This morning I had the privilege of sitting in on Mark Matlock’s seminar: 5 Forces That Are Shaping The Hearts Of Students, and I have to be honest, It rocked my world. Mark Matlock is one of the best thinkers we have in student ministry. He is the founder and president of Wisdom Works and recently took the helm at Youth Specialties This post is basically a cleaned up version of my notes. I hope you find them challenging and helpful.
As you will see, Mark does a fantastic job identifying the new and unique forces that are shaping this generation. Our job is to contribute to the conversation as we seek to find ways to address these forces in relevant ways specific to our context. This is a huge task and needs as many voices as possible in the conversation. Wrestle, Enjoy, Contribute.
We Must Die To Our Generational Worldview:
There are six distance generations that make up church right now. (builders, boomers, gen x, millennials, digitals, and generational alpha) Every generation brings to the the table their own unique way they view the world and understand their place in it. This is general, but if you think about it, you will realize that our unique history, context, and setting all shape who we are, how we process information and understand the world around us.
Without reflection we naturally interact with the other generations like older or younger versions of us. We have a nostalgic memory of the past that is void of sin, death and destruction, and our fear makes today seem worse than it really is. We need to have a sharp mind filled with wisdom and discernment if we are going to wrestle with and solve the unique issues that face this current generation (the digitals 1995-2009)
Good leaders have their own unique visions and dreams, but our circumstance or context defines what we do. We can not let our own visions and dreams overshadow the very real time and place we are called. This is our new context.
1) New Tools:
Everything for this current generation is wireless. Everyone in the world has access to information and to people from everywhere else in the world. People in third world countries have cell phones and internet. It is not only easy, but expected to maintain connection with everyone, everywhere. The digitals will be always occupying space, but be mentally somewhere else, literally. Digitals can not conceive a world without technology, the internet, wi-fi, cell phones, and texting.
Technology is not going away. We would be foolish if we just put our heads in the sand and tried to simply control it or abstain from it. The digitals don’t need to be guarded from this, they need to develop disciplines surrounding it. Mark highlights three examples:
Check in cell phones before meals and at bedtime. Create intentional space and boundaries for your students and for you as you model the appropriate time and place for technology.
Internet safety: We must set up protections so the information is not as easily accessible. But we must also help them process what they have seen so they can develop discernment.
Redefining relationship: This might be how relationships are now. There is not a consensus as to the long term affects of this. But this is how the digitals relate, so we can’t just blow them up. Rather, we can help them engage and have presence where they are at.
2) Weak Chic:
This simply means that there is very little understanding of what is good or bad, what is helpful or harmful. They have watched the trajectory of famous people like Britney Spears and Michael Jackson and recognize that weakness is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a real thing. Because of this, authenticity is a key value. For the digitals, authenticity is more valuable than holiness. While this chafes many of us, there are several ways we can maximize this worldview.
Students are open to deeper issues: Unlike the generations before them, our students are much more open to talk about the deeper and darker parts of their life. It is not shocking to discuss depression, drug abuse, cutting, or masterbation.
We have some freedom to be open and honest in our stories. If we hide our brokenness and past struggles from our students we only deepen the divide and communicate that church is not for them. We also have an opportunity to share not just the head part of the gospel, but the heart transformation of the gospel.
Authenticity creates tight community.
Of course there are risks associated with highlighting authenticity. If we are not careful we can popularize some risky behavior. This is what happened with the spread of cutting. We can also communicate that community is only about acceptance, not transformation. The gospel is about movement toward Christ, not simply celebrating the brokenness we are currently in.
Time has now become a commodity. Discipleship requires relationship. Relationship requires time. And Time is the scarcest of a student’s resources. Because of this we need to be so much more intentional with our time and how we use it. Our students are savvy and understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch. We can not use simple gimmicks and incentives to draw students. It is better to not do anything, than do something that sucks and wastes their time. Some take aways Mark offers are:
Do not waste their time: They have very little of it, so whatever we do should be worth it for them and for us. What are we offering and are we providing or developing the proper incentives?
Help them manage their time: They have no idea how to do this. (I am sad to day, I don’t think I do much better) But as discipleship opportunity we can help them slow down and make space in their lives, create margins.
Provide sanctuary: If we are constantly running from one thing to the next, programming every minute they will never be able to understand let alone hear at all the still and small voice of God. We can help them develop the ability to listen and reflect.
4) Diminishing Plausibility of Christianity:
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we live in a post-Christian context. For the digitals there is no longer a biblical world view, or biblical understanding at all. And because of this the claims of scripture seem, more then ever, impossible. A boat with a all the animals, a man swallowed by a whale, walking on water, rising from the dead. These are not no-brainers for our students. If we are not careful, we are only making Christianity a fairy tale for little children.
Christianity does have the answer to two vital questions for this generation:
On who’s authority: Everyone with a cellphone and a computer can publish whatever they want. There is a real problem with authority and where it comes from. We can help students understand how the Bible is authoritative and credible. Debating the creation story might not be the best place to start.
Where is the power: We often summarize scripture and reduce the gospel to a three point talk. The gospel is full of power for healing and transformation and at the center of that power is Jesus Christ. We have an opportunity to tell stories, model expectant prayer, and celebrate transformation. Debating apologetics is not the concern or heartbeat of this generation, experience and power is and we have a ton of that.
5) Separation of Church and EVERYTHING:
For the digitals, there is absolutely zero connection between the church and everyday life. What we talk about on Sundays or Wednesdays has nothing to do with the real world in which our students live. And the less we wrestle with and tackle real issues, the more we scream at our students that their faith has no place outside of the walls of the church. A couple of areas that are of vital importance to this generation and the church is missing it are:
Sexuality: The digitals are struggling with this issue more than any before. Culturally they will be waiting longer, so simply telling them to wait is not helpful. Homosexuality is part of life. They have friends who are “coming out” and friends who’s parents have partners. This is complex and messy and we need to jump into it.
Politics: The more we combine politics and religion the more we marginalize Christianity. We can not be red state or blue state people. We are kingdom people and our hope is in our heavenly citizenship serving our heavenly king.
Science: Unfortunately the church has spilt a lot of blood and capital defending junk science and that has crushed us. If we are still wrapped up in fighting issues of science that matter very little and can not be proven, then we have little voice to wrestle with the significant and relevant matters such as neuro and genetic science.
Vocation: A calling into ministry can not be the only acceptable calling. Pastors are diminishing in their cultural relevancy. We have an opportunity to help this generation use whatever gifts and talents they posses to pursue a calling. They do not work for a paycheck, but they have an opportunity to work toward the ushering in of the Kingdom no matter where their paycheck comes from.
Like I mentioned before, this is not my work, this is simply my interpretation of my notes from a stellar seminar taught by Mark Matlock. If you have never read any of his work, I highly recommend you start reading. Check out his stuff here. And thanks again Mark for bringing some really challenging to wrestle with. I love how you don’t treat youth workers as overgrown children, but expect us to step up and be a part of the solution. Blessings!