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…