Becoming Absent to Save the Absent Generation

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This is the fourth and final post in a series on my attempts to relate cross-generationally.  After the introduction post on Monday, I wrote on Tuesday and Wednesday about the older, Silent generation and the middle aged Baby Boomers.

I want to finish this series with a unique post about being a Millenial Pastor who is trying like crazy to understand and relate to those my age.  .  .and failing miserably.

I was born in late 1984, two years after they stopped making Generation X babies.  My older sister was born in early 1981, right before they started making Millenials.  The chief difference between her and I is that she didn’t have a home computer in High School and didn’t take a laptop to college.  I had a computer in my room and bought my first laptop a few days before my freshmen year of college.  More than that, my sister was in grad school when Facebook was invented and I actually had an account a full 3 years before she got one.

However, as I read the descriptions of Gen X and Millenials I find that I land somewhere between the two.  You might call me an X’d Millenial or a Milleniax or a Xillenial.

Despite my commonalities with both Generations, I am a kid who grew up in the church and am now a leader in it.  Concerning spirituality and morality I am fairly traditional.  I pastor an old-school traditional church that opens every service with a hymn.  I don’t play the electric guitar (or acoustic) and I still think that waiting until you get married is in your best interests.  I do not swear, nor do I have any tattoos, nor do I drink alcohol.  And the older I get, the less inclined I am to watch violent or pornographic television.  I couldn’t watch more than a few episodes of Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead or Orange is the New Black.

All of this makes me unique because the average Gen X or Millenial will not attend a traditional church nor follow its traditional morality.  They didn’t wait until marriage.  They love those graphic and obscene television shows.  If they do go to church it will be to a church that brews organic blends, not Folgers and plays super emo, mellow choruses while sporting their newest tattoos of religious iconography.

But not many Gen Xers or Millenials go to church.  In fact, regarding the church, they are an absent generation.

This makes me a very rare breed among my peers.

More than that, the young adults in my small town all ready have 3 kids from 3 different partners.  They are addicted to everything from cocaine to marijuana to tobacco to alcohol to video games.  They do not know who King David or Isaiah or the Apostle Paul are.  And their tattoos are certainly not of a religious nature.  They all believe in God but beyond that they don’t understand religion nor have a use for it.  And, to be honest, as an ordained religious icon, I do not understand them.

I say all of this in the way of confession because my congregation hired me to bring in the young adults and I do not know how to even begin to bridge the gap between my traditional morality and their libertarian lack of values.

Last summer we started a Tuesday night dinner group for young adults at the church.  Over a month it grew to 15 and died just as quick because those attending moved away or got evening jobs.  During those dinners I struggled with whether I should even bring up Jesus or just continue to talk about video games, hunting, firefighting and sports.  In the end Jesus went unnoticed and they all checked out of church.  But don’t get me wrong, the result would have been the same had I been overly pushy about Jesus.

They claim to love our Sunday services but they are always too hungover to get out of bed to come.  They say they will come to church events but always end up finding a reason not to.  They say they want a children’s program but when we start one they do not show.  They say they want a nursery for their children and when we opened one, they took their kids into the service with them anyway and continued to complain we were not “toddler friendly.”

Meanwhile they wallow in bad decision making.  They can’t find a place to live because nobody will rent to them because they trashed the last 20 apartments and screamed at the last 10 landlords.  They desperately want to work and some are hard workers, but they have no idea how to treat their coworkers and bosses so nobody will hire them.  They are all in complex and miserable custody battles for their children with ex-partners, parents and grandparents.  The more details I hear, the more I am sure none of them should win custody.

The end result is they complain about their self inflicted “bad luck.”  I help them dig out of their latest mess, all the while hoping it will mean they will own their bad decisions and turn their lives over to a loving God.  It hasn’t quite happened yet with any of them.

I know this is not the case for all Gen Xers and Millenials but it is certainly the norm in my small town.

So I do not have any easy solutions here except to say at least I know their names and consider them friends and all that happened outside the walls of my church.  In a very real way I have had to become absent to reach out to these absent generations.  I am not just talking about the now old trope of a minister spending more time out of the office than inside of it.

I am talking about leaving the religious establishment of my youth.  I am talking about choosing to forget about things like Bible Quizzing and Mission Trips and Summer Camp and Private High School and Christian University.  I have to forget those memories and pretend like I know nothing so save those who don’t know nothing.  I have to re-imagine my life as if it had been devoid of things like potlucks, VBS, G rated movies and two loving parents.  Instead I have to picture how my life would be with cocaine, abuse, neglect and X rated porn.

This does not mean I start getting tattoos and smoking cigarettes  and drinking myself into oblivion.  It does mean I pretend I have no idea who Paul the Apostle is so that I can help my peers discover him for themselves.  It means I do not preach at them concerning the dangers of alcoholism, or even cocaine, but instead ask questions about what such use is doing for their lives.

I don’t defend their employers and landlords but listen to their complaints accusations against them.

And I certainly don’t take sides in their custody battles.

Pulling this off is incredibly difficult, especially since my patient compassion for them has yielded no measurable results.

Yet I have found that if I meet them where they are at, then at least I keep the conversation open.  And I hope without much reason that when they are ready to move forward I can introduce them to a God and His church that longs for them to be reconciled.

Happy Halloween!  May the presence of our Lord together with All the Hallowed Saints be with you this weekend.

Becoming Multi Generational to Save the Multi Generational

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The Cross Country season ended last Friday and this week finds me working from home so that my 2 year old daughter can work on her potty training.

While at home I am reading a book that compares and contrasts ways of doing youth ministry.  I will write a fuller review of that book on Friday (hopefully).  I am also pulling together our annual All Saint’s Day service and working on a sermon for the following Sunday on 1st Corinthians 9.  All of these have me thinking cross-generationally.  Cross Country led to many great insights about today’s youth that will certainly inform my reading of the youth ministry book.  Our All Saints Day service has me thinking about the wonderful contributions of the elderly who have passed away recently.  And 1st Corinthians Chapter 9 contains every evangelist’s and missionary’s favorite Bible verses that certainly relate to the age groups:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.1

Over the last 2 and a half of years I have endeavored to become old to save the old and young to save the young and middle aged to save the middle aged.  This has not been easy but it has been beneficial.

The reality is that in the last 80 or so years the world has changed substantially.  For one example, the oldest members of my congregation remember buying their first refrigerators.  Those slightly younger remember their first televisions.  The middle aged remember that first microwave.  I remember my first computer while the teens and kids remember their first tablets and smart phones.

Of course technology is only one way to illustrate the change.  I could also talk about the changing family structures, the changing geopolitical borders and the changing of language itself.

In fact within a month of starting my pastorate I had a conversation with a Baby Boomer where he annoyed me by complaining about Bill Clinton who apparently made us more vulnerable to an attack by Russia.  I spent a lot of time wondering why he cared so much and why I was so annoyed about it.

In the end I realized that Russia was not the bad guy when I was growing up, except in James Bond movies and even James Bond spent more time befriending them than killing them.  However in the world of my older friend, the Russians were enemy number 1 and any show of weakness to them was enough to discount an entire 8 years of Clinton’s Presidency.  (Well that and the extra marital affairs)

That realization, that my world was incredibly different than my older parishioners, has led down many rabbit trails of small discoveries.   Another “aha” moment came when I realized none of my board members were getting my emails because they only check their emails once a month.  On the other end of the age spectrum, I also noticed the young adults and teens were ignoring my emails because email is for Spam.  Snapchat and Instagram are for meaningful connections and Facebook is as antiquated to them as VCR’s are to me.

All of these examples are illustrations of what sociologists call “the cohort theory.”  That theory simply claims that it is easier to categorize and understand someone based off of the year they were born over against where they were born and who they were born too.

It should go without saying that “The Cohort Theory” has its limitations.  For example, I have also discovered that a love of firearms extends across generational lines in my town but if you travel to the nearest city the hatred of such is multi-generational.  More than that, marks of adult maturity (budgeting, work ethic, control of addictions, emotional health, etc) seem to be easier to categorize by family, not by age or region.

Still, in a world that has changed remarkably over 100 years, there is great value in understanding people based off of their generation.  By comparing and contrasting the different age groups in my community I have found more practical applications than I anticipated.

So this post is the introduction to a week long series about learning to be old to save the old and young to save the young while also giving the middle aged their due.  Along the way I will recount my discoveries in attaining a local phone number so the elderly will believe I belong here, learning what this Instagram thing is all about, trying to understand Baby-boomer cynicism without becoming cynical and putting together Powerpoints that entice the young without letting the old know how addicted to technology I am.

Spoiler Alert: I have learned the cartoon-y the Powerpoint the better.  Also make fun of them some of the time but not ALL of the time.

See you all tomorrow where I will discuss becoming Silent to save the Silent Generation.