One of the great problems of today’s church, in my humble opinion, is that decades of generational ministry has led to people in the Body of Christ only relating to the parts of the body just like themselves. Even within family units, parents have difficulty understanding teenagers and grandparents have a hard time relating to twenty-somethings. We only exacerbate the problem by giving such a potpourri of offerings in the church (i.e. dare I say it? a traditional service and a contemporary service) that the ages are segregated with no meaningful interaction. In short, we just don’t know each other. I have heard older generations bemoan the lack of commitment among younger people, and younger people complain of older folks as stuck in a rut. I believe the onus is always on the older to reach the younger (the New Testament letter of Titus chapter 2, for example). So, let’s reconsider the perspective that young people lack commitment.
There is a mantra that I have heard many students, twenty-somethings, and young families repeat over and over when considering what they will be doing this summer, how the next academic year will shake out, whether they will stick with a certain relationship or activity, how and when they may commit to any involvement, and if they might show up at a certain event or even church: “I’m keeping my options open.”
At first thought this sounds pretty wishy-washy. But the thought in a young person’s head is typically one of not wanting to close doors that might be open to them, or to not burn bridges with anyone. They want to entertain as many promising options as they can, because they do not want to miss an opportunity, lose control of a situation, or get locked into something they aren’t sure of. Thus, many in the younger generations are typically loathe to settling down on any one thing.
This is why it is commonplace for people under 35 to try a wide variety of religious and spiritual organizations, and may never settle on just one. They move effortlessly between a large group meeting in one place and a bible study in another, and between a small traditional church and a big contemporary worship service. Spiritual experiences for them often take the form of freedom, exploration, spontaneity, and renewal.
Although it is important for all people to learn the value of loyalty and developing consistent routines centered in spiritual disciplines, in a younger person’s modus operandi they typically will not succumb to a dry faith that is done out of sheer duty or habit. So, instead of pressing or expecting them to be in our mold of devotion and faithfulness through closing doors and making consequential decisions, perhaps we ought to walk alongside them and join them in the journey they are on. The New Testament refers to Christianity as a road or a way, and the Christian life as a walk that we take with Jesus and the Spirit. It is in this walking together with another that we can help them consider the options that are before them, and provide counsel, wisdom, and warning concerning the forks in the road and the exits off the path. Younger generations can learn to forego certain options and commit to something particular when we take the time to journey with them.
So, rather than lament this generation’s lack of focus and ever-present flakiness, may we understand their desire to have genuine relationships with God and others that does not miss out on a vibrant life.
-How can we be a help, and not a hindrance to others in their journey?
-What can God do for and with individuals who keep their options open?
-Where is the Spirit taking a young person in his/her walk?
-What are your options in relating to particular persons, and generations of people?