I hope it doesn’t seem off-point for a post on this site to step away, briefly, from the normal discussions of seminary life, training, and experiences. Since seminary students are trained by schools, churches, and life experiences, I believe a nod at community and culture will not be too far removed from the spirit of this blog and its readers.
When I felt and answered God’s call on my life, I had no idea where He would place me. I simply acknowledged His calling, accepted it, and surrendered to Him my willing spirit to walk through whatever doors He might choose to open for me. To date, those doors have primarily led to working with students and their parents.
Now, say what you will about student ministry and all the stereotypes that get attached to it. For the sake of this post and discussion, I would simply suggest that no other role in the church outside of age-level ministry (preschool, children, and students) has the unique advantage of being involved with multiple generations at one time. We work with children, their parents, and their grandparents. In other words, we interact with the previous generation, the current generation, and what we at my church call the New Generation on a daily basis.
This vantage point alone, though it’s advantageous most of the time, does not position a churchman to adequately recognize all that is happening at any given moment across those multiple generations. In fact, by the time someone recognizes and writes about a generational shift, the next phase of that shift (or a new one altogether) has already begun. Having stated that, I would like to speak to three of the areas of change I’m experiencing personally, and recognize that the shift has already happened—and that my reactions to it are coming a bit late in the game.
People in aging generations might not agree with a statement declaring that the new generation is more focused on community than their generation was, but they would be incorrect. The appearance, I’m sure, would not suggest it, as the new generation appears to be a generation enamored of screens, thumb-driven keyboards, and pinch-to-zoom technology. What gets missed in that sweeping judgment is that those screens are gateways into lives and relationships that are not limited by geography and long-distance phone charges. Rather, substantive and caring relationships are happening for young people through handheld and desktop portals that reach broader and deeper than ever before in human history.
What does this reach yield? Empowerment of a generation whose culture is different than those past.
So what is it that this new generation values in its broad community? Exactly that: community. We are so blessed to see a generation emerging that cares very little about issues that defined the worldview of their parents and grandparents. For example:
2: Sexual orientation
All of these seem so critical to aging generations that many times the issues take precedence over the actual people who hold opposing viewpoints. In other words, the worldview regarding these and other “issues” is so important that it can be difficult to realize that there is a living being with feelings on the other side. That is at best unfortunate, and at worst un-Christlike.
The culture of today celebrates individuality and its place in community. Community gives permission and acceptance, no matter one’s age, race, color, creed, nationality, faith, status, and so on. It offers safety in being oneself rather than conforming to what others think. Couple this accepting attitude with technology that allows more information to be accessed from the palm of our hands than parents and grandparents ever had with the latest edition of World Book—now this community has a vehicle to take it beyond the four walls of the home, classroom, or church. It also equips the individual with answers that might conflict with the home, classroom, or church, yet feel more credible, since community offers acceptance and affirmation to the individual rather than judgment.
This area is the most relevant for the seminarian. The world is different. Sure, there are the same evils that have existed since Cain killed his brother. In fact, anyone would say that the depravity of man is as strong as it has ever been. Its reach, though, is further, thanks to modern technology.
The church can respond to this in one of two ways. First, we can retreat. We can barricade ourselves safely in walled homes, schools, and our own “communities” for the sake of maintaining and living what we know to be true. We can huddle and pray for people to change their ways and to be transformed by the Gospel.
Or, we can do what Christ did and engage the current community and culture. We can huddle and pray for people to change their ways and to be transformed by the Gospel . . . AND we can take the message of Christ, which is the same yesterday, today, and forever, into the current culture with a love that shows just how much He has forgiven our trespasses. We can be less known for our politics and make Him known through our implicit trust in His Kingdom. We can be less known for our traditions and make Him known by laying down our pride. We can be less known for our judgment of others and make Him known by sharing the mercies He has poured out over us. We can be less known for how we squabble with each other and make Him known by how we unconditionally love each other.
Some might think that there is just not enough room in God’s design for all three of these to coexist. What I see daily, however, is two of the three are being heard by the New Generation, and one is being tolerated or simply ignored.