Emergents trying to convince Boomers that there is a new generation with new needs that requires new approachesoften meet a brick wall from Boomers. Boomers say, “I’m tired of chasing fads in ministry.” Why is it that boomers (my own generation) are so resistant to the emergent generation’s claims that the church must change or die?
Frankly boomers are weary of change. My generation pioneered change! We are the ones who overthrew hymns for choruses, screens for hymnals, paper agendas for verbal ones. It is my generation who invented the idea of a “generation” that must be reached by lecturing the oldsters about boomer needs and boomer values and “what boomers want.” We used “boomers” and “outreach” to install our own preferences in both worship and church management in our own revolution of the 80’s and 90’s. We coerced the oldsters to give up their worship styles, management approaches and even their architecture in order that we can “reach the coming generation [boomers, us!] with the gospel.
Eventually we won —we enshrined our own preferences as standard operating procedure in the church—“tradition.” In the process we became our parents—we got protective of our own traditions. Thus, my generation is tired of chasing new generations and “new fads.” We have either forgotten our own speeches or we now doubt that our revolution accomplished much outreach after all (other than reshuffling the Christian population among churches). Revolutionaries always become conservatives once they succeed. We don’t have the energy left to learn what postmoderns are like and to be quite honest many in my generation do not even care. We cared little for the needs and preferences of the oldsters when we revolted to change the church in the 1980’s and 1990’s—and now we care little about the needs of the youngsters now that we are firmly in control of everything. We care deeply about things—but mostly we care about our own generation—that may be our besetting generational sin. After having won the war we are tired of battle. We now longer have an appetite for revolutions and are now comfortable with things the way they are. Of course “the way things are” is they are like we wanted them, or mostly so. We now forget all those 10 point lists of “what Boomers are want and how the church can change to reach them.” Or if we remember them we now scoff at them and no longer think they are totally accurate. So when someone younger comes up with a new list claiming their generation is different than ours we are simply too weary to even inquire into the matter so we blow them off.
And to be quite honest with you, as we boomers have aged we are less sure that we actually did the right thing in the violent overthrow of our parents’ traditions. We are admitting to each other that we did some pretty manipulative things to overthrow the oldsters and now we’re not totally sure we made a gain for the kingdom. Have we really reached the tons of unbelievers we claimed our musical styles would bring in? Is the quality of discipleship greater now than when we took over? We are doubting this now that we are approaching 60 as a generation. All this makes us suspicious of the next generation’s agenda and their certainty that the “church has to change or die.” We don’t dismiss postmodern/emergent thing because my generation is evil or selfish—but because most boomers are just tired of revolutions or we are beginning to doubt the gains of our own revolution, thus the claims of the next one. When we were trying to convince the oldsters they had to “change or die” we got miffed when they retorted, “people don’t change and the gospel doesn’t change.” We hated hearing, “I don’t buy it that the coming generation needs things packaged differently–why copy the world?” Now we find ourselves saying similar things.
Emergents, we need you to be patient with boomers-turned-oldsters…” the definition of a conservative is ‘former revolutionary.’” And we boomers need to remember ourselves in the 1980’s when we were arguing, “boomers like bright sanctuaries and fast upbeat music” when we hear the next generation say “Emergents like dark sanctuaries and slow reflective music.” We boomers may not like what the Emergents plan to do with it, but to who else can we pass on the church? We’re stuck with the emergent generation. They will inherit the earth. Perhaps we boomers need to confess more publicly some of the errors in approach and effect of our own revolution. Who knows, that may help the Emergents avoid some our mistakes? That’s my bet (er, ah, I mean “hope.”)
So what do you think?
Reference: Salt & Light: Mt. 5:13-16 — Leaven: Mt. 13
To contribute to the thinking on this issue e-mail your response to Tuesday@indwes.edu
© Keith Drury, 2005. You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.