While avidly on the smartphone herself, within that 6-year gap between them, games and online services have changed significantly. Where online engagements are concerned, nearly a generation has evolved from the time my daughter was introduced to it to when my son similarly was!
The unprecedented rate of change in society is leaving the church behind in its wake.
I believe the social and entertainment platforms go through a generation of evolution almost once every 8-12 years. Revolutions that occur in a country are known within hours, spread through social media. An unpleasant incident on the roads is put on online platforms that very evening, garnering opinions in the hundreds within a few hours. This is a testament to the environment facilitating increased rates of change in all areas of society.
I knew a young pastor in his 20s who lamented that he already found the teens he is currently shepherding to be so different from his own upbringing. His generation was told to just follow and “go with the flow and you will learn along the way”, while the youths now are much more critical, wanting to know the “why and how” before they embarked on anything!
Differences in just 10 years result in a generation of completely different mindsets!
The church, invested in helping the needy, encouraging long-term life-change issues, working with busy volunteers, has not been positioned nor resourced well to respond to new people-needs and challenges that come with the rapid change.
Here are some of my reflections regarding social changes and their implications for the church, which still need to be addressed today:
|Trends||Implications for the church|
|Shift from,Church-Centric Ministry to Marketplace-Centric Ministry||
|Facility and Church-Hubs (multiple churches in one place)||
|Youth / Young Adults attrition in churches||
Furthermore, many of the changes are tied to the upbringing, education and opportunities of growing up in this new generation;
A 25-year-old who studies business and starts a café with money sponsored by parents…
An avid internet-gamer who joins an organization designing internet games…
A young person who works in an organization known for LGBTQ equality and rights…
Those above 40 today may not fully understand and identify with these examples of exposure. It simply was not their social nor educational norm. Consequently, most leaders above 40 may find it difficult to build church ministries that embody the above needs at its core.
They lack the upbringing and exposure to envisage cutting-edge ministries that can engage and reach a generation other than their own
This is also a natural thing as I believe God raises people with appropriate experience and wiring for their own generation, as He did for David. David was called to establish Israel as a nation, but not to build a Worship-Centre for God.
For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors… (Acts 13:36, NET)
What then can the church do to stay relevant and impactful for every generation?
There are no quick-fixes nor easy answers to this generation-spanning question, but rather it requires investments in certain directions.
1. For everyone: Hold to the belief that there are good things in every generation that must be embraced and embedded in a healthy church.
In meeting a group of young leaders, I heard a common mantra repeated: “the gospel must not change, but its forms must always change to be relevant. There are things that should be retained as a core principle, though expressions and new forms must be developed to be relevant.
As Jesus taught new and radical ideas of the Kingdom of Heaven, he said to his disciples,
“That is why every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a home owner. He brings new and old things out of his treasure chest.” (Matthew 13:52, GWT)
There are good “old things” and good “new things” and we must learn to embrace both whole-heartedly if the Kingdom of Heaven is our goal. If a familiar way of ministry is our sole goal, or the newest move of God is our sole goal, we will never build a house of God.
2. For the older leaders: recruit, invest in and disciple younger leaders who have passion to shape church to engage their generation. (This is more than a cliché…)
The top-most leaders of the church need to look for promising people with passion 15 to 20 years younger, begin to disciple them and invest in them. I know this is so commonly said that it’s almost a cliché, but it’s easier said than done. There are a few challenges that need to be surmounted in order to do this, but if it’s not done, the church may not have a future!
Some initiatives to embark upon, and challenges to navigate:
- Identifying and mentor passionate AND healthy young leaders with a HOLISTIC view for God’s church
I’ve seen young, passionate and gifted people invited to leadership who have made astounding differences in their service! However, as they go through challenges they have fallen along the way, get disillusioned and even distanced themselves or leave church.
On the surface level, what they may have lacked from older leaders are proper guidance, mentoring and protection from hard knocks from older leaders. However, within themselves, they may lack a secure sense of self or a good spiritual parenting in their upbringing. These have left a gap in their hearts which they have not been able to fill, which becomes marked when going through difficult times.
For raising young leaders for the long-term it is essential to mentor people who have a certain degree of emotional and spiritual health with a holistic view of spiritual community and God’s purposes!
- Giving younger leaders the opportunities to make mistakes and face possible failure
Young leaders who are serious about making a difference inevitably reach a point where they have to decide if they are able to transform their church to reach their generation. If they feel that this church “would never change sufficiently”, they would find either learn to live with it and moderate their passion, or they would go all out for their passion and may embark on a search for it elsewhere. It would be sad if young leaders remain in the church only because they moderated their passion rather than developed it fully!
A young leader who grew up in the church and became a pastor there, once remarked that she would give her leadership in the church a few more years to discern if she can fulfil the vision of her ministry there before considering seeking a pastorate elsewhere.
Older leaders need to give younger leaders opportunities to carve out a vision of the church for the next generation. While allowing space for them to carve out new forms of ministry, make mistakes and even fail, it is possible these new and experimental “arenas of ministry” may serve as parts of the present church to reach next generation people and could even grow to become the de-facto ministries in the future!
Which leads me to the next thought of what older leaders can do…
- Influencing the older members to support the younger leaders
When new, never-seen-before ministries arise from the younger generation, changes in tradition and styles may cause consternation amongst older members. Leaders need to persuade older members to invest in the success of these new-leader-led ministries. They need to win the older members to giving new initiatives a chance, and to invest in these their “spiritual children”.
I believe that the best person to lead a church into relevance for a generation is a leader from that very generation who is committed to make an impact for Christ for his/her generation!
It is important for the church to reach a point where the older members genuinely love, support and want to see their younger leaders mature, succeed, and try new things for their younger generation. A mere “let’s see what they can do, we will tolerate it for a while” mindset will not give the younger generation a “home where old and new treasures are found” (Matthew 13:52). Inevitably young leaders may feel a sense of fatherlessness in their own church and seek to find a father and a home elsewhere.
Older leaders need to disciple older members to have a genuine heart for the younger. Some may even have difficulty accepting generational changes from their own biological children, and in this regard, this could be a discipleship-growth for these older members. This may be a discipleship that have to reach into homes and families.
3. For the younger leaders: rise to fulfil God’s purpose and honour the spiritual fathers and mothers in the house
My word to younger and upcoming leaders is two-fold:
- Courageously accept leadership within the church and make a difference.
If God opens the door, rise and lead the church to reach your generation as best as you can! Though sometimes you may doubt if this church will evolve sufficiently to engage the current landscape, that’s when courage and faith is needed! The church needs to keep changing to engage the changing current generation, and you play a part in helping segments of the church grow in this. As they do, I believe they will have generous and open hearts for the next generation—that’s discipleship! All of us need to grow in discipleship, even our “uncles and aunties”. Appeal to them to grow with you and your generation!
- Develop platforms that allow for the older leaders to guide you when you take-point.
If God puts you into key leadership roles, eg. become the new Senior Pastor or key Board Leader, find ways to allow godly, older people to continually speak into your leadership even as you helm it. DON’T relegate older people to a peripheral or mere-advisory role. Allow their concerns and wisdom to guide policies in your leadership.
The world needs a church that is this-generation-need-focused, yet time-tested-principle-founded. There will come a time when change happens so fast that core-principles will be the much-needed cry upon people’s hearts!
A church I know has established councils of older people, selected for their godliness, their heart for younger leaders, yet of sound principles. While usually advisory, when the vote in that council is called upon and unanimous, it becomes binding on certain issues. These are carefully thought-out and creative ways to engage older, wiser and godly leaders to continue to speak into the new generation of leadership!
There is no need to be locked in to old forms. We can evolve new structures and patterns for embodying core principles and new engagement that are important to us.
So, how can a church be relevant to our world today? The answer is already in our hands!
We need to steward the passion of the young, guiding with the wisdom of the old. More than just a cliché, we need to make investments of heart in these directions: drawing out those who are passionate and healthy, structure new governance, persuading the older generation—leaning consistently in these directions over time to raise an integrated and passionate new generation of leaders.
Spanning the generations, we can build a church focused on today, yet founded on the time-tested, a church that is relevant to the landscape, built by Jesus Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against!
Rev. Dr. Philip Huan, Principal Consultant Churchlife Resources
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