I don’t mean to go on a rant here, but…
I’ve listened to my friends mock the movement that has been called the “Occupy (city or landmark here).” You know, young people who are upset with various institutions in society and are protesting by living in some public space to raise awareness about their concerns. And, sure, sometimes they don’t see holes in their varied manifestos. So, my friends make fun of them by making snide comments about how hard their life can be when they’re protesting with iPhones or how nobody made them take out $80,000 of student loans to an Ivy League school. Stuff like that.
A word of caution, friends, if I might.
Stop focusing on the trees and listen to the oh-so-big forest they’re complaining about. Do you think the societal social upheaval of the late 1960’s just happened one night in upstate New York or on Haight & Ashbury? Of course not. There were rumblings of discontent beginning after the war on a whole forest made up of the trees of racism, hypocrisy, government & institutional failures on a grand scale. The grocery list of discontent took a decade or so to manifest itself and the next thing you know Richard M. Nixon is on Laugh-In saying, “Sock it to me.” And that generation is still at it. Last I heard, the Baby Boomers are working on legislation to make interstate access on-ramps longer and bigger font on roadsigns so they can keep their drivers’ licenses longer. Not even kidding.
So, friends, just know that the “Occupy” movements is just the tip of a coming iceberg. Please trust me on that. The kids are figuring out that the kids of the so-called Greatest Generation (which I’ve often said it’s true if you give them that moniker because they won a war & rebuilt an economy, but a joke of a label if you measure it by raising the most selfish generation in American history) have thrown a huge financial party in our country and wan them to pay for it. And they are paying for it. But beware once they have the upper hand in age & numbers, folks. That’ll be 10 or 15 years.
My point, whether you agree with me or not, is that movements are organic. They germinate. They fester. They sit latent for a while and then have small uprisings and go back into hiding, only to pop up again. Then a flashpoint occurs and the movement takes off. And, yes, there will come a time when those fringe & chaotic elements become the mainstream…and another movement follows.
That happened with punk, too. Running concurrently…
…there was the politically reactionary stuff going on in Britain (labor strikes and all that) with the Sex Pistols and if a picture is worth a thousand words, Pennie Smith’s shot of The Clash pretty much exemplifies that ethos:
And the lady who was on the forefront of all of it hanging out at Max’s Kansas City with Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd and at the Chelsea Hotel with the Woodstock crowd and took the Velvet Underground’s ability to be poetic and make a guitar sound like a car crash, Patti Smith:
(as a personal aside, I find it interesting that I married a girl with Debbie Harry looks, Chrissie Hynde sensibilities and Patti Smith artistic flair)
I tell you all of this because I think the infancy and rumblings of the “Occupy” movement and the history of the punk movement have some comparisons with the current shift I’m seeing in the Church. This shift is already farther along in Europe and a little further behind in South/Central America, but the status quo of church life at it is generally lived out in American culture is not “doing it” for the upcoming generation of young people.
The peculiar thing is when that is said, no one really disputes it. The studies are showing that young people are leaving churches in large numbers (although the exact numbers are difficult to pin down, it’s somewhere between 60% & 80%) and NOT returning (contrary to popular belief that “they come back when they have kids”–they don’t). The in-house studies by large churches (notably Willow Creek) are doing nice job of drawing crowds but a poor job of discipling people. And, frankly, the large crowds are ceasing to grow–in other words, that growth has generally plateaued if not shrinking. The news for the traditional, mainline denominations is even more dire.
And I think that this is actually VERY GOOD NEWS for the Church. See, it’s time for another movement.
I’ve been through the various movements in church circles…from back when churches were first hiring full-time youth programs and building gymnasiums and and running some very attractional programs. I was a kid in those groups when movie clips to aid teaching and electric guitars were playing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun” and youth leaders teaching in blue jeans and big ski trips and all that. My first job was in a parachurch organization where we had a method to the madness of games and big events designed to get loads of kids to come in hopes we could build relationships and have a platform to disciple teens. I spent 17 years discipling teens and seeing them begin to push back on all the games and big events.
They were thinking for themselves. They didn’t need us to entertain them…the wanted us to teach them how to walk with Jesus Christ.
And affect His Kingdom.
The “now” part of the Kingdom.
As well as the “future” of that Kingdom.
Nothing less would suffice.
Nothing less should suffice.
Much like the “Occupy” movement, there’s a discontent with the status quo in our churches being voiced by the feet of our young. Sure, they may not be able to verbalize it in terms we can grasp very well, and yes, a certain amount of jousting windmills is taking place…but we’d better listen because, like punk did for the entire music scene of the late 1970’s there is a “movement mindset” that is exciting.
See, it’s starting as a “fringe” movement (like “Occupy”) and that’s a good thing. Christianity, from the first century forward, seems to be most effective when it’s an outsider looking in. When we’re on the fringe we thrive.
Like Alan Hirsch says, in The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church,
Christianity is at its very best when it is on the more chaotic fringes. It is when church settles down, and moves away from the edge of chaos, that things go awry.
And, things have gone awry. The numbers don’t lie. We’ve become very passive. Very comfortable. And, where I live, mainstream. My community is loaded with quality churches, all doing good things. But revolutionary? Dangerous? Transformative vision for not only individuals but also for their community?
The problem with punk, or any truly dynamic movement really, is that they create tension between what “is” and “what should be” (according to whatever their definition is of that). In that same book, Hirsch says,
Dynamic movements always have a transformative vision for society and that puts them in tension with it.
I think there are some practical things we can all start doing to get in touch with what I firmly believe the young members of our Tribe are saying:
First, listen to them. You don’t have to agree. Yes, you might even disagree…and that’s okay, too. But listen and truly evaluate what they have to say. They’re right about a lot of the things I hear them tell me, even if they’re a bit misguided on how to “move” on those things. And for some of you, that might mean making efforts to create ways to hear what they’re saying. In other words, give them a place at the decision-making tables.
Second, be okay with having your way of doing church disturbed. I’m a Gen X-er. Frankly, it is time for me to step aside and give the next generation a shot at doing the same thing we did: re-forming our churches to what we believed the could be. Let them disturb our equilibrium. Let’s be honest, GreatGens, Boomers & X-ers. We all know the status quo can be stifling to creativity and innovation…which will ultimately lead to a dead church. Some pretty historic churches have died slow painful deaths because they didn’t do what every single business book says to do: Be innovative, creative and constantly re-inventing. As we get older, we can freeze out the younger ones because we don’t like change and don’t take risks anymore.
Along those lines, keep in mind that becoming the next Fellowship.Com or Village Church or whatever really only allows you to optimize stuff that’s already being done. We don’t need more copies. We need more uniqueness…more innovation. The young do that exceptionally well, no?
Third, think of all this as, in Hirsch’s words, “surfing the chaos.” Rick Warren (yes, THAT Rick Warren) said, “We’ve become tamed by tradition, captivated by culture, and controlled by our desire to fit in, not make waves, never offend anyone. We’ve become domesticated instead of being discipled.” It’s a pretty great ride even if you don’t know where the waves are doing to take you. Trust me on this right now…I’m deeply committed to surfing chaos. I bet my whole profession on it.
Nobody knew where punk was going to go. It started fringe…with anti-government angry tirades from the British and artistic bents in NYC and angst-ridden fury in Southern California and Washington, D.C. But it spawned all sorts of cool stuff later on. The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith led college radio stuff from R.E.M., Husker Du, The Replacements to all make their mark. Black Flag and Minor Threat to Social Distortion led to Green Day. Blondie, the Pretenders and the Talking Heads all morphed from the same CBGB club that gave us the Ramones (and were often on the same bill on concert nights).
All of that led to the Seattle sound and their reformation of punk into the next great musical movement: Grunge. The new kids took it over and made it their own, with innovation and creativity…
…and it was beautiful.
Ignore the movement at your own peril.
Granted, the fringe underground isn’t for everybody, but you’ll enjoy surfing the chaos more than sitting on the status quo beach…I promise.