A Lost Generation?

It’s always risky to tweet during a meeting…

Meeting with @MarkMolden @wendybeechward and a whole host of other interesting peeps talking about how we disciple this rising generation
31/01/2012 12:40

I wanted to let my friends and followers know that we were doing something about the exodus of children and young people from the church and so the above tweet was secretly released from the meeting unbeknownst to the other participants. I didn’t want to say “Next Generation” because that assumes that children and young people have not got anything to offer now – it relegates them to being the invisible generation before they become the “missing generation”. So I used the term “rising generation.” Probably thinking about the Rising 5s we talk about in education.

It’s risky to tweet in a meeting as it’s hard to reply, so no chance to respond to this one:

@krishk 20 years ago I was in a ‘rising generation’ too, or so people said. I don’t trust labels like that any more. #hype
31/01/2012 14:14

Jon has written a helpful blog post in response to my tweet. I don’t know Jon well, but he seems to be expressing the way that many young adults I know feel about the church.
In order to inspire, excite and motivate young people we over promised what Christianity could look like for them. In the safety of a youth event or even the ongoing youthwork, isolated from adults in the church who were trying to live out their faith with the challenges of family, work, bills to pay and neighbours to get along with – we told our young people they could be world changers, history makers or that revival was just around the corner. Then when the reality and sometimes the mundane routines of life hit – they sound like over hyped empty promises. Jon, I am sorry we did that to you and many others like you.

In youth ministry we need to help young people to dream big but also to stay grounded.

I don’t think its just youth ministry that does this to young people. I was educated in the state school system. Most of the children in my schools were from working class backgrounds. But in assemblies our teachers did try to inspire us by great men and women from the past. We had assemblies on Florence Nightingale, Martin Luther King, Lord Shaftesbury, Gandhi and many other world changing leaders. Our teachers were sowing dreams into our young minds – helping us imagine our futures and thinking about what we could do and be in the world. I think there is a place for this. One of the little boys in my local church told me recently that when he grows up he wants to work in the Co-op, when i asked him what other dreams he had for his future he told me he might be up for working in Sainsburies or Waitrose. He’s a lovely lad who’s had a difficult life so far. Part of helping him to flourish is to help him find something he’s great at and for him to imagine a different future than the past he has known. So there is room for the inspirational challenge to young people. In one sense it values young people to help them get a glimpse of their potential.

But we need to do this without:
i) endorsing celebrity culture – often social change comes through networks rather than individuals
ii) offering unrealistic expectations of revival, personal fame or exaggerated urgency about the return of Christ

But we must help to ground young people in the realities of the normal christian life. I have written for Christianity Magazine and Youthwork magazine about the need for intergenerational ministry as our young people do not see many role models of ordinary adult christian life. Young people often see the youth worker, the pastor and some celebrity worship leaders as the dominant model of the Christian life which is unrealistic and can lead to disillusionment later on in life.

My friend David Kinaman has produced a very helpful book that begins to wrestle with some of these issues from a US perspective: ‘You Lost Me.”
I am very keen that we learn from Jon’s experience and do things better into the future. Do you have any ideas of how we bless the current generation of young adults – inspire them without hyping things up?




About the author: Krish Kandiah

Founding Director: Home for Good Executive Producer: Books for Life Vice President: Tearfund Tutor: Regents Park College, Oxford University

19 comments to “A Lost Generation?”

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  1. Jon - February 1, 2012 at 12:42 pm Reply

    Thanks, Krish.

    I must admit your tweet caught me on a bad day and my blog post was a result of that.

    Your blog post has made my today much better than yesterday.

    So, again, thank you.

  2. Matt F - February 1, 2012 at 12:49 pm Reply

    This struck a chord Krish. Is the over-promising thing a kind of health-wealth-happiness gospel with a radical twist for kids?

    I was very struck listening to a woman the other day who hasn’t been near a church in years who went to a funeral and they sang a song that she remembered from when she was at Sunday school. This was a Sunday school song that talked about death, sorrow and consolation! It was a very significant moment for her in a number of ways.

    So, it got me wondered what about youth ministry that prepares people for the possibility of cancer or recognises that some kids have and live with those with cancer now? Youth work as distraction has its place I’m sure but the Bible doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff perhaps youth and student work (let’s say it the church) shouldn’t either?

    • krishkandiah - February 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm Reply

      agreed mate – interesting take on a twist “health and wealth” – could be “influence and power” thing
      definitely think we need to equip young people for the whole of life

  3. Tom Creedy - February 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm Reply

    Krish, good, challenging post.

    I must admit I found the title initially offensive – being part of that generation I often have people assume I know nothing or have no experience of God. And so on. I’m tempted to blog on it – as a progressing conservative evangelical moving from the Baptist-ism of my upbringing through the Vineyard into my own theology.


  4. Steve Fouch - February 1, 2012 at 1:24 pm Reply

    To be honest, this is nothing new. I’m in my late 40s. When I was in my late teens & early twenties, we were always being told that we would change the world, see revival, etc, etc. It seems to be an endemic trope of Christian ministry to youth and younger adults.

    I went through a crash and burn disillusionment afterwards, and spent nearly a decade in the spiritual wilderness. Many of my friends are still there, or moved on from the Christian faith without a backwards glance. God, in his grace, found me and brought me back, mainly by surrounding me with more grounded types not into hype, but into serving God through good and bad.

    But it is vital we don’t leave the generations coming up behind either so hyped that the only direction of travel is down into disillusionment, or so underwhelmed by the the gospel we live and teach that they get bored and wander off. It took me most of my twenties and early thirties to learn that lesson – the hard way. I’m glad I learnt it, and that God had his hand on my life. I would rather not make others walk that road if I can help it.

  5. Bill Cahusac - February 1, 2012 at 3:56 pm Reply

    Love the post, Krish!
    I don’t think the problem is that we promise young people too much- I think the problem is two fold:
    1.I don’t think we promise them enough! It seems to me the issue is what we promise. Yes, God can use them to do amazing things. Yes, absolutely he has a plan for their lives and wants to spoil them for the ordinary. BUT… He is also realistic about life- there will be trouble (Jn 16:33), there will be worries (Mt 6:34), we will feel overwhelmed at times (Is 43:2), there will be times when we feel forgotten and wonder where God is or what his plan is (Gen 40:23). The problem comes when we sugar coat it and only tell young people the good bits (Mark Sayers wrote a brilliant book about this called “The Trouble With Paris”- definitely worth a read IMHO!). We need to do both- give them a big vision of God and of how he could use them, BUT remind them it will also be tough, we will feel misunderstood etc, but that we need to remember God is with us. When I worked with Sandy Millar he was always really good at that, and Nicky G is the same. Pete Greig’s book has also been a good resource, too.
    Finally I think partly it comes down to courage. Often the truth is I/ we want people to like me/us so tell them the good bits but neglect the harder bits because we want them to respond! Does that make sense?

    • Steve Fouch - February 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm Reply

      I would agree Bill. One of things I had learn the hard way was a theology of suffering and a theology of failure. Which is odd, seeing as the cross is the centre of our faith – that should have been the first lesson I was taught.
      You are absolutely right, we need to teach a big God who does big things through small people, but not just through their successes. Again, good Bible teaching will do that – you don’t need to dig far into scripture to find stories of people going through failure, suffering, disaster and set backs (and disillusionment, despair and sorrow) and God still working out his purposes in the fullness of time.
      But it’s a harder message to give to young people who are convinced of their immortality and invulnerability.

  6. Pat - February 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm Reply

    Good post Krish.

    I’m quite interested in your reference (though fleeting) to “unrealistic expectations of revival…”

    I’ve often found myself feeling a bit uneasy with the abundant use of the term “revival” in the modern church. Certain American groups in particular strike me as have a very revival dominant theology which is being spread specifically to young people (both sides of the pond) through movements such as Jesus Culture. Although when you get to the root of what they mean by this it is often all very positive, the term “revival” itself is not found in the bible, and I wonder what such movements would look like when separated from the hype that always seems to accompany this word.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of great stuff coming out of these same movements, but can’t we focus on inspiring our young people to simply follow Jesus without the appeal to a revivalist facade?

  7. Lois - February 1, 2012 at 8:57 pm Reply

    Thanks krish – have been enjoying thinking through your conments. As you said at the start, young people have something to offer now. It’s not just their future potential that’s exciting; the spiritual gifts they already have and the christlikeness they are already developing are immensely valuable to God already.

  8. Jon - February 1, 2012 at 9:15 pm Reply

    I’m friends on facebook with a number of people who grew up in our church. it’s clear from their posts that they no longer follow God, and it saddens me to see the things that interest and excite them instead. Here are my thoughts
    1. Do we teach our youth about holiness? God says “be holy as I am holy” – that entails saying no so many temptations. it’s much easier to build a youth group on excitement and fun than it to raise holy disciples, but if we want fruit that last we must teach holiness
    2. Do we encourage private bible reading? there’s so much to do in our spare time that seems more exciting than reading the bible, but we won’t get far in the christian life without having our minds transformed by God’s word
    3. perhaps older people in church like me need to make the effort to be real friends, not just find out on facebook when it’s all gone wrong

  9. Karen - February 2, 2012 at 8:37 am Reply

    This post reminds me of the two things I feel are most important for my work as a youth worker – authenticity and whole church ministry.
    Authenticity – because that’s what keeps people grounded and whole church, because we are family not a club, which is why although we do have dedicated groups for our young people, we are also trying to start stuff which goes across generations or puts young people at the lead of something adults come to, hence a fair trade shop, garden club and an all age craft club – small steps but its beginning to introduce different generations of church family to each other.

  10. Nick [a late 20 something] - February 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm Reply

    Your blogging on this is all very useful as I’m thinking of doing my Theology MA dissertation on this subject next year!

    Onto this specific post:

    It’s also part of the ‘Latter Rain’ heresy which is so often preached by prosperity TV evangelists and has as a key part of it a ‘joshua/elijah/[insert other sexy biblical figure] generation’ idea.

    I think we need to try and reclaim one of the ideas that I believe is central to Christianity – the redemption and celebration of the ordinary – the God who is present in and uses clay vessels, bread, water, mud, etc.

  11. Spencer - February 3, 2012 at 8:43 pm Reply

    I recommend the book “Jesus Culture By: Banning Liebscher” it directly answers all the questions that have been posed here. It goes into great detail of the relationship between generations. It changed my life and I feel gives such a healthy and honoring view to each generation.

    I agree there is not “one generation” but there are many generations rising up to fulfill the call on their life for their generation just like David did. (13:36) I also would never want to hinder those who have huge expectations and dreams for God. Lots of men of Faith didn’t seem like they were necessarily sane. Noah built the boat, Abraham was looking for a city who’s builder and architect is God, Jesus spit in a guys eye. These don’t meet the norms. I am all about being grounded. I am a [20 somethings] that works 40 hrs a week and an intern at my church which is alive and well. We are healthy, grounded, making an impact and all about revival and the holy spirit. I am busy but I have the dream life. God has blessed me beyond belief and still am able to pray for the sick, cast out demons and working on my way to check everything else off that is talked about in Mark 16. Revival is real. The Kingdom of Heaven is manifesting more now than it ever has. Its intersting to me that when I didn’t believe in any of this stuff it never happened but then when I started believing God is who he says He is. I started believing in the Gospel of the Kingdom I started seeing these things. The Kingdom is a Perfect Father/ Jesus which is health and prosperity. A good father wants good things for his children. The kingdom is heaven and Jesus asked us to ask Our Father that it would come here as it is in Heaven. That is my expectation. Nothing less. We can’t lower God’s word to our experience but rather we must raise our experience to meet God’s word. We’ll need Faith for that. Read Jesus Culture, might add some great insight.

  12. Mark - February 4, 2012 at 4:33 am Reply

    Thanks for this blog – its always an interesting read. I was struck by your question at the end, and I think that the answer is linked to what you have already written about intergenerational outreach.

    If I think back to my own experience as a youth 20 years ago now (how scary to write that number!) the group that did most to nurture and develop me was (and is to this day) entirely staffed by volunteers – who put in 3-4 hours of their time (once lifts home taken account of) every Friday evening to read the bible and pray with a small group of us, 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon (for the group’s main meeting, including lifts to and from) and 2 hours on a Wednesday evening to pray for us all – then there was a termly weekend away, and a 2 week camp in the summer. A massive time investment, but well worth it.

    All of this lead by a complete range of leaders from all walks of life who could model what it meant to live as a Christian. Small groups gave a brilliant forum for accountability and discipleship. And then there were the informal extras – meals together, walks, games evenings – all time to build relationships so that when the truth was taught the difference it makes could already be seen. It wasn’t always done perfectly, but even through the mess ups and failures the reality of grace could be seen and glimpsed.

    I guess it cements for me that ultimately the only way to disciple any generation is through truth taught in the context of relationship – and bearing in mind Jesus’ pattern of ministry that’s not such a massive surprise. In those contexts inspiration can be given, and also demonstration on living with the reality of disappointment and failure.

    Essentially it is as Paul writes in 1 Thess 2:8 “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” – the gospel of God, together with our own selves shared with others – that is what will really both inspire change and ground in reality – seeing what the change looks like in others.

    That means that our youth work in and outside church needs to incorporate all ages and types of people – they may not be able to give all the time that leaders could in the group I was nurtured in, but even taking the time to come down and provide refreshments at a group meeting and being around to chat could provide great chances for relationships to form. Perhaps hospitality could be offered to small groups on a regular basis. These things will vary from group to group, but every church should have the building of cross generational relationships as its aim.

    • krishkandiah - February 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm Reply

      thanks Mark very helpful comments – we are about to hold an Evangelical Alliance council meeting on just this subject – “it takes a whole church to raise a child” – will blog about that soon. Blessings mate

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