Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Next Generation

And, I don't mean Star Trek.
There's been a lot of talk for many years about how to prepare the so-called 'next generation' of Christ followers to carry the faith forward. This discussion is usually held among the elders of the present or near-past generation about young, mostly male, children of these elders. (If you're not confused yet, you will be.)
Anyway, I want to point out at least one fallacy and raise questions about this position. On the surface, this idea sounds plausible. Deuteronomy discusses the importance of teaching children about God and the works that had been performed by God, i.e., the Exodus. There also seems to be some age division that took place between those who were old enough to fight and those who were not. But, throughout the Old Testament a 'generation' referred to all who were alive at any given time. It was not neatly divided into some specific number of years, say, 40. Even those who espouse the above idea of training the 'yet-to-be-involved' age group, there is no consensus on what a generation actually is. If we want to hand the reigns over to those who are younger, then we need to include them NOW in the faith. That includes in all levels of leadership and ministry. The fallacy of generational divisions simply doesn't hold in view of scripture. Some may want to argue about the age of 13 being when males became full members of the community. That does little to help us today as we try to integrate both male and female into active roles in the church. In fact, this is pretty much ceremonial anyway. We really don't trust young people at this age. Yet, it is precisely at this age that we must begin to integrate them into the community. We need to let them learn through practice, not preaching, how to live and grow in the community of faith. They need the opportunities to succeed and fail. Yet, we continue to talk.
One of the problems I see is, what are we leaving for them? We seem to want them to continue just as we have, to be the 'protectors of orthodoxy' in a hostile world. But, what if they don't see things that way? What if God has other plans? Not only do we not trust youth, but we don't trust Yahweh to keep and grow the body of Christ! We leave a legacy of paranoia and conflict. We leave our battles with the culture, but not the life necessary to navigate a way through them. Many young people do not share the culture war mentality of the modern church. Yet, we try to press the importance of this perceived war into their minds. Let it go, Church! Our battle is NOT with the culture. Our battle cannot be delineated along conservative and liberal lines. Our battle is not with politics and economics. Our battle is a spiritual one that requires spiritual communities. It requires people willing to step outside of doctrines and dogma that divide and hold to that which unifies. Even if that means joining with 'outsiders.'
Young people need to be included. They need to collaborate and build community. They need to be a part of something significant. If we keep trying to crowbar something that doesn't make sense to them into their lives, they will bolt and do it themselves, anyhow. Maybe that would not be such a bad idea.

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