If you are in the Christian church you may have heard a lot of voices in the past few years lamenting the inability of the church to connect with young adults who are passionate about justice and mercy and who are tired of legalism and a culture that stifles searching and questions. These things are all probably true for a lot of people.
But there’s a terrible and frightening irony here. The voices are coming from the middle-aged. No, not the people who think they’re middle-aged. Those people are my parents generation. That’s the generation in the church who taught us to fight with each other for what we wanted. That’s the generation that taught us that leaving to find (or make) something after our own image is the right way to handle disagreement. Because, really, don’t we all agree that divorce isn’t so bad as their parents made us think? And isn’t starting a new church across town that makes me comfortable how the church should grow? That’s the generation that taught us how to shop around for lovers, friends, churches. That’s the generation that shaped our values, both good and bad. It is their behavior that helped shape how we live because we adopt what has been modeled for us and we react against the ways in which they were overbearing.
No, these voices of the middle-aged are my generation (and older as I still consider myself pretty young at the age of 32). I’m about the age of Jesus when he was leading men and women into the Kingdom of God, teaching and training them how to live the way He lived. But we like to think we are younger than we are. We aren’t. For many reasons, we haven’t matured in ways we should have, but neither has our parent’s generation. I think we inherited that from them as well. Most of us are of the age to have great and/or terrible influence over what is accomplished in our congregations, communities and families. We are the ones shaping the world around us. We’ve labeled our parents generation as irrelevant in the church but we still cry out, “Woe are we who are young and oppressed by the leaders of the church.”
We certainly desire and seek out values that are good and in opposition to this behavior… stability, community, trust. But we do it through learned behavior. We leave. And we do it quickly because we saw the bickering and fighting and we don’t want it and we can’t handle it. We are sick of it. So we leave at the first sign of trouble. Many of our generation left the church because of fighting in the church at large, or fighting in their congregation, or fighting in their family, or fighting with what they were taught vs. what they observe. I’m not blaming the previous generation. In fact, my point is that we need to understand where we have come from and where we are so that we can take responsibility for ourselves.
Here’s the terrible and frightening irony: We are now the leaders in the church. Regardless of title or position, for better or worse, our generation is doing the leading. What we are crying out against is a phantom–a memory of our formative years and we are crying out against our own creation and influence. In the words of Walt Kelly, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1