at this point I know you’re all saying that I haven’t told you anything you don’t know and anything of import yet.

Like I said before, this is a win-win scenario.

Try to stay with me.

But this same Good Old Days Syndrome applies to church situations, too. We didn’t like the formality of the church. The pews & kneelers. The dark, stained-glass windows. The pipe organ music sung out of hymnals. The suits and dresses we had to wear.

So, when we got old enough we changed a few things, didn’t we? We became very informal. We designed buildings with stackable chairs and multi-purposes in mind. They let in LOTS of light. Guitars, acoustic and electric and drums and video screens with lyrics on them came of age. We wear our jeans and Cowboys jerseys and golf shorts to church. We provide our children’s ministries with all the bells and whistles. And we like it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Most evangelical worship services look like youth-group meetings from 15 years ago. I know this because I was running youth group meetings 15 years ago.

And, if you’d look at a lot of our youth group meetings today, you’d see an awful lot of church meetings 30 years ago. I know this because I was in church settings 30 years ago like the ones my youth group likes these days. Like fashion, these things go in cycles.

And, as a constant reminder, neither of these things is “right” or “wrong” or “better” or “worse.” This is simply the way things are today. While Wii graphics may be better than pong, the main idea is the same: You’re still playing a game on a tv set against somebody and laughing and competing and all that.

So, we have to guard against, as my former professor Howard Hendricks used to say, “Allowing churches to become museums instead of academies of life.” He usually followed this up by telling us to put up a fence around our buildings and charging admission.

Yeah.

We…

…get…

…it.

I know.

I know.

Beat drum for the zillionth time.

But here’s a new twist:

Getting over ourselves and the way we like it and focusing on the next generation BENEFITS US!

In a big way!

There was this study that started decades ago on how brains develop as we age. Sure, we’re used to studies on the developing brains of kids, but this one was done over time and studied Baby Boomers for a long time. The study, done by a Harvard professor named George Valliant, tells us that life after retirement doesn’t have to be serene or dottering. And you don’t have to jump out of an airplane on your 80th birthday to stay up to snuff.

What he discovered is that the left and right hemispheres of the brain actually begin to fight the effects of aging. The brain doesn’t really deteriorate, but rather compensates in new ways.

And, you know what he discovered?

That one of the keys to healthy aging is actually what he calls “generativity.” He means actively thinking about ways to provide for future generations.

“Seniors who perform service for the young have more positive lives and better marriages than those who don’t…We are naturally inclined to serve those who come after and thrive when performing that role.” (David Brooks, New York Times columnist, quoting the book Aging Well by Valliant)

What is peculiar is that in all sorts of areas the elders tend to look out for themselves in areas like politics and finances and all that jazz. In other words, they’re only hurting themselves.

I think it’s interesting when we look at the church that we are actually hurting ourselves if we fight to keep only what makes us comfortable.

Maybe the best thing for us who are aging is to begin designing systems for the young to be heard…

…and not only heard…

…but to actually be DOING.

Think about that for a second.

We need to be reanalyzing not only what we’re doing, but how and why we’re doing it, and designing systems for the younger among us to assume the mantle of leadership and design of our churches!

We did that, didn’t we? I mean, at first our church didn’t have a men’s ministry, or children’s ministry, or women’s ministry, etc. And those people that had a heartbeat for those areas of ministry sat around a designed one. Those people were usually in their late-20’s or early-30’s with kids and they’d start with a blank slate and just DO IT. They’d make mistakes. They’d adjust and fine-tune. Then they’d have something.

The danger is that those things were so successful that they begin to resist change two decades later. I learned this lesson the hard way in student ministry. I had to turn it over to the 20-somethings when I turned 40. I was actually hurting the ministry because of the way I was insisting on doing it. So, I literally gave my staff of 4 a blank slate and a month and didn’t attend their meetings.

And, what was cool was that they kept the major elements of what I thought truly mattered while at the same time fine-tuning and adjusting some areas on the fringe. This was 5 years ago. We’re better for it now. And I’m invigorated now having another 20-something making some fine-tuning adjustments to what we’ve been doing.

All this was highlighted by a discussion our staff was having on making things easier and appealing to visitors. It was a good discussion, too. Good suggestions were afoot. Paint. Redecoration. Better coffee. Streamlined greeting process. Parking spaces. Children’s ministry decor. Toddler check-in. Like I said, all good stuff.

And then a 20-something said, “You know, that’s for all the visitors who’ve already been to the website and made a decision to come to our church. The first visit people make is to the web site. They’ll read the doctrinal statement and our values. They’ll see what is offered for their specific family wants or needs. They’ll probably listen to a sermon or two. THEN they attend. So maybe we should evaluate our web presence, too.”

See?

The other stuff is good stuff. We should be sensitive to those that visit our church. It’s really nothing to park a little further away since we already know the drill.

And the website suggestion came from somebody who does things a different way.

Both are needed.

And the funny thing is that if we help design systems to let the younger voices and insights be heard…

…everybody wins.

They get the enthusiastic and meaningful participation combined with seasoned and wise oversight.

Future generations of churchgoers get to learn what’s important to us and why it’s important.

And our brains get to develop more as we age.

So my question today is two-fold: Why do we tend to kick against change (especially if we get to help “guide” it) and how do design systems to engage the younger and let them use their gifts and talents?

Have at it, patrons!

*pours coffee and giggles and the can of worms he just opened*

Advertisements