In most of the conjecture about how different each generation is from the last, we exaggerate our Western supposition that individuals are capable of significant uniqueness. The truth is less exhilarating: In their essential makeup, generations are boringly redundant.
Sure, Millennials text more than Gen Xers, and young Millennials tend to live longer in their parents’ basements, but all the descriptors are incremental, not radical. At our core, we are all depressingly the same. These shared core characteristics are then molded by cultural forces into apparently unique generations of humanity, but whereas the uniqueness is on the surface, the similarities inhabit the core.
That doesn’t mean generational differences can be ignored as we imitate Paul in becoming “all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Thoughtful ministers (both lay and clergy) will probe every generation to discover how to best present the good news of Jesus in generationally appropriate ways.
An example is how we Christians talk about guilt. A person can be guilty at their core without feeling guilty on the surface. Our understanding is that all humanity has a bent toward evil. But “guilt feelings” are largely a result of what we’ve been told is wrong, rather than universally shared convictions. Millennials, however, have been perpetually affirmed and told there is no objective evil; consequently, they experience little or no guilty feelings.
Hold that thought while surveying the typical way we have presented the good news of salvation: A sinner, burdened by a load of guilt, desperately searches for a solution to her guilt. As the song says, “Shackled by a heavy burden, ’neath a load of guilt and shame…”
The church I grew up in implored sinners to make a trek to the altar to have their burden of guilt lifted. But what if people today don’t think they’ve sinned and don’t feel any guilt? Should we adjust our presentation of the gospel for Millennials to address their understanding of the effects of sin, rather than continue with a presentation that solved how previous generations understood sin’s effects? This doesn’t involve changing the truth of the gospel. It simply involves understanding our audience and presenting the good news so it sounds good!
History suggests there will be a season of moral and spiritual awakening in every generation. Be ready.