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Bridging the Church’s generation gap

Our job isn’t to keep young people in the BIC but to love and follow Jesus, which just might accomplish the same thing

by Perry Engle

My 14-year-old daughter’s recent History Day Project on the anti-war protests of the 1960s reminded me anew of the generation gap that was so prevalent during that period. I was 16 years old when the Viet Nam War came to an end in 1975, and so I remember well the radical disconnect between my generation and the one that preceded it.

In his most recent book, You Lost Me, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group, suggests that “the generation gap [between young people and their elders] is bigger today than ever, but it is also a continuation, a deepening of the rifts introduced by the youth culture of the 1960s.” The alienation from institutions and skepticism toward authority that began with my generation (the Baby Boomers) in the 1960s has now become even more prevalent among Mosaics (people born between 1984 and 2002).

This has led Kinnaman and others to conclude that today, “most young Christians are struggling less with their faith in Christ than with their experience of Church.” No longer is loyalty to a denomination or a local congregation a given, as a younger generation raises questions about the consistency, transparency, and relevance of the Church.

This has led me to the conviction that the next generation of believers will connect with a church to the extent that they find Jesus at its core. They will be encouraged by it, loyal to it, and ready to give of themselves to it as they experience within it a clear and unwavering commitment to Christ and His mission to engage the world and change lives.

What they won’t do is connect because their parents or their grandparents connected. They won’t connect out of a sense of obligation or guilt. The next generation, because of its built-in skepticism of authority and institutions, will not automatically offer their allegiance to an entity that has not listened to their concerns nor gained their trust.

If they are looking for one thing, it is to join a family of believers that consistently and unashamedly has Jesus at the center of everything it says and does. Here is a glimpse of the Jesus that I believe this younger generation is looking to follow:

• This Jesus is overwhelmingly optimistic about the future

• He doesn’t shrink from people who have doubts about Him. He mentors His disciples patiently and thoroughly.

• This Jesus is clearly more relationally-minded than institutionally-minded.

• He engages with a broken world, instead of avoiding it. His primary mission is transforming lives.

• He challenges His followers to a deeper life of self-sacrifice. He says there is something worth living for and dying for. He describes it openly as “taking up one’s cross.”

I always wince when I hear language that suggests that one of our primary tasks is to develop followers loyal to the Brethren in Christ Church. To me, nothing is further from the truth. As a leader in this denomination, I have no intention of calling people to commitment to anything other than Christ Jesus Himself.

My suggestion would be that we stop obsessing about connecting the next generation to our denomination. As a matter of fact, I believe that if Jesus in all of His glory is revealed in our midst, then the significant generation gap described by David Kinnaman will begin to be bridged, and the next generation’s connection to the denomination will take care of itself.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2011 issue of In Part magazine.
Perry Engle

Perry Engle is under the illusion that he’s a 20-something trapped in a 52-year-old’s body. He is bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Conferences of the BIC Church in North America and lives with his wife, Marta, and their family in Ontario, Calif.

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Anonymous Posted on July 8, 2015

Lovely. Thanks

Drew Strayer Posted on March 13, 2012

Again, I couldn't agree more. The minute we place the longevity of a denomination or it's "relevance" ahead of our call to love God and love others, we lose focus. By loving God and others, we will accomplish all He has called us to in His strength...which MAY coincide with denominational goals. I'd rather keep my eyes on His goals. Thanks for the reminder.

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