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

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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.   To hear it click here.

Why You Should Read The Benedict Option

Ship

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

Dealing with the new Dark Age: The Benedict Option.

benedict-optionIf you are not familiar with Rod Dreher or his writing, you may not know what the Benedict Option (a.k.a the Ben Op) is.  Rod’s book will be out on March 14th so you do not have long to find out if you want to read it.  In the meantime he has written numerous posts at the American Conservative.  Perhaps his fullest sketch of the Ben Op was at Southern Seminary during the school’s Gheens lectures.  To see his first lecture on The New Dark Age click here.

However, if you don’t have time to listen, I will try to outline a few basics about Rod’s thesis.

  1.  The west is going through a new Dark Ages which will bring challenges to the American church.  This new Dark Ages will last a long time. There will not be a quick fix and it will most likely bring different forms of marginalization and economic persecution to the Church.
  2. The goal of Christians during the this Dark Age should be less about propping up American Imperium and more about building an Ark to survive the flood waters that are going to sweep over the country.
  3. In order to reemerge at some distant point with the Gospel, the Church will have to spend more time educating and disciplining its members in a new more Christ-centered community.  These communities will need to be somewhat removed from culture, but not removed geographically.
  4. All orthodox Christians, whether Evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox, will need to find common cause, while drawing upon strength in their own traditions to build these communities.
  5. It’s called the Benedict Option after St. Benedict who founded a monastic order at the end of Roman empire.  This order over the next few centuries protected and nurtured the Gospel during the Dark Ages for the West at a later date.

This is the Benedict option in a nutshell.   Continue reading

Steps to Cross-Cultural Servanthood

cross-cultural-servant

We know that Jesus came to serve and not be served.  His example sets a high standard for us to follow.  We all should be servants in some way.   But let’s face it, when it comes right down to it, we often are commanding servants, well-meaning but blind servants, or perhaps befuddled servants.  This is especially true in cross-cultural situations.  Often the way we serve is geared to our own culture and may not be appropriate in another culture.  The way we help might be confusing or frustrating to those we are trying to help.  According to a study cited by Dr.  Duane Elmer, 76% of missionaries are of a “duty bound” personality type.  This means they are interested in getting things done and transmitting communication.  They are not that good at receiving information or being sensitive to their hearers.  Think about that.  Those who have the drive to get something done, are often the least likely to listen to those they are trying to help.

Thankfully, Duane Elmer’s book Cross-Cultural Servanthood helps us layout stepping-stones to create a path to appropriate servanthood.  Though written for those who are going to be living in another culture, I have used his steps to help train volunteers here in the U.S. working with international students.  I think your training and ministry experience will be greatly improved by walking his path.

So what are the stepping-stones that lay out a path to culturally appropriate servanthood?   Dr. Elmer lists six overall steps:  openness, acceptance, trust, learning, understanding, and serving.

Here is his layout of the steps.

Openness is the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe.

Acceptance is the ability to communicate value, worth and esteem to another person.

Trust is the ability to build confidence in a relationship so that both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest.

Learning is the ability to glean relevant information about, from, and with other people.

Understanding is the ability to see patterns of behavior and values that reveal the integrity of a people.

Serving is the ability to relate to people in such a way that their dignity as human beings is affirmed and that they are more empowered to live God-glorifying lives.

Each definition includes the word “ability.”  An ability, according to Dr. Elmer, is “something we can do, do better and even master.”  And that’s good because we all need to to improve, especially when we are in a cross-cultural ministry.

Each one of these steps has much to offer us in improving our ability to serve cross-culturally, but I only have space to focus on the first two which are needed to begin the journey.

When I was heading up a ministry focused on ministering to international students one of my major frustrations was finding volunteers (both students and non-students) who were “open” to spending time with international students.  Many people were good at making meals, giving money, or verbally supporting what I was doing.  But it was often hard to get people to actually get in the trenches, so to speak, and do the hard work of cross-cultural relationships.  But after reading Dr. Elmer’s chapter on “Openness,” I understand that many people, even while wanting to serve, are not able to be effective due to a limited ability to be open.

According to Dr. Elmer, several skills are needed to be open.  These skills are:  suspending judgment, tolerance for ambiguity, thinking gray, and positive attribution.  To sum these skills up, perhaps we should say that we need more cultural mental “margin” in how we think about others.  Perhaps things will not make sense in the beginning, but with time we will come to see the patterns that do make sense in the lives of others.  By not writing someone off early in the relationship due to miscommunication, unexpected behavior, or prejudice, we remain open for more understanding and those long-expected “aha” moments.  Being open to those who are not like us is the gate to cross-cultural servanthood.

What I like about the chapter on “acceptance” is how he describes obstacles that prevent us from accepting others.  He lists five:  language, impatience, ethnocentrism, category width, and dogmatism.  Each of these obstacles have impact on our ministry to people from other cultures, but one that really interested me was “category width.”  Narrow category width people don’t have as many categories for classifying experiences.  Thus when they experience something that seems culturally “different” they may just place it in the “wrong” category.  This person, this situation, this behavior is “wrong,” so I need to move on.    For those with “wide category width” they are able to create new categories for “cultural differences.” You can see how having “narrow category width” sets up conflict between missionaries/servants and those they wish to help.

So how does Dr. Elmer’s steps help us become better servants?  Discovering, learning about, and processing these obstacles is a great training exercise to improve one’s ability to be a better servant.  Reading through the list of steps and then asking yourself or team questions about how they relate to your ministry will bring out issues you most likely have not thought about.

  • Do you care if your team is building trust with those you are serving?  Or do you “serve” from a position of power?
  • Do you want to learn from those whom you serve?  Or do you just want to teach them?
  • Do you see integrity and value in the culture of those you minister to, or do you just want to change them?
  • Is your serving affirming their dignity and empowering them to live God-glorifying lives?

I could go on and on with the questions, but I think you are getting an idea of how you will be challenged yet encouraged by reading Dr. Elmer’s book.  Doing cross-cultural ministry can be an exciting, spiritually rewarding ministry.  It can also be a frustrating and draining ministry.  But the good news about working with young student volunteers is that you can begin bringing up these issues and improving skills before natural tendencies that make cross-cultural ministry difficult get deeply ingrained in them.  Start laying out your steps for this very important journey.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

benedict-optionWith the rapid realization by Christians that American culture is more like an adversary than an ally, church leaders, writers, pastors, and lay people within orthodox Christianity have begun to ask where does the American church go from here.  Though some like Russel Moore are more optimistic about “keeping Christianity strange”, others are more skeptical about the church’s days ahead.  One of those who remains skeptical is lay person, writer, and blogger Rod Dreher.  Known for his blog at The American Conservative, and his book How Dante Saved Can Save Your Life, Mr. Dreher believes that the church will face a continuing hostile culture which will force her to entrench for decades to survive the coming battle.  He takes the title for his book, as well as the concept for the church’s health, from St. Benedict of Nursia (480 AD-547 AD). In creating a rule to help the Church, Benedict also set in motion systems that would create institutions to preserve Western civilization during the coming Dark Ages. Thus the title of the book:  Mr. Dreher sees a coming Dark Age for the American church.

According to Mr. Dreher, he is not advocating “running to the hills to hide,” but a focus on ingraining a Christ-centered mentality in the church.  To do this, he contends that there must be some withdrawal from mainstream culture which is quickly moving away, if not against, the Church.  By withdrawing, yet being a faith presence within culture, he contends that the Church will reemerge at some future time to lead the culture back to Christ.  He is talking  a long view of the cycles of Christianity.  I personally think he is on to something that we Christians need to really ponder.

In a year when many evangelicals seemed to think that a Trump presidency would roll back the hands of the cultural clock, The Benedict Option will be an interesting, and perhaps, needed tonic to purge an overly confident evangelical church. Though I respect Mr. Dreher and appreciate his writings, I don’t know if I will agree with everything that he will say in  his book.  But I  do know that it will be one of the books that every serious-thinking Christian should be familiar with going forward.  I have already pre-ordered my copy.

 

The Benedict Option is due to be out March 14, 2017.

The Evangelicals

evangelicalsThough Newsweek called 1976 the “year of the evangelicals” we could certainly say that 2016 brought that title back up again.  The high usage of the word was due to the election year and Trump’s special relationship with evangelicals, as well as the sharp war of words within the Christian community about why an evangelical should or should not vote for him.  But evangelicals are certainly much more diverse than in 1976. Millennials are not the Moral Majority, and writers struggle sometimes whether to use Evangelicals or just evangelicals.  I contend that spelling matters.

It seems fitting then that, The Evangelicals:  The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald is coming out in 2017.  I have no idea where she is taking this book.  It may be totally a political foray.  It may include social mission.  It may ponder what is an evangelical.  Or it may be a dull diatribe.  I don’t know.  But given the saturation of the word in 2016, I think it would worth while to read what a well-known author who has won the Pulitzer Prize has to say.