I am, if Google is correct, sitting somewhere between Generation X and Generation Y, a millenial-who-isn’t-quite.
I’ve grown up with computers and the Internet and can’t imagine my life without either of them. I started out in Sunday Schools that somewhere along the way became small groups – which seem the same, but really aren’t (and that’s a whole other post). I used to attend revivals growing up, but now no churches in my area hold revivals, at least not labeled as such: the attendance has faded and the events no longer attract the same interest. I prefer my worship contemporary; I don’t mind seeing Starbucks cups in the sanctuary. Vacation Bible School, a staple of my childhood, has become something I barely recognize in its current form.
As most people coming into adulthood do, in the past I had the tendency to dismiss everything that came before me in an effort to make my own way. When I was a teenager I sighed through the traditional hymns and only really felt at home praise-wise in later years, singing “Man of Sorrows” with the gathered crowd. I was never a fan of the thunderous, wipe-your-sweaty-brow-with-a-handkerchief-preaching that led the older women in my home church congregation to say, to the consternation of seventeen-year-old-me, “That man knows how to bring the Word!” I used to roll my eyes when I heard of congregations objecting to the introduction of contemporary worship, to changes in the curriculum or the ministry. “Nothing’s going to stay the same forever,” I thought. “Get with it. The church is changing.”
The things that you grew up with, that you treasured, that influenced you spiritually and helped guide you to God? I haven’t always valued them like you have. I haven’t always been respectful of them. And I’m sorry.
It’s not that my tastes have changed. I still prefer contemporary worship and I still don’t mind Starbucks cups and I still prefer academic, lecture-style preaching to thundering sermons. But I’ve realized that my elders in the church have every right not to prefer those things. That we don’t have to feel the same about every aspect of ministry and outreach and worship to love each other. That we don’t need to change our tastes to accommodate each other, nor condescend to each other about what is “best,” but rather accept each other as we are, in warm and welcoming grace.
I suspect that for younger generations of Christians, the desire to make the church “ours” – to leave our mark on it, to mold it to suit who we are, and what we know, and how we live – sometimes supersedes our willingness to understand that we share this body with all ages and all people. To realize isn’t all about us and our preferences all the time. Moreover, as I’ve grown, I’m starting to understand more and more how I imagine previous generations felt as my generation stormed in to tear down the walls. These days, when something changes in my congregation – sometimes even a subtle, silly thing – I catch myself shifting uncomfortably and asking, “What’s so wrong with the way we do it now?”
I like to think I’m growing in understanding. And I think the best we can hope for is to respect the past and embrace the future as well as we can in the here and now. The church needs every last one of us working in it and on it, and the truth is always that we work better together. As Paul puts it, we should strive to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means [we] might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). We all have our different ways of being within the church, but we can use these differences to supplement our ministries rather than allowing them to set us in opposition to each other.
I can’t wait to see what we’ll all do together. And in the meantime, thank you for being so patient with me.