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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Middle Ages in the Church Today

I've spent some time with family this summer and as a result, I've been immersed in young adult culture and then older adult culture (as in 75+). At first I was thinking these two cultures are on a collision course but I've decided it's more like they are going in opposite directions, never to meet unless something really brings them together.

I found young adults to be more disconnected to the church than I even I had imagined. What we care about as the institutional church is so far off their radar of concern. But it's not that they don't have expectations of the church. In fact, they're deeply disappointed that we talk but we don't walk what they expect the church to be: a community that cares about people other than ourselves. That's kind of the bottom line: we care too much about ourselves and not others, especially those who are different from ourselves, the environment, and the global issues of our day.

My immersion with older was a little disconcerting, too. Change is about the last thing they want--in the church or politics. For instance, my cousin's daughter who is 14 came to a family gathering. No one quite expected her to make the 2 hours trip in the car but she came. Shouldn't we be delighted that she did? Shouldn't we be all over her in terms of making her feel welcome? Instead the girl hennas her hair and later all I heard was that she hennas her hair. Who cares? In my immersion with young adults in San Francisco, I never saw so many tattoos in my entire life in such a short time. I had to get over myself on that one! Yet these older adults can't figure out why younger people won't go to church! But the look on their faces would make any young adult think twice, not to mention my cousin's 14-year-old!

When I got home the other day from the most recent foray into family immersions, I began to wonder, what is the role of people my age? Baby boomers. I'm thinking specifically in terms of the church.

Do we ask the right questions of both groups?

How are we part of the problem? Or the solution?

Do we advocate for one group or the other?

Do we try to bring these totally alien groups together?

Do we align with one or the other?

I was talking to one of my young adult relatives and she said, "You have to just go with the young people...but then I suppose that's hard for the old people." Yes, my dear, that's the dilemma.

So, I'm wondering. How do you experience these two diverse age groups? As one of them or someone like me in the middle.

Frankly, I've never felt so middle aged as I have at the end of this summer after my immersions with the two age groups! And the church is definitely in the grips of middle age--trying to negotiate between these two very diverse age groups.



Fred said...

Hey, bish. My secretary, Tricia, came into my office and said "read this". Great post. But now we are certain of what we suspected all along, that the Bishop's office has placed a bug in our office, and listens into our conversations. your post was exactly what we have been talking about.

The Church (big C) has so much to offer young people - the Gospel hasn't lost its attractiveness, but the church (small c) has lost its attractiveness. We are way to focused on what we grew up to know the church to be an institution, a building - not a revolution. What young person wouldn't to join a revolt? (by the way the answer is "all young people") So they do join revolts just not the Jesus led one because its all tangled up in with church as institution and revolution and institution don't go together. So young people join other revolutions - and many of them great ones - but not the greatest one the world has ever seen. Ironically, the revolutions they join are so in sync with what Jesus would have us do, but the church instead has gone so far away from it, the institution has lost sight of its revolutionary beginnings.

Not sure I made sense. Just wanted to say - right on.

the reverend mommy said...

Dear Bishop Dyck,

I feel like singing the song "Stuck in the middle with you" except they aren't clowns and jokers on either side -- they are our own beloved families.

At times it seems that it has become more than a generation gap -- it is more like a generation chasm. Both the older people and the younger seem so caught up in their own contextualizations of the gospel that they lose sight of what the gospel IS -- and that it is the same gospel. I once had a church almost fall out when the older people wanted UMH 95 and the younger people wanted UMH 94.

And then we wonder why kids don't want to come to church. So, I understand perfectly the problem -- I don't know how to solve it. I can solve this little bit or that little bit on occasion -- but for the big picture? Well...

I have been doing something to reach that younger generation that I think you will find interesting -- I've started a "church" inside the social networking site "Second Life." I believe strongly that to reach this generation we need to speak their language -- which is electronic and virtual. "1337" or Leet is internet slang for those who "get it." We need to bend our fondness of our own particular contextulization to become Leet -- and meet these kids where they are. We are so fond of our own way of doing church that most of us feel threatened by a different way.

Perhaps we need to step out of the comfort zone and just do it....

Thank you for your blogging voice. I find that you get to know people on a deeper level than otherwise -- I am adding you to my "everyday" list.

Pastor Justin said...

Bishop Sally-

If you haven't read the book Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation by Sarah Cunningham, I would strongly suggest it.


Pastor Justin Halbersma
Chatfield United Methodist Church

Kurt Johnson said...

I can tell you exactly what I hear from my kids.

1. The campsites, where focus on each other, away from distractions, are where they truly feel God's presence.

2. Worship services focused on the traditional music are boring.

3. The energy in more contemporary gospel music, and truly inspirational message in the contemporary music, grabs them.

4. You have potentially high-energy members with low-energy ministry - and you end up with no-energy.

Now, I tell the kids "if you're going to complain about something, either becdome part of the solution, or don't complain." So, as part of the solution, I would suggest getting more involved in service projects, more contemporary services - not just one or two new songs, but the whole worship experience. Make more use of the camping facilities - you might be surprised how you reach the youth. Get outside the box - WAY outside the box. Jesus taught how to pray, how to serve - he did not say what we should sing - and how we worship is steeped in tradition, not in Biblical references.

Pastor Justin said...

I think Kurt has some good points, but I also would like to speak as a "young" person.

I think Kurt is right that rather than complain we need to go about helping in the process of change, but the one thing about our generation is the need to feel that we are a part of something. We need more than a worship experience we need a community that we are a part of in our day-to-day lives. We are a committed generation that is willing to get things done and we will go outside the traditional structures if we need to (browse the internet and look up some, and others are all about a time of change and it is occuring outside mainline denominations).

The one concern I have is the whole "contemporary music." and worship experience thing. This seems to be what everyone thinks is one of the great missing links to our generation. But really, speaking from experience and discussions with those my age this is a minor thing. We are such a diverse group and what is being discovered that just as many young people are in love with the old time liturgy and structure as they are with "new ways of worship." (now this is often going to be contextual too). The biggest thing is the word "Authenticity" Most of us don't care how you worship, in fact most of our generation could suffer through 1 hour Sunday morning that was completely and utterly boring if the "community" we were a part of was an active community that was seeking to be the "actual" body of christ in the world.

The tough thing with our generation is that it takes relational investment to get us in. Gimmicks just don't work. (Gimmicks can come off as very negative, but essentially we can tell when a group/business/church) is trying to attract us using some type of "gimmick" even if the motivation is genuine care). We don't care if you are worshipping in some old worship style as long as it is "authentic" and you are being passionate in your authenticity.

The biggest thing is that context is totally key. In some communities the contemporary worship brings out authenticity, in others it may be something else. This is definetely not a problem that can be solved on a massive "programmatic" level because we are such a diverse generationa and we are proud of that diversity. It boils down to authenticity and relationship (that is a simplification of course).

Enough rambling. Thanks Kurt for your thoughtful words and for listening to the younger ones. That is part of authenticity and investment.

Rob Kopp said...

All My Life's a Circle
Harry Chapin

All my life's a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
Moon rolls thru the nighttime;
Till the daybreak comes around.

All my life's a circle;
But I can't tell you why;
Season's spinning round again;
The years keep rollin' by.

It seems like I've been here before;
I can't remember when;
But I have this funny feeling;
That we'll all be together again.
No straight lines make up my life;
And all my roads have bends;
There's no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends.


I found you a thousand times;
I guess you done the same;
But then we lose each other;
It's like a children's game;

As I find you here again;
A thought runs through my mind;
Our love is like a circle;
Let's go 'round one more time.

Who do you love and serve? We have very human tendencies to close the circle of people we love enough to serve, and the church is a very human institution. In a culture which usually asks, "what's in it for me?", we all struggle with closing the circle of people we love and serve with. Yet the Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus opening the circle. (this is not a sermon honest-- find your own references :) )

Whether young or old-- or any of the other categories we might use to separate ourselves, we are all caught up in the spiral pattern of loving in serving the other-- the means through which God transforms our lives. It is a very circular pattern.

Missed your chance to join the circle? Missed your chance to open the circle for someone standing on the margins? One word, Grace. The circle never ends because the circle is God's love and grace. It will come around again.


Pastor Rob Kopp
The United Methodist Churches of Racine and Sumner Center

(and one of those real 'tweeners-- born in 1963 between the boom and x)

packerjrfan said...

I would like to speak as a young person that’s in high school. Your right there is a divide between young and old. But its not as big as some people think. Based on my own experiences the gap can be bridged. The problem is neither wants to make the fist move. The gap is based on the fact we as church members don’t talk about what Jesus has done in our life. Which is something our camps like Ultimate Challenge are great at. When we don’t talk about the one thing that bonds us together which is the lord, Satan will use the differences to drive us a part. We as churches have a fear of testimony. Which makes community next to impossible.

At my church I bugged the pastor to keep a bible study going so he did. But it would probably intimidate most youth. It was me from when I was 15 through now with a bunch of ladies in there late 70’s through 94 years and a leader that was middle aged. Not a situation someone would expect a high schooler to be in and the nurse has asked me why I come a couple of times. But after they found out what I believed and I what they believed the time gap was almost know existent and was not relevant. And that group of ladies has taught me so much I wished that my friends would have learned about life and many things. They have shown me how to live my whole life for Christ right to the end.

I went to my grandma’s church to see her new pastor and her church has gone through a couple. Her churches average age is above 60. I went to this your it was a nice building but people seemed more focused on lets get going and done. Sure I talked to the greeter quick. But if I had not sat next to my grandma I doubt many would have talk to me. But when they found out who my grandpa and grandma were they were more talkative. But when I told them that I want to be a pastor man the doors opened and I heard great stories and talked to wonderful people. We found connection through camp and church. But it was because of our calling in Christ that made it possible.
As for Contemporary music I would love to have a couple songs of that along with stuff from the hymnal. Both glorify God. And a little of each are good for both age groups. We can’t be set in our ways because we need to reach all different kinds of people for Christ. The feeling you can’t change anything has hurt many young people. But me and my old pastor would poke fun of each others worship music in good fun. The message is what is important in the music. The way to fix the Gap is to know how Christ has worked if our life. Because when we know that suddenly that is all we care about in the person.
I hope this made some sense to you. And always look for the fingerprints of God!

Brian Manly said...

Greetings Bishop, Bloggers and Readers,

I have long thought about the generational divides in the church. I myself belong to generation X, so I guess I kinda feel a little caught in the middle between the Boomers and the Millennials. At any rate, I'm not sure the problem is as much with the generational divide as it is with the problem of brokenness. After all, the church is still divided by race, class, and sex so why would age be any different? No I think the problem is brokenness and as United Methodists we need to think about what it means to be the CHURCH.

But I am an optimist. I see a new/ancient Church emerging in this 21st century. I see the old modern agendas of conservative vs. liberal, traditional vs. contemporary fading away into an emerging 21st century Church. In this emerging church we will no longer rely on modern presuppositions but instead embrace the postmodern rejection of the modern assumptions and embrace reality as understood within a web of reason, experience, scripture and tradition.

Our Wesleyan heritage has well positioned the United Methodist Church to face the challenges and realities of this 21st century. The dogmatic fundamentalism of both liberals and conservatives will not stand up against the complexities of our challenging times. Instead people, both young and old, within the church and outside the church, are hungery and ready for the Church to be the Church... i.e. the body of Christ.

God is moving! The Spirit is forming, molding and changing the Church. God is doing an ancient new thing in this 21st century. My friends, I am excited and ready for the Church to embrace our incarnational reality. To be the body of Christ for the world, to see God's kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven!

Peace of Christ,
Brian Manly
MDiv class 2009 Duke Divinity School

Rev. Denny Ausman said...

Greetings and Blessings on this expression-
Since coming to Florida in 2006, I have learned how the elderly can dominate worship in an area that definitely is shaped toward people in retirement. I heard this from teachers in the schools, and immediately began to look for ways to involve youth and children, also.
I will not detail what has occurred in the past 2 years, but there has been a slow growth toward allowing youth into worship. They are looked down on by many adults, and feel out of place other than when they're in their youth room. That's a shame, because the future of this and every church should not depend on how many retired people move into the area!!!!
Adults can learn so much from the youth and children if they will only spend time with them listening. They will have many questions, and will learn to respect people willing to live like "children of God".
I have enjoyed reading what others have added, and I only hope the United Methodist Church will not only reach out to younger people, but also find ways to involve them on a regular basis. I believe that is necessary to the future of the church.
I am serving in a church with about 1200 members, and when I arrived there were less than 8 youth. At the end of the school year 2007/2008 there were almost 80 youth involved. They are really the fastest growing part of our church. They are considered to be a small part of our church, but they have so much to offer.
I miss many of the people in Minnesota, but enjoy all the ways I can hear about your churches and what the
Bishop and Board of Ordained Ministry is doing.
I wish and pray Romans 12 regularly, and hope the diversity of our church worldwide will grow by people living a Christian life, inspiring youth people to be involved.
Many Blessings to all of you,
Rev. Denny Ausman,
Port Charlotte United Methodist Church

Duane Lookingbill said...

Twenty years ago, coming back from a national youth event, having noticed the piercing, and coloring appearing on a significant scale among those I met in the rising tide of fresh interest in the Church, I was challenged to name what I saw, if not embarrassed by it. I didn't have an accurate descriptor, but was reminded of the Anglo-Saxon era of art -- for which there is not a category name, or a clear understanding of the symbolic meaning -- about 500 to 1,000 CE. From this distance I am sure my report was inadequate to the reality.

I am in the middle, too, a tale end Baby Boomer.

I am not sure the gifts and graces that help me relate to the younger are different than the ones I use to relate to the older. The power of imagination is important here, I would claim. However, there needs to be something like gaining consent if one is to use the imagination in two-way communicating. There seems to be some fear of losing the imagination, too.

One way to put the question might be to ask, What frame-work does the church bring, build, or give for our understanding ourselves in the world to be changing, as we are in the process of change? How do we both change, and witness to our changing?

Pivoting the other direction, I remember sitting regularly under the tutelage of a gerontologist, who was on the seminary faculty, and talking about my "getting in touch" with my aging. This not only raised issues as to the meaning of life, but shaped one's whole sensorium by challenging one to ask the question of where God is in our meaning life, or death, or wellness, or illness, or love, or hate, or pain, or pleasure and so on.

Ageism, sexism, racism, classism -- every "ism" -- these are not only parochial issues, as we know, but systemic ones. I should also think they are related dynamically to what we may mean by "person," "family," and "world." Here, then, or so I submit it to you, the "strange world of the Bible," the gospel story of the Church, and the practices of Christian faith are nothing less than the way we lay claim to, and come to have knowledge of reality and truth.

Tyler said...

Thank you Bishop for bringing this topic to your blog.

One of the major challenges I see in the church today is the need for a change in attitude on the part of many "church folk." Rather than focusing on introducing people to God, the majority of the energy seems to be on making/taking in members of the local church. Clearly, both are important, but it seems as though the pendulum has swung far on the side of the latter.

It seems that too often our congregations are interested in bringing in young people for institutional preservation and so that they can emulate the patterns of the older generations. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "We need more young people around here so they can take some of the jobs we've been doing for all these years." For them it's about preserving a legacy. I don't mean to discount the service and faithfulness of the older generations, but if that's a church's mentality it harms its ability to cultivate authentic discipleship.

The way I see it, there are really two groups of emerging generations the church needs to reach. First there are those who grew up having ties to the church. These folks have often, as have the past few generations, looked for a church home after becoming "established" in a community - usually after marriage and having a child they want baptized. For the most part, these are the young adults we already have in our churches. The second group is comprised of those who haven't known or have been wounded by the church. These persons aren't likely to darken our doors and they really won't find much interesting about praise bands and services with lots of candles (That's like inviting a vegetarian to your really cool burger joint). Instead, I believe these people need to be shown the love of Christ through our actions, through authentic conversation (not disingenuous ones aimed at soul saving or getting them to join our churches) and through non-judgmental kindness. Be warned however, this will be a slow process, but it's worth every minute. Like Brian McLaren said, "Let's start counting conversations and not conversions."

-Tyler Christiansen
GenXer/Lake Harriet UMC/MPLS.

David said...

Generational divide and the church – this is a fascinating topic and one that has been and will be with us for awhile. I so appreciate what has already been shared, even as I add a few additional thoughts.

Generational differences exist, and I find it helpful to consider some of the factors involved. I think generational differences are exacerbated by the rapidity of change at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century – especially by the rapid change in technology. My grandmother, who lives here in Duluth and is approaching 96 remembers a time before radio, a time when electricity and indoor plumbing were relatively uncommon. My mother remembers a time before television. I remember when my family purchased our first color television. I still have vinyl records, along with a number of CDs. My children have experienced the advent of the personal computer, the laptop computer, cell phones, MP3 players, personal web sites like Facebook. Is it any wonder that there are sometimes communication glitches between people whose definition of wireless meant you had to burn candles or have lanterns in your home and those whose definition of wireless is surfing the net at Starbucks?

I also think market forces play a role in exacerbating generational differences. If you can segment the market, you create unique groups to whom you can sell slightly different products. It happens with religious products as well as with other products. Consider Eugene Peterson’s wonderful rendition of the Scriptures, The Message. The Message was first released in separate volumes. When it was completed it was released in a hardcover version and in a traditional black leather binding – like a real “serious Bible.” I have witnessed The Message sold in packaging that seeks to appeal to women, to teens, to female teens. I am not picking on Eugene Peterson or his publisher. I still have a copy of The Good News New Testament with a blue denim cover – “The Blue Denim Bible” which I received in junior high school.

To say that the differences between generations are made more stark by forces of technological change and marketing is not simply to dismiss those differences. We are all historically-embedded persons and we cannot simply shed our context. However, we need not be completely defined by these elements of our context either, and in that there is hope. Like Brian, I remain hopeful.

My hope is that there are deeper levels at which community is possible between diverse people – where diversity is widely defined to include generational diversity. I believe the work of Christ’s Spirit in the world is fostering such community, and that the church, as a community of Christ’s Spirit, should be a place that fosters community, that breaks down dividing walls, including generational dividing walls. I want the church to be a place that fosters and nurtures communication, community, communion – a place that listens to the hopes and dreams and humanity of all people. Out of that respectful and deep listening the church constructs its worship life so it is meaningful to the full range of the church’s people – sometimes having separate worship experiences that are distinct and appeal to certain segments of the community and also seeking common worship experiences that remind the church that it remains one community. Out of that listening can come ideas for small groups, for reaching out into the world with Christ’s love and justice. Again, sometimes these efforts will be generationally distinct, and sometimes they will be multi-generational. With Tyler, I believe conversation is vitally important, and the church has tools for bringing diverse people together for conversation. With Justin, I think authenticity and relationship are crucial.

In all of this I am reminded that “Christ is our peace… and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14).

David Bard
First UMC Duluth

Sarcastic Lutheran said...

Identify leaders who are native to young adult culture and equip them to lead. (theological education and money) Then trust them and get out of the way.

My community is 85% people in their 20's. We are very liturgical. We sing hymns. We have a space in liturgy which is multi-sensory and interactive. There is preaching and communion. In other words, we are deeply rooted in tradition yet totally contextual.

There is no "worship style" answer to this question.

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