Tuesday, November 6, 2012


My grandparents probably never stopped to think about their denomination's business, nor questioned the nature and leadership of their church's gathered worship. (Just guessing here. I never knew my grandparents.)

My parents questioned their denomination, but so far as I know did not take issue with the nature and leadership of worship. (They're both gone now, so I can't back that up with a personal story.) They were committed to the church they were born into, so that even after it let them down, it took a life crisis for them to even think about changing churches.

My generation wanted change in the church, fought for change in the church, got power and made change in the church. This was, by and large, probably not a good thing. For the most part, as it came to worship, we mostly wanted it to be about "us."

My children's generation grew up in churches that, in fear of losing a generation, made sure church life was "all about them." These are the emerging leaders in the church.

Musing on this now because of a sermon I heard on Sunday. My Karen and I were visiting a famous "downtown" church in a big city. (I am currently not in a ministry position, and we are taking the fall weeks to get around to churches we've never been able to get to.) The service was rich, of a classic Reformed nature, good music, nicely led. Then the sermon. Ah, the sermon. Here the young pastor had a few choices to make. He could do a straight-up exposition of Ruth, chapter 1 (the Old Testament reading and the announced sermon text). He could do a riff on All Saints Sunday (a stated theme for the entire day at this church). He could tell personal stories about his own growing up in the church (which, you know, probably isn't what the average person in the pew might have looked for). What he did, was try to do all three.

Now, I'm no preacher, but I've been around good preaching all my adult life. And I don't think I'm being critical when I suggest that trying to do all 3 wasn't a great idea. It failed on at least 3 levels. (If you get my drift.) But that's not what I am writing about.

No, what struck Karen and me was that here was a young man (I mean, a really young man, and not just by comparison to us) who presumed to instruct a primarily older congregation (and I mean, a really older congregation, even by comparison to us) with a tale about theologically out-growing his home church.  And it struck us as we drove home: here is a case (I'll not say a representative sample) of someone who grew up in a church where from the beginning everything was designed to say, "this is all about you."

It begins in the nursery, where naturally really everything is all about the babies. It continues through grade school, with age segregated worship "experiences" that keep children and parents apart on Sunday mornings. It hits its stride in student ministries, which often also means continued age segregation for the worship hour. (I'm happy to be able to say that the church where I am a member but no longer on staff, does not have age-separate worship services.) Students go off to college and often continue in worship settings that are explicitly age-specific. Young. Everything about the church experience, for so many Christian youth in the U.S., is designed specifically for them and requires no effort to interact with their grandparents' or their parents' generation . . . or even their younger siblings.

Read more about this phenomenon, here. I'm just winging it. It isn't like this generation-centric approach to church life sprang up out of nowhere. 

Increasingly, young ministry personnel are taking up leadership posts of all kinds in churches of all kinds. Is it any surprise that their churches will conform to their needs, experience and taste? My generation accomplished this by force, and mostly made a mess of it. Will the next generation continue this through the exercise of entitlement?

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