|Not trying to put young people in a box...|
The Boston Globe called them “entitled”. Time Magazine called them "lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents." The national study of Youth and Religion found that 60% of them turn to “what feels right” when making moral decisions. They are the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. They are the unique generation that has grown up with smart phones, social media and reality television. They are the millennials, people born between 1980 and 2000 and they are 80 million of them.
I picked up the recent Time Magazine issue to learn more about this generation that many label arrogant, self-absorbed and entitled. What I found was a solid affirmation that Olivet’s inter-generational, cross-cultural, creative ministry of the God Squad is timely and necessary as we adapt to a world quickly changing around us.
The Millenials, according to some, are the most adaptive generation of Americans yet. They have incorporated the use of technology into their daily life, seemingly with little effort. They complete school work on the computer as soon as kindergarten. They prefer to text rather than have a face-to-face conversation. As a parent, as much as I want to yank my kids away from the ipad -their comfort with technology can be a blessing. Who hasn't desperately turned to a neighbor kid to solve a problem with a laptop, to reconfigure a cell phone, or simply reset a basic digital clock? Certianly their comfort may worry us - as they naively share personal information on-line, post photos and visit websites without parental consent. It is a big scary world out there – but not to this generation, it seems.
When my daughter started downloading virtual pet games, I honestly didn’t think much of it. Then one day I got an alert on my phone that her virtually puppy had not been fed in days. Evidently I was being contacted as next of kin to save it's life. With a virtual world of pet horses, tigers and even cute monsters, there is much to connect and engage her, but without the living breathing element of God’s creation. For example, my daughter was absorbed in the ipad, grooming and feeding her virtual jaguar while her real life housecat was clawing at the couch. What a reality check. We have two worlds happening simultaneously and a wedge is quickly being driven between children and nature, between generation and generation.
The Christian church has always wrestled with how to understand the gap that exists between cultures. “We must be in the world, but not of it,” we say. The apostle Paul struggled to bridge the gap between the Jewish and Gentile believers. Rather then condemn the yonger generation for their "love" of smart phones, lets learn from each other. Let's join in partnership as the God Squad this summer: We will both embrace technology while enjoying the simple joys of fishing, crabbing, hiking, gardening.
The God Squad is intergenerational and cross-cultural because the church must work against the "Relationship Wedge" that is growing in our culture. Studies show that young people who connect via social media lose the interpersonal component of face to face interaction. They are more connected to their peer group, but less connected to people of different age groupings,economic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds. The God Squad seeks to be God's movement of bridging older adults and the young persons, to bring together urban and rural because the benefit from these relationships are holy.
The relationship wedge is a real one. Have you ever ever seen young people hanging out together but each looking at their phones? Young people are both more connected while at the same time less connected. Communication has changed, but the church can adapt with it - embracing both the social media and the traditional face-to-face community building. What would it look like if we helped kids use their phones to share their faith along with their ideas and experiences?
Our church is at a place in history where we may choose to either passively allow a cultural wedge be driven or instead claim ourselves as “repairers of the breach” in advance of a great loss. God Squad is aimed toward being the church in a new way. We are partnering with an urban, African-American Church in mission and ministry. We are connecting people to God’s creation with boating trips with Captain Rachel Dean’s boat The Roughwater. Children and youth will enjoy the crabbing, fishing, art project at Ann Marie Gardens, the farming project with Barbie Ritter and Annette Milling. Our partner church has received funding from Home Depot to do urban beautification around McKendree-Simms-Brookland United Methodist Church.
Sign up and join the God Squad. We need adults who are interested in going to DC for the urban gardening or who just want to come up for dinner and tour. We need adults who can fishing with a young person off our neighboring dock in Olivet. We need cooks, photographers, chaperones and persons to pray for the work of this special venture.
The movement of God in the lives of the next generation is sure to look different from our own times, but it won’t happen if we don’t connect to each other in Jesus name. When we gather on June 25th for a meal with our partner church and a tour on the Old Town Trolley, we are answering Jesus’ prayer that “we may all be one.” Despite our diversity, we are all one body of Christ unified by Him. When the kids turn their smart phones into tools of evangelism and they blog, tweet and create digital messages of their experiences in Washington DC – we are witnessing them express their faith in their unique mode. Be sure to watch for photos and stories from them as they participate in what is certain to be a first ever cross-cultural mission trip between United Methodist Churches.
Our young people are not any lazier, more self-absorbed, or narcissistic than any previous other generation. But let the church be the place where every generation will know that we are all children of God, redeemed by His Spirit and made One through Christ Jesus...to be the God Squad - in formation for serving others before ourselves!