a generational rant

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DISCLAIMER: Okay… so here is an unedited rant.  I was thinking on the crux of
my thesis and just spilled this out… plus I've been pent up in my
house with a fever for four days:

I've been challenged a few
times during this thesis process that perhaps what I was actually
trying to accomplish was the triumph of the younger generation of
emerging adults in the church.  It was put to me that perhaps I had a
bias towards this age group and wanted to see them "take over" or
influence the worship style or spend ridiculous amounts of money on
cutting edge media. 

Huh.  I have to admit that ten years ago
the answer would have been yes.  I was by then a well-worn youth pastor
who knew teens were disgruntled about the churches they were in.  I
knew they had great, fun youth groups where they gave their lives to
Jesus and grew in faith and passionately pursued a life of change.  I
knew that once they graduated their youth groups they had no where to
go, no where to fit in, no one to accept them, and no one to equip them
to keep growing in passion and faith.  The "church" and the "youth
group" were night and day. 

No wonder generation lines have been drawn so deeply in so many of
our churches.  Churches weren't reaching teens… so youth groups
started… These youth groups generally showed some raw and basic faith
that fired teens up… and then churches refused to bring them into
their fold because they had too much passion or too little maturity or
too despicable of a respect towards the institution and the practices
that they had made so rote for at least one of the older generations.

I
don't know if that made sense… I'm ranting… but I can get
passionately frustrated that churches have turned their backs to
younger generations being brought up and given the baton of leadership
without a leash.  A kid is never accepted in his home church… (didn't
Jesus say that?).

The bias of this study is not to champion the
cause of the "next" generation.  What good would that do!?!  If I
championed their cause, to the suppression of the faith and passion of
the older generations, I would be a jerk and a pretty stupid pastor. 
If I championed their cause, to the severance of the "next-next"
generation, I would be propagating the same frustrating paradigm upon
others.

The bias of this study is that ONE GENERATION IS TO
PROCLAIM TO THE NEXT about the Lord so that they grab it and then…
PROCLAIM TO THE NEXT… etc etc etc etc etc etc. 

Psalm 145:3-4
says "Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one
can fathom.  One generation will commend your works to another; they
will tell of your mighty acts.  They will speak of the glorious
splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. 
They will tell of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great
deeds."

The author hears about the Lord from those previous to
him.  They tell him over and over again.  They bring him into their
fold and teach him in such a way that he embraces it and it sticks! 
The author is so overwhelmed that he then naturally begins proclaiming
the same story of God!!  But notice, the older generation spoke of the
glorious splendor of God's majesty… and the author meditated on God's
wonderful works.  Notice that the older generation told of God's
awesome works… and the author proclaimed his great deeds.  Not a huge
shift there… but there is a nuance change.  The author is given the
freedom and blessing by the older generation to know the Lord for
himself in his day in the way that makes sense.  The author, in turn,
learns to give freedom and blessing to the older generation to do the
same.  And in that chorus they praise God together intergenerationally.

My
bias is not that there will be some kind of cookie cutter church
formula into which every new generation needs to be brainwashed.  My
bias is that every generation must proclaim to the next and then
empower the next generation to proclaim.  This involves commitment,
love, courage, confidence in Jesus, and the willingness to adapt…
Never will the story be different… but it may be held triumphantly
with a slightly different look with each passing season.

Ken Castor

Ken Castor is a husband, dad, pastor, writer and teacher. He serves as a professor at Crown College, Minnesota, where he equips students to pursue Jesus-Centered Faith and Next Generation Ministry. For 20+ years he's focused on equipping the next generations in places like the U.S., Canada, and Northern Ireland. He's the author of Grow Down (Simply Youth Ministry, 2014), Make a Difference (Broadstreet, 2016), the Blue-Letters Editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible (Group, 2015) and numerous other articles and Bible Study guides. But, whenever possible, he gets down on the floor and builds Lego with his kids. Connect with him @kencastor.

4 thoughts on “a generational rant

  1. Ken
    As I thought about this some more, we need to clearly define the term ‘next generation’.
    Originally I went on the assumption 20+ year difference, however on further reflection I think there is only about a 5 year age difference between generations. In other words I think we see the apathy between groups that are only 5 years in age apart, predominantly driven by changes in the phase of life. I.e. Senior Highs don’t reach out to Junior Highs, College students don’t reach out to Senior Highs, and finishing college / university, or marriage again creates another barrier / division. Of course one has to be careful of such sweeping generalizations, because there are always those, particularly in youth ministry leadership roles, who do cross the age barriers to maintain the ministry.
    Part of this seems to center around the mindset that church programs need to relate to people in the socio-economic status and stage of life, and as peoples interests change, they expect the ministry to change to meet their changing needs / interests. Don’t get me worng, I see great value in generational ministries especially in todays society. However the danger becomes that the participants get tunnel vision, and only see the world of the gospel through the narrow eyes of their generational clique. Hence my arguement above for a new paradigm which forces genrational ministries to focus outside their cliques.
    As a side question – has anyone ever done a study of how many young peple who were active youth leaders in their church / youth group / campus ministry are 20 years later still active leaders in their local church? Is being a ‘cross-generational’ youth leader any indication that such a person will continue to be cross-generational 20 years later? My hypothesis is that this makes very little difference on mind-set 20 years later. I would suggest this is predominantely because there is nobody in the organized church encouraging them to keep their eyes focussed on Christ, and when they turn their eyes away from Christ and look around them, they realize that the organized church does not value this kind of ministry.

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  2. Ken
    I do not believe that this generation will be any different than the previous generations, unless they can be moved to passionately see the previous generation’s faith re-ignited. Was this not the secret of how Esther, Timothy, David, Samuel, Joseph, Isaiah and many other young men and women in the Bible were able to remain passionate throughout their life?
    If the younger generation cannot demonstrate to the older generations that Christ is real, then when they become older how can we expect them to live any differently then what the older generation has shown them?
    I believe we need a new paradigm. Youth ministry / Young Adult ministry can no longer be just about sending youth out to reach other youth and children with the gospel. We have tried this for over 40 years, and it has failed. Our young people are the only hope for the future of the church, they need to be sent out to call all generations back to faith in God, at any cost.
    May every young man and women at the Hub recognize the gifts God has given them, and may God fill them with a passion not only for their generation and the next generation, but also for the previous generation(s).
    As you go and visit with other churches, may you not only learn from them, but I trust that you will also be able to encourage them to heed the warning.

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  3. James, you’re not too shabby at this “generational rant” thing either! You give us an overall picture that is sobering… a reality check for many. I can understand the frustrations you feel as you gauge a dissipating level of passion for faith and church as people live the day-to-day routines of their lives. Busyness and things, and yes even community, can so easily crowd out a relationship with Jesus. It’s hard to be unrestrained in faith when we shackle ourselves to so much.
    You also offer the emerging generations with a sobering wisdom from experience. Likely, without a determined shift, the next generations will fall into similar patterns. You see the fall as early as the fall after high school graduation… when so many passionate youth turn themselves off to God – and turn themselves off to having passionate followers of Jesus influence their lives.
    May the prophecy you give be a warning… and may it please not come more true than it already is. Thanks for the passionate rant, James. May it stir the fire that burns in your soul for God.

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  4. Ken,
    By God’s grace, in twenty years from now, may the story of the young men and women you are raising up today, be different from the reflections of this person from the ‘older generation’.
    When we were in our youth, we also had great, fun youth groups where we gave our lives to Jesus and grew in faith and passionately pursued a life of change. As we completed school, college, or university we began to pursue significant others and jobs with the same passion which we once had pursued our faith with. We didn’t wake up one day and decide to change our passions, rather it was a gradual change. Significant others and jobs were fun. Society told us we needed money and significant others to meet our needs, to have fun and to be fulfilled. As our needs were gratified, our needs grew and so our passion slowly drifted away from our faith to bigger and better things. As our passions shifted, our pride and self-centeredness grew. The prouder we became of our accomplishments, the more we looked out for ourselves the less we needed Jesus. For those of us who remain connected with a church, church now is only important to us so that we can be seen and noticed, so we can boast of our accomplishments to our friends and acquaintances.
    We did not heed the prophetic warnings when we were younger warning us that over a third to half of us would no longer be walking with the Lord. Sadly these prophetic voices should have had the courage to say more like 80% of us would no longer be growing in our faith and pursuing a life of change, and that only a handful would really care about the next generation. If we were to be honest with ourselves for even just a moment, we would have to admit that Joshua who had watched two generations rise and fall and in speaking to the third generation was right when he said: ‘You are not able to serve the Lord’ (Joshua 24:19)
    We wait for you, the younger generation, to take our place in church on Sunday mornings in a few years, when you too discover that there are other idols like, money, sex and significant other’s which will satisfy all your needs – just like the Israelites did in the Old Testament.
    We hope your youth leaders will discourage all Esther’s, Timothy’s, Samuel’s, Joseph’s and David’s who might be in your midst from challenging us to leave our comfort zones and return to a life of faith in Jesus. They will just be wasting their breath, as we don’t want to hear the Truth, because we don’t want to change. Whatever you do, don’t pray for us, for we are very comfortable and we still vaguely remember when God answered our prayers those many years ago and are afraid that He still might be in the business of answering prayers.

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