Ready or Not: Here They Come! A 5-part Series on Partnering with Our Sons and Daughters for a Great Commission Future
Part 4 – Getting to Know Your Sons and Daughters: What Are They Really Like?
The year was 1977. High school graduates likely listened to the Bee Gees, The Eagles and Stevie Wonder on eight-track tapes (try Google images if your are clueless here). The president was Jimmy Carter and cable television was coming of age. Elvis Presley died, Star Wars was a hit movie, and the mini-series Roots premiered on TV. The U.S. population was 216 million. From this generation come many of our convention’s current leaders.
Most of the class of ’77 turned 50 years old in the calendar year 2009. Their children, born in the 1980s, are now between 20 and 30 years old. While there are plenty of additional contrasts we could draw, the real question is, “How much has the mission field of American changed since 1977?” An even more relevant question is, “How much have the missionaries of America changed since 1977?”
What do the following things have in common? Ethernet networking is invented at Xerox. Pong is introduced. The MRI is invented. Post-it Notes are invented. Laser and ink jet printing is invented. The Walkman is invented.
Answer: All of these were invented between 1970 and 1980.
What do these things have in common? Tim Berners-Lee (not Al Gore) develops protocol for both the WWW and HTML. The DVD is invented. JAVA programming language is introduced by Sun Microsystems. Google goes into public beta testing. The iPod is released. YouTube is launched.
Answer: All of these were invented after 1990.
The generation of our sons and daughters has experienced life changing technological development at an unprecedented pace. The invention of the Internet alone has changed the way we get news, read books, shop for everything from car parts to cookware, and self-diagnose our medical conditions. While Baby Boomers work at adapting to all of this change, it is integrated with the generation of our sons and daughters. It is as ubiquitous to them as the Cold War was to their parents. They are not technologically savvy because they are smarter than everyone else, but because that they have never known life apart from these things. For them, there has never been music apart from iPods, research apart from Wikipedia, or a “phone” without “smart” as a prefix.
The pace of invention has produced a generation with instant access to more information that any generation in history and a more rapid acceptance of new technologies. While older generations can be skeptical or slow to accept podcasting, Twitter, or e-books, our sons and daughters look immediately at the ways technology can be used to reach the larger culture with the gospel. Rather than waiting for people around them to “come to church,” they are utilizing technology to infiltrate culture with the gospel.
Facebook recently surpassed Google as the number one destination on the Internet, claiming its 500,000,000th user. To put that in perspective, around 1 out of 13 people in the world are now on this one website. If Facebook were a nation, and in a sense it is, it is larger than the United States. How will these “citizens” be reached if Christians do not use these technologies for advancing the gospel?
Facebook and other social networks have helped to unleash what comes natural to this generation: relationships. The current generation of young leaders in the SBC is relationally wired-they learn in groups, work in groups, do life in groups. Virtually everything about their existence includes others. Without a doubt, this is the work of God, who has prepared a relational generation to reach a relational generation.
But isn’t it just an extension of early church ministry? Jesus and His disciples ministered together continually for more than three years. Paul’s epistles were the written verification of ongoing relationships with the churches he planted and the people he led to Christ. His writings were not introductory in nature, but built upon relationships that already existed. Our sons and daughters are simply living out what they see in the narrative of the Scriptures.
A Diverse Conservatism
Perhaps surprising to some, but should be surprising to no one, our SBC sons and daughters are theologically conservative. The reason it should be no surprise is that our SBC seminaries have been thoroughly conservative since the 1990s. We are graduating biblical inerrantists. While some younger leaders may call themselves “methodologically liberal,” the clear point is they want to hold firmly to God’s Word while engaging with culturally appropriate means.
It is critical to remember that generational differences are not always theological in nature, but some relationships with younger leaders have been sabotaged by interpreting the differences as such. Each generation is attempting to be faithful to the mission of God in the context of their generational mission field. But the ways of doing ministry to reach a different generation changes and must continue to change to get the gospel to people in a way that is comprehensive and comprehensible. Just because younger leaders are methodologically diverse does not mean that they treat the Bible lightly. In many cases it means exactly the opposite.
Our sons and daughters reflect a diverse conservatism that will lead Southern Gospel singing, door-to-door visiting churches where appropriate. At the same time, others of their generation will plant art loving, urban-centric churches meeting in coffee shops when necessary. They will do so in order to deliver the eternal gospel to a temporary generation-and have a deep love for both.
Another area that can often be misunderstood is just how passionate younger leaders are about the need to be socially conscious. While some older leaders think of missions and evangelism from the position of proclaiming the gospel as portrayed in Romans 10:14-15, younger leaders often view the same responsibilities from the framework of meeting needs and helping people pictured by the ministry of Jesus in Matthew 9:35. Younger leaders have a fresh sense of optimism about God’s desire to change the lives of people on the margins: the homeless, the addicted, and those struggling with sexual sins. In simple terms, our sons and daughters are leading people to a more active engagement in social ministries. They see the delivery of compassion as a complimentary to when they deliver the gospel.
Young leaders are deeply passionate about sharing the gospel. Established leaders who miss out on the opportunities to help them express that desire through ministries of mercy will soon miss younger leaders.
This five-part series is based on the ideas included in our chapter “Ready or Not, a New SBC Is Coming” written for “The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time.”