What younger generations really want

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

What younger generations really want

July 6, 2007    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
tparham@flumc.org    Orlando {0698}

NOTE: A headshot of Rains is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

An e-Review Commentary
By the Rev. Vance Rains**

I am captivated, lately, by our calling as Christians to transform the world. Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new.” 

Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2, says, “If only we could be a bit more like Jesus, the world would be transformed.”

Most of us don’t have a clue about the reality of the world in which we are living and how rapidly it is changing.

All you need to do to realize that is take a look at the YouTube video “Did you know?” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHWTLA8WecI. It’s a provocative list of statistics related to present and future technological advances and their effect on how we humans live and interact.

Amidst those changes, the church continues to act and operate and talk as though we are still living in some ancient time, getting increasingly, exponentially ancient by the minute.

Even as I am trying to embrace using technology in the church — worship, podcasting, blogging, Web communities — I keep wondering if what we offer must be, must always be more organic.

Mother Teresa picked people up out of the gutter so that they could die with dignity. People need compassion, mercy, forgiveness. People need to know there is hope. People need community and deep relationships. People need truth and someone they can trust.

Sometimes the most powerful spiritual moments are sitting face-to-face, not on MySpace, or worshipping intimately in a small group, again, face-to-face.

My students can read their Bibles online and discuss them online, but something powerful happens when we are sitting in a circle wrestling and debating. I don’t think that will ever change. If not, why is the church thriving in Africa, in house churches in China?

One thing I did take away from the video is the reminder that America is no longer the center of the universe. The church is becoming increasingly Southern and Eastern and less and less Western. Can we deal with that? Are we prepared to receive mission teams from the South and East, coming to minister to us? Are we ready to accept their leadership? And what about the growing power and influence of the non-Christian Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and secular world?

My students use technology as a tool, but they know they need more. My students aren’t satisfied with “nice” religion or “nice” worship services. My students are demanding we talk about the hard, dirty issues of life. My students are craving deep relationships, but the modern world hasn’t given them the skills to form those relationships. My students are deeply suspicious of anything that looks institutional. They want a real relationship with God. They want a purpose. They want community. They want hope.

We can’t be afraid of the world and all its changes. We have to understand and be engaged. We have to adapt and even embrace the good. We have to stand against the bad and not fear being prophetic. We have to be humble enough to accept our place in the world. We have to stand firm and believe in what we believe.

The core of how we respond, however, is ancient: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls (Jeremiah 6:16).”

Where we are hungry and passionate in seeking God, where we are deeply engaged in the needs of the world, where we are engaging culture, where we are seeking authentic relationships and community, where we live prophetic lives, where we are willing to live for something worth dying for, the church will endure and thrive. Where we settle for institutional preservation, we will die.

One more from Bono: “Religion can be the enemy of God. A list of instructions where there was once conviction, dogma where once people just did it, a congregation led by a man where once led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.”



This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Rains is director of the Wesley Foundation at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla.

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