The Vanishing American Adult

Ben Sasse bookSenator Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult is part blueprint to reverse the juvenalization of American society and part autobiography.  Drawing upon authors such as Christian Smith, (see here for more on emerging adulthood), Jeffrey Arnett, and his own experience as a college president, Sasse explores the problems of emerging adults, and how to help them become more self-reliant.  His case is laid out in in several chapters entitled:  Flee Age Segregation, Embrace Work Pain, Travel to See, Consume Less, and Build a Bookshelf.

While not a book about evangelism, church planting, or collegiate ministry, Senator Sasse’s book still touches on a huge problem facing the church:  a rapidly growing illiterate American society which does not understand civic virtue, hard work, and the gift of liberty.  Drawing on research Senator Sasse points out numerous troubling points:

  • Declining readership
  • Safe spaces at colleges to avoid troubling topics
  • Lack of understanding on the make up of government
  • Increase in the time spent on social media
  • Mass consumerism
  • A schooled elite with no work experience

According to Sasse, who has a Ph.D. in history, the United States has abandoned its traditional notions of close family ties in both church, education, and work, to more and more age-segregated groups.  This segregation coupled with a secularized public education system and a 24-7 internet black hole is leaving Millennials and Generation Z to fend for themselves with terrible results.

One of the ways to turn this situation around, according to Sasse, is to integrate children back into the family.  This means families taking more control of the education of their children, while also including them in adult society.  This will be a slow process.  It will require families to make huge investments in changing lifestyles.  The ubiquitous internet and first cousin consumerism must first be tackled by parents so as to model it to their children.  We have to ponder, how much are parents willing to change.

Quoting Mark Twain that “I never let school get in the way of my education”, Sasse makes a plea for adults to bring their kids more and more into their world to see what adult work is like.  Rather than shield children from work and its reality, we need to be helping them navigate those waters earlier.  This means supplementing their educations in highly important but non-school ways such as travel, working with their hands, responsibility taken earlier rather than later, and wrestling with the ideas of great books.

So why should pastors, youth ministers, parents, and collegiate ministers read Sasse’s book?  Because the work we have to do as Christians is not only evangelism and church planting.  To help foster a functioning society, we are going to have to educate, and mature, a society that is deeply broken in its spirituality, character, and thinking.  As quoted by Rod Dreher in his book, The Benedict Option, professor Michael Hamby states: “Education has to be at the core of Christian survival—as it always was.”  According to Hamby, there must be a quest for what is true and beautiful.  The church must be concerned with guiding the next generation on such a quest.

In some ways this book is too late for college students (though anyone can start wrestling with its ideas).  It fits best to teach families and the church how to begin thinking about systematic reform for young adults before they get to college.  And for those who are passionate about future college students, I would argue that it is up to collegiate workers to help address the challenge of this book.

Here are a few suggestions to use this book:

  • Create your own list of 60 great books and start reading them
  • Find out what your students are reading and see where they need help filling in the cracks
  • Create summer reading lists for college students
  • Create a theology of work and teach it early
  • Share the importance of an understanding of global Christianity
  • Include this book as a resource for church leaders who are preparing youth before they get to college
  • Use it as a reference for parents who are asking about preparing their children for college
  • Refer it to pastors in your personal circle of friends or colleagues

Finally, if you are interested in creating a look list, don’t’ just skip to the back and see what Senator Sasse put on his list of 60 books.  Instead, take some time and struggle to come up with your own list.  But don’t stop there.  Set up a shelf, put your books on it and invite your family, church, or collegiate group to start reading.

To hear Rod Dreher on the importance of education click here

 

 

Meet Gen Z

Gen Z 1If you are in collegiate ministry you need to stop reading about Millennials and start reading about Gen Z.  And that is part of the problem.  Gen Z is so young (scholars are still arguing about when it began) that in some ways we don’t know much about them.  Of course as with any generation there are some “hard” facts that can’t be overlooked.  A few examples are the diversity of Gen Z, the size of Gen Z, and the context of Gen Z in an every more secular United States.

If you want to start somewhere with Gen Z you may want to read Meet Generation Z:  Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World  by James E. White.  The subtitle helps one understand his objectives for writing the book: description and prescription.  Dr. White sets the generational years for Gen Z from 1995 to 2010.  Of course, these generational brackets are much debated.  However, I think he is about right give or take a year.  Gen Z is in college, either as freshmen or sophomores.  If you haven’t wrapped your mind around that fact, you need to start.

Dr. White does a good job laying out several characteristics of Gen Z.  They are the most diverse generation, they will be the largest generation, they are recession marked, sexually fluid, Wi-Fi enabled, and post-Christian.  From a Christian perspective these are great places to begin thinking about the importance of Gen Z, and how we as Christians need to reach them with the Gospel.

Meet Generation Z is not a comprehensive book, so there is only so much attention Dr. White can give to these characteristics.  He gives most attention to the impact of technology and living in a post-Christian culture.  I think that is justified.

In part two of the book, “A New Approach”, Dr. White turns to the prescription for the lostness of Gen Z.  In such chapters as “The Countercultural Church”, “Rethinking Evangelism”, and “A New Apologetic”, Dr. White focuses on reaching a generation that is post-Christian, Biblically illiterate, yet spiritually open.  These chapters give one glimpses of pathways in reaching Gen Z.  Much of what he discusses in these chapters are dealt with in more detail in the work of Rod Dreher, James K.A. Smith and Charles Taylor.  If you are wanting more in-depth analysis of these topics, I suggest you also read their books.  But for a primer on Gen Z, Dr. White’s material is still useful.

On a practical level, Dr. White includes questions for discussion at the end of each chapter.  These are great for a group reading this book  as a way to get people talking and thinking together.  There are also several sermons by Dr. White in the appendixes.  These are included as examples of how he has attempted to address the problems discussed in the book about reaching Gen Z.

Even if you don’t have time to read Meet Generation Z now, I hope you will do some research into Gen Z and stop talking about those old folks, the Millennials.

To read my reviews of Rod Dreher, James K.A. Smith and Charles Taylor, see below:

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith

How Not to be Secular by James K. A. Smith

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor

To read my take on Gen Z at the Collegiate Collective click here

No Little Women

No Little WomenAimee Byrd’s No Little Women brings a lot of engaging questions for pastors, laymen, men and women about how “women’s ministries” should be thought of in the church.  These questions also plumb similar issues for those doing collegiate ministry.  Though Aimee was first drawn to this topic by her concern for the quality of some of the teaching material being used in women’s ministries, she carefully and convincingly goes on to ask great questions about what is a “ministry,” should there be separate women’s ministries, and what is the best model for men and women to do ministry together under a canopy of complementary theology.

According to Aimee the real ministry of the church is the Ministry of Word and sacrament which is conducted by the officers of the church.  These are the means by which Christ ministers to His church.  If we call everything we do ministry, we weaken the meaning of Ministry.  For her, everyone, both men and women, must foremost be nurtured and encouraged through the preaching of the Word and the sacraments of the church.

Another great topic she explores is the term “necessary allies” to describe women. Using the work of John McKinley for her departure, Aimee argues that “necessary ally” is a better translation of ezer than helper for the woman in Gen. 2:18.  Rather than send women off to another part of the church in a “separate but equal” track, Aimee fleshes out commonsense ways that women as necessary allies make for a stronger church.  Turning to the work of John McKinley again, she lists seven ways women are allies within the church.  A few examples are: giving wise instruction and counsel; responding to God as examples of faithfulness; and as cobelligerents against evil enemies.  This does not mean that men and women should not have time to be in their own groups, rather it means we should not see separate groups as the normal means of how Ministry should be.

But it is not just being necessary allies that is important, Aimee also points out that women need to be competent allies as well.  That means having good training in theology, education, general knowledge, and resources.  It also means that they should be given the chance to be competent allies working alongside the men in the church.  Women can be much more than bakers and nursery leaders.  They can be great teachers, writers, and counselors within the church as well.

So, how does No Little Women, relate to collegiate M/ministry?  Let’s think about a few questions.

First, fifty-seven percent of students in the U.S. are female.  How are we going to reach them, equip them, and disciple them, when most of the staff in collegiate ministries (dare I use the word) are male?

Second, if a church or parachurch does have female staff, are they running a separate “women’s ministry” style model, or are they also allowing female staff to help plan, prepare, and promote the work of the whole ministry in a collaborative way?

Third, are female staff being given the same amount of time and resources to equip them to be better leaders, thinkers, and theologians for the whole ministry?

Fourth, are the female staff being given opportunities to utilize their gifts for God’s glory?

I hope that if you are struggling with the right mix of male and female staff, or even if you have never even thought about these issues, you will pick up a copy of No Little Women, read it, and talk about the questions it raises with your leadership team.  I am sure everyone, male and female, will find it engaging.

I had the privilege to interview Aimee for the No Campus Left Podcast.  When the podcast is released I will link to it here.

The Benedict Option Part 2

Here is the second part of my interview with Rod Dreher on his book The Benedict Option.  In this second part, we talk about what the Benedict Option might look like on a college campus, and what Christians face in the modern academy.

For part two of the No Campus Left Podcast click here

For my review of his book click here

The Benedict Option Part 1

I had the pleasure recently to interview Rod Dreher about The Benedict Option.  In Part 1 we talk about some general concepts that Rod is trying to get across to his readers.  We cover the background of St. Benedict, practical application of some aspects of the Rule of St. Benedict, liquid modernity, and why Rod decided now was the right time to write the book.  This interview was for the No Campus Left podcast.  Part 2, which will focus more on how the Benedict Option affect the campus, will come out soon.

Click here for the link.

For my review of The Benedict Option click here

Collegiate Ministry at Early Colleges

 

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In 2003 a new form of education was born with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.  It was called Early College, and would help accelerate a high-school student’s ability to begin college work.  The first Early College was in North Carolina at Guildford College.  Today, there are 113 early college programs in North Carolina, with many others scattered around the country.  For churches and ministries doing collegiate work, the Early College concept presents unique challenges and opportunities for ministry:  high-school students on a college campus, administered by a high-school system.

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Why You Should Read The Benedict Option

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Rod Dreher is not an academic.  He has no Ph.D. and does not teach at a university.  Yet, he is able to take complex concepts of philosophy, sociology, history, etc. and explain them in ways that most people can grasp.  He is also not a priest, pastor, or leader of a parachurch organization.  Yet he writes and speaks as a layman with true spiritual depth.  He shares his own struggles, faith, faults, and victories with a transparency and sincerity that we can resonate with.  You would actually like to sit down with him and talk about life.  And this is one of the great things about The Benedict Option:  A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, it is not coming from an academic or denominational leader:  it is coming from the ground up.  And for the Benedict Option to work, that is exactly what is needed to get it going.

Of course, the success of the Benedict Option is also due to its timing.  Though Rod alluded to the Benedict Option ten years ago in his book Crunchy Cons, I don’t know if most Christians would have been ready.  Anyone who read Lesslie Newbingin 40 years ago, or Missional Church almost 20 years go will know the diagnosis of the decline of Christianity in the United States, but during these ten years since Rod mentioned the need for a new Benedict, so much has happened.  The Millennial generation has shifted to the left on social norms and politics, marginal issues like same-sex marriage and transgender rights have become new norms, businesses have become arbiters of family values, sports is a tool for cultural enforcement, and what was once considered out-of-control political correctness on our campuses is now ubiquitous.  I don’t need an academic to explain it to me, I see it everyday.

But there are other forces at work too. Technology like the internet and cell phones have brought us amazing amounts of information, but the ability to literally spend our whole lives on pointless trivia.  The “authentic self” that philosopher Charles Taylor wrote of in his masterpiece The Secular Age, reached its apogee in Caitlyn and Bruce Jenner.  Bruce Jenner, a Cold War hero to us in Generation X, became a cause celeb to Generation Z as Caitlyn Jenner.  Transpose that Wheaties picture of Bruce in 1976, winner of the Olympic decathlon and “world’s greatest athlete” with Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, and you see trajectory of where we are headed as a nation.

As Christians we did not want to believe the academics.  Developing as a nation under the canopy of our country as a “city on a hill” from John Winthrop’s sermon A Model of Christian Charity, we always told ourselves we could “go back” to ideal times.  Revivals did help, and many truly believed that with the right focus on the right segments of society, we could still transform the culture.   But we finally find ourselves “strangers in a strange land” to steal a line from Robert Heinlein.  Continue reading