May I vent for just a moment?
I’m so weary of the doom-and-gloom assessments commonly made about members of the next generation (NextGen). I’m more than weary, truth to tell. I’ve heard and read all about how more than 80 percent of churched teens abandon the church once they leave home for college or university; they don’t believe in absolutes or embrace traditional biblical morality; they feel entitled, don’t know how to work hard, have short attention spans, and want pretty much everything right now! I’ve seen panic in the eyes of fearful parents and despairing grandparents. Worse, I’ve seen disdain and scorn on many church faces as they look at the body ink, piercings and other “exotic accessories” common today. Yes, disdain and scorn — as if to say, self-evidently, “There ya go.” It’s as if simply pointing at them makes some point that we should all find compellingly depressing. Well, all I can do is call on a current expression, “Seriously?”
OK, thanks! I needed that.
Now, in the face of all of it, I want to say, “Bravo, NextGen!” Certainly, you have your issues, but don’t we all? I choose to face whatever truth there is in these assessments as a kind of “means of grace” for those of us who are more ancient than you. If these things are true, or to whatever extent they may be true, there are reasons — some of which the ancient ones don’t want to hear. For example, if you leave the church once you have freedom to do so, there is something wrong with the church and with the ancient ones who are being church in such a non-interesting and unattractive way. What should the ancient ones learn? (I nurse the hope that you will tell us, and we will listen.)
For another example, if you do not buy the notion that anything is so important that it is “forever, for real,” and if you find it difficult to embrace the old folks’ rights and wrongs, maybe it’s because you haven’t seen enough of us sufficiently “all in” or haven’t heard us explain what we claim to know in ways comprehensible and compelling. (Perhaps we should wonder whether we really believe.)
For a final example, if you feel entitled and struggle to see the sense of waiting for things you’ve worked hard to achieve, maybe you are selfish and lacking in the self-control that comes with maturity and that the Holy Spirit grows within us. Then again, maybe we ancient ones have indulged instead of truly loved you and have not taken the time to walk with you, mentor you, and offer you opportunities to learn, fail, and learn again. I mean, it could be all your fault. That is possible. But I think it right to practice the Golden Rule here and not assume it is.
In all of these ways, the apparent rap against you might really (at least in part) boomerang back on us, the ancient ones. It could even help us negotiate the changes necessary to be church in a way that you will not want to leave, that will stand for things you’d die and live for, and that would welcome your vigorous contributions to the mission of Jesus.
So, let me say it again, “Bravo, NextGen!”
As I say it, I am remembering that the original movement of Jesus was essentially a youth movement. Especially when seen in His cultural context, Jesus was very young, and most of His first followers would have been considered NextGen by the ancients who were leading God’s people at the time. Jesus entrusted His mission to them! The ancient ones of today might want to follow their Leader on this one.
BISHOP DAVID KENDALL is an ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference who was first elected to the office of Free Methodist bishop in 2005. He is the author of “God’s Call to Be Like Jesus” (fmchr.ch/dkcall).0