There are a lot of content creators on social media making fairly humorous as well as accurate videos comparing the perspectives across generations. As a proud member of Gen X (honestly the worst named generation ever), I have found myself both laughing hard and getting frustrated with the way in which my generation is perceived by both younger and older generations. I am sure that this is likely to be the case for members of all generations watching these videos.
What bonds people within a particular generation can also divide cross generational communication and understanding. The second Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) Core Commitment is Empathy Today. The idea is to have empathy for each new generation’s young people. It is easy to make humorous videos making fun of generational differences. It takes a bit more work to seek to understand and develop a true sense of empathy for the experiences that are shaping younger generations and their perspective on the world.
When it comes to having Empathy Today, we need to develop habits that allow us to create the space in which young people learn to trust more seasoned church leaders in order that they are able to offer their honest impressions and ideas. When a young person believes that his or her opinion will not truly be heard, they learn the lesson that it is pointless to even offer their perspective. After all, who wants to waste their time making a case for something that will not even be given a fair hearing?
In the church, we are rightly concerned with getting out theology correct. There are both correct and incorrect interpretations when studying the meaning of a particular passage. But, in our quest to maintain pure doctrine, we must not lose sight of the need to minister to the individuals we are called to serve. Young people are shaped by the cultural context in which they are raised. Just as my own generation has had to come to terms with cultural influences that run counter to the truth claims of Christ, younger generations are in the midst of their own growing self-awareness of the cultures influence on them.
When we minister to young people we need to make sure that we walk with them over the long haul in order to truly understand their perspective and then further walk with them, Scripture in hand, to disciple them in the truth of Christ. This is where Warmth, Challenge, and Grace come in. A congregation that fosters an open and honest environment is a place in which young people are able to express their joys as well as their struggles. As church leaders, we need to set the tone in our congregations in order that young people will feel comfortable expressing the areas in which they are struggling in life and in their faith. To struggle and have questions is a normal and natural part of the maturation process. We might not all have experiences in which we find ourselves with difficulty holding on to the faith in the face of cultural influences, but as young people do face these struggles, the church needs to be a place in which those questions are welcomes and responded to with loving grace rather than harsh judgement.
Establishing this type of an environment must also involve the Christian home. Engaged Parents pay attention and prioritize the faith development of their children. This includes dealing with in an open and gracious manner that inevitable struggles that may arise. Engaged Parents who demonstrate Empathy Today are supported by the local church listen for understanding first, even when core tenants of the Christian faith are challenged. This is not easily done, which is why the support of the local church is necessary. As a parent, you are rightly concerned for the faith life of the teens in your family. When they struggle with aspects of their faith, we want to move as quickly as possible to restoring their confidence in Christ, yet doing so can risk not properly dealing with the realities that are causing their struggles. An empathetic Engaged Parent needs to be willing to hold back their own emotional responses. We love our children and at times their questions may cause us to be concerned. Yet, we much maintain a non-anxious presence and allow them to explore with us both what the culture says while at the same time brining the Word of God to bear on the situation.
Young people are more likely to remain a part of the church and to continue to engage in discussions with both church leaders and their parents, when they know that they are being heard and that their perspectives are not being dismissed. The local church should seek to walk alongside parents as they nurture the faith of their teens. At a very basic level, it is remarkable how helpful it is for parents of similarly aged kids to gather together to share what they are experiencing. The threads of similar stories that are likely to emerge can provide comfort to parents who otherwise might believe that they alone are struggling in raising their teens.
Offering classes and group discussion for parents to gather together and learn together can provide support to enable parents to develop the skills necessary to be the best Engaged Parents that they can be. (FYI has done companion work in this area called Growing With which this author is able to present as a parents course or training for your church/school staff to help create this kind of a supporting and empathic environment in your ministry and within the family homes impacted by your ministry).
Young people will have questions. They will see the world differently that more seasoned generations. Taking on a posture of guide in discipling these young people requires that we do not over react, but listen and learn first then having earned their trust speak the truth of Christ’s saving Gospel back into their lives, taking the time to mourn with them as they confront areas of disharmony with their God. The Word of God has power. Just as Jesus spoke confrontation with love, both the church and family can be nurturing places in which God’s Word is spoken and hearts are changed.