Church Planting with Generation Xhausted: Part 1

So here’s the scenario: Your church plant is up and running and you’re feeling like it might have legs.  Your own legs, however, feel a little wobbly this fine Sunday morning.  Your three-year-old had the D and Vs last night and you’ve been up since four.  Meanwhile your twelve-year-old chucked a hissy fit (Is that an Australian colloquialism? – literary Ed) at breakfast, before flouncing off to her trailer and demanding Evian water.  You coaxed her out of her room with the promise of ten thousand dollars and a pony, before cramming everyone (and everything for church that you can’t store in a rented building) into the car, before heading off to “meet with the people of God” (average age: 7 1/2, adult to child ratio: 2:13).  But look – sweet joy! Upon your arrival, you see a young man you’ve never met before, looking uncertain and, most importantly, alone! You mentally recalculate average age/adult to child ratio (9 1/2 and 2:11).

“Is this “Lighthouse/Soma/Dreamweavers/Church-of-the-Risen-Son/ESV-Bible-Baptist/Community of the Dying Thief?” (cross out whichever does not apply – Ed), he asks, in the voice that an enquirer might employ.

“Yes, yes, it is,” you almost weep.

“RIGHT MARSHA, BACK HER UP!” he yells.

The reversing beeps of an RV, followed by the excited chatter/mournful wails of a Von Trappe-sized family alighting drowns out your shriek of despair.

You wake with a start. You turn over and look at the clock. 4am? Phew it was just a dream! You settle back down. Three hours before you have to get up and get the Sunday show on the road….then….

“DAAAD, DAAAAD! – I’VE BEEN SICK DAD. DAAAAD!”

****************

Generation X is now known as Generation Xhausted.  And didn’t we have it coming to us!  All that Slacker Gen nonsense is but a Smashing Pumpkins concert waving goodbye to us in the rear-view mirror. And for those of us who are involved in church planting  the strain is starting to show.  One of the issues that comes to the surface is that like breeds like.  Not only does a church plant overrun with young kids attract parents with young kids, it actively repels other people groups such as singles/empty nesters/old people.  In other words the types of people who are willing to serve, have the energy to do so, as well as the wisdom and experience of surviving -perhaps – the teenage years, are noticeable by their absence. Meanwhile Generation Xhausted, still getting over its own teenage years, finds itself about to experience its own children’s teenage years!

In a previous church planting incarnation with a missional communities focus (mixed theological metaphors surely – Ed) I was assured – and assured others – that kids just slot into the whole thing.  People would look after yours, you could look after others’ kids, and it would all work out.  The kids would watch as you lived Christian life together.  And it worked – at least the books I read said it did. The twenty Gen Ys in our group LOVED looking after our daughter (ratio 22:1) and treated her like a princess.  But start adding in other princesses, and then a prince or two, and then an evil three year old robber-baron whose job description includes pillaging and looting, and suddenly the smiles can take on a menacing kind of look (think Heath Ledger in pancake makeup and a slash of lippie – Ed).  There you are trying to bring unity to your plant’s purpose with State Of The Union style sermons, and no one can sit in the room long enough, undistracted enough, or unvomited on enough to hear what you have to say.  Never mind hard secularism in a post-Christendom, post-industrial, hyper-modern Western context, a lack of head space is our biggest enemy.

So what is the solution?  Or do we need a solution? Do we fight it or do we go with the flow?  And how does the gospel inform us when we are unable to escape our station in life?  It certainly had a message to slaves who were locked in to a lifestyle outside their control (Colossians 3:22-25). Surely it has something to say to us. Over the next couple of weeks I will be addressing this thorny issue cropping up in church plants: “What do we do with the kids?”  I’d be interested in your responses.  My initial thought is that, as the first generation shocked to actually find itself with children – rather than assuming  it would have them, a certain amount of “Toughen Up Princess” is needed. However, as this article in a recent edition of The Economist demonstrates, the pressure exerted by the culture is increasing.  So it may not simply be a case of “What do we do with the kids?”, but “What do we do with US?”

Over to you…

7 Comments

  1. yeah… nice mate…

    you have identified the problem well 🙂

    I think we need to find the balance between idealism and pragmatism (or maybe survival).

    The longer you go along in these things the more you see why the church system has formed up the way it has. Much of it is simple pragmatics and ease of management!

    I am for doing what we need to do to be done to achieve the greatest good for as many as possible…

    ‘Utilitarian’? maybe… but you gotta live in reality

    1. Hi Hamo

      Yeah, I’m heading to Reality-Land myself! Perhaps too it’s God keeping us humble by showing us our utter dependence. Just like that one third of the day in which I am completely comatose and having weird, vivid thoughts – aka “sleep”! Our limitations move us towards utilitarianism I reckon. The alternative is to keep ploughing on and wreck everybody (and probably your own kids too!)

  2. I reckon it is Friedrich Schleiermacher’s fault. Well more accurately Bonnie Miller McLemore does. She writes that when Schleiermacher in the nineteenth century worked to secure a home for theology at European Universities he used a schema of biblical, historical, systematic and practical theology. Practical theology very quickly became focused on the professional acts of congregational ministry. Children, parenting and their faith quickly dropped off the agenda of serious theological study.

    This would probably have made John Chyrsostom sad. As a priest in Anticoch and the Bishop of Constantinople in the 4th century he wrote extensively on parenting and faith raising in children. Contextually relevant because as all good missional students would know Chyrsostrum was Bishop during the season when Christianity became the state religion. “The event that stuffed it for everyone” is one description I have seen used. Ironically Chyrsotom was quite aware of the impacts on Christians of these events.

    Chrystostom was concerned at the “cake-frosting” variety of Christianity that was developing and was concerned with Christians preoccupation with material possessions, entertainment, social status and political influence. A reminder on how everything changes and yet remains the same. His response was to speak extensively on the role and responsibilities of parenting.

    Relevant for church planting in the year 2012? Maybe, but, the source of the above information is all from the last ten years or so. Whether it is current theologians revisiting previous theologians thinking on Children (Vigen Guroian, “The Ecclesial Family:John Chrystostom on Parenthood and Children”) or current theologians work on Children (Bonnie J. Miller McLemore, “Let the Children Come”) The last decade has seen some great thinking and writing being done beyond; “How should we keep the children occupied for 60min on a Sunday”. There is no better time to engage a dialogue around how Children fit into a church plant and how we want to build Christian Faith into our familes and into children.

    So good on you Steve for raising the questions!

      1. Yeah I was really challenged by Miller McLemore’s writing. She Says we have replaced theological thinking with psychology. It felt right as a gen X parent. I am just fortunate enough to have a full time job at the moment where I get to unpack it and apply it to church and ministry.

  3. I have fond and vivid memories of becoming a Christian as a teenager and being welcomed into the homes of Christian parents who loved and sacrificially cared for their kids, and their kids’ friends. Those homes were like havens for me – the effort spent ‘on their kids’ flowed to me! It showed me Christianity had legs.

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