Recently I read an article that pointed out the generational feud in our culture between “Boomers” (born in the ’50 and ’60s) and “Millennials” (born in the ’90s and ’00s) all the while extolling the virtues of “Gen X” (born in the ’70s and ’80s). The article made the supposition that Gen X had the best of both generations (work ethic from the Boomers; exuberance and compassion from the millennials) and would be there to pick up the pieces when this fracas died down.
Being a Gen Xer, my first reaction to the article was one of pride, “That’s right, my generation is awesome!” But of course I began to analyze the article (hmm, the Boomers raised us, but we raised the Millennials, so what does that say about us?) and then I began to think, “How does this apply to the Church?” It’s undeniable that Boomers and Millennials are at odds in the world, and we are only lying to ourselves if we don’t think that animosity isn’t seeping into our churches. Numerous surveys and articles point out that Millennials are leaving the church en masse, and in many cases, leaving the faith too. It is not enough for my generation to “pick up the pieces.” No, instead, I challenge my generation to bridge the gap between the Boomers and the Millennials, but to do that we first must understand why these two generations are at odds in matters of faith.
Two Insufficient Faiths
It’s tempting to look at any given church and assume that every person there shares the same faith. Being the minister of a church filled with Boomers, Gen Xers and a few Millennials, I can tell you that nothing is further from the truth. The faith that many Boomers were raised with was focused on right living: don’t drink, cuss, smoke, have sex, etc. It’s an external faith, focused on outward appearances. Their generation was raised in churches where you always wore your “Sunday Best” to church and you were always on your best behavior while in attendance. Certain topics were never discussed in “mixed company” and children were to be seen but not heard.
Millennials on the other hand have a faith that prioritizes compassion over appearance. They pride themselves on being authentic (but let me offer up some free advice: authenticity doesn’t mean you have to drop the F-Bomb every five words. Do the work of expanding your vocabulary). Beyond the unnecessary scarves and are-those-painted-on skinny jeans (more free advice – can we move on from those trends? Please?) is a heart that deeply cares for the less fortunate in our society. That heart carries them into some of the nastier parts of our culture in order to help others. Unfortunately their compassion also comes with an impulse to blame every misfortune on every generation before them. They want to fix problems, but they also want to punish any person or establishment they perceive as having caused those problems. This blame comes across as whining to those raised in a generation where you didn’t complain about a problem, you just fixed it.
The problem with both faiths is that they are long on good works and short on grace. In other words, they focus on things instead of the person of Jesus Christ. Whether you are a Boomer trying to behave yourself or a Millennial trying to help the “least of these” if you are doing it in a graceless, works-focused way, you are doing it wrong. However, if your focus is on the person of Jesus, and pursuing Him and His heart, then the behavior befitting a Christ-follower will come naturally, as will the heartfelt compassion for which this world so desperately yearns.
What About Gen-X?
Don’t think I’m not going to point the finger at my generation. We raised the millennials. We taught them how to be compassionate to the less fortunate. However, we failed to teach them a faith that sticks. Maybe we were too busy gaming or building websites on Geocities to notice that we were raising our children to worship compassion, but not the Lord of compassion. We need to bridge the gap. We need to be the peacemakers that Jesus calls us to be. We do this by modeling respect to former generations. Faith is preserved when one generation hands it down to the next. Honor the past, but don’t live in it. Next, we put our faith into action. Be compassionate, but also be true to God’s Word. Take a stand for Jesus, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. Millennials for the most part haven’t suffered, and neither have we. Boomers grew up in the ’50s when America was in her golden age of economy. As a result we back down from discomfort, even when it’s good for us. Be uncomfortable. Challenge your Millennial children to do hard things, because often the hard thing is the right thing. Finally, let’s model respect. I am utterly saddened by the decay of mutual respect in our country. It has become nearly impossible to have a dissenting view without being labeled, ostracized or cussed out. And let me be clear, I’ve seen all sides descend into such antics. My generation was and is a sarcastic generation. We love sarcastic humor and use it on our friends and loved ones all the time. It is a second language to us. However, we have failed to teach our children the difference between using snark and sarcasm as humor and using them as a weapon. We need to model what respect looks like if we want our kids to know how to do it. This means we need to use a little more discernment when applying our sarcastic wit.
So is my generation perfect? Nope. And neither is yours. In fact, there is one thing all generations have need of: the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. If we draw near to Him, not only will we draw nearer to each other, but He will draw near to us, and that should be the hope of all generations.