Gen-X, Gen-Y, and the Church

By Kersley Fitzgerald

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Part 1

This translates directly to the church. Gen-Xers don't have a problem fellowshipping with others of varying views as long as they are authentic and dedicated to the community we crave. Gen-Xers have grown up to be fiercely independent and, even in the context of fellowship in the church, that is an asset. We wish to be related to, but not spoon-fed. We want to be identified with, but not smothered. We don't need a conference in an arena; we need to learn how to study from the Bible ourselves. The problem becomes it's easy to reject what the Bible says when it doesn't seem to mesh with what we experience personally. Sometimes our desire for community trumps our spiritual conviction—we don't necessarily live what we believe.* It was Gen-Xers and not Millennials who developed the emergent church—high on community while light on theology.

Millennials are the opposite. They have lived their entire lives in community so they have the luxury of expecting a place where everyone has the same beliefs. Their worldview is strongly influenced by their tribe, not necessarily the truth, and certainly not by any organization that threatens anyone in their tribe (like those who are convinced the Bible does not allow for women pastors or that gay marriage is inappropriate). They also know that if they can't have unanimity of beliefs and priorities, they can leave and find it elsewhere. Where Gen-Xers know how to find our niche in the crowd, Millennials know how to find their crowd.

In a way, Gen-Xers and Millennials have a lot they could learn from each other. Xers' independence and outsider-ness have made us extremely wary of institutions and slow to commit to things outside our little world. While Millennials' expectation of being surrounded by those of like-mind can come across as entitled, they are pros at getting stuff done in groups. Gen-Xers have to fight so hard for community, sometimes we have no energy left for cause. We so guard our hearts that it puts shackles on our hands. Meanwhile, it would be good for Millennials to learn the art of independence of thought and place. Not only because personal responsibility for one's identity is a good thing, but also so they can learn to play well with others and not have so many unrealistic expectations about the groups they're a part of.

But mostly, both generations need to fill their gaps with Christ. If Gen-Xers took their understanding of the fallen world and guarded tolerance of others and mixed it with Jesus' love, they'd be fierce warriors for the Kingdom of God who easily deny self for others with no expectation of payment in return. If Millennials let the Bible as God's Word—and not just the touchy-feely-feel-good parts—inform their worldview, their energy would save bodies and souls.

Why are Millennials leaving the church? I dunno. And as a Gen-Xer, I can't fault someone for leaving an institution that someone finds inauthentic. But as a Christian who believes the Bible is the inspired Word of God, I can't understand why someone would abandon what Jesus says is truth for mob-think. This independent, cynical Gen-Xer promises to obey Christ by actively loving others and not just tolerating them. My prayer is that Millennials will obey Christ by accepting that the Church—the messed up, multi-faceted, many-layered church—is their tribe. And that loving Christ does not guarantee conformity.

* Hmmm? Yes, that does make us hypocrites, doesn't it?

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Published 8-6-13