Monday, March 05, 2007

generational narcissism

As I read this article, lights started flashing in my head (or maybe it was lights just being reflected off of my shiney freshly-shaven head)! We are blessed at Faith Church to attract people from all walks of life. So something in this article resonated with the positive experiences (and difficult challenges) of being a "non-homogenized" church.

All in the Family Is Now Grey's Anatomy
Today's segregation is by age.
by Chad Hall

How things change. As a kid, I remember well Archie and Edith keeping things at a low boil, and how the entrée of the hippie son-in-law would put things over the top. Political opinions would fly, social perspectives would clash, and tension would build, culminating in Archie's caustic comment, "Meathead!" The live studio audience would laugh and so would my family because it was All in the Family.

Now one of the biggest hits is Grey's Anatomy. The show tracks a group of medical interns figuring out who they are by befriending, arguing, and sleeping with one other. Plenty of conflict and some high drama, but almost none of it is intergenerational. The same is true for plenty of other recent TV hits. Entourage, Friends, and Seinfeld come to mind.

While older adults and young children may occasionally enter an episode, the series move forward via conflict created and cured among the young adult main characters.

These shows display a trend also found in some churches: the move away from intergenerational interaction. The attitude seems to be: Who needs another generation? After all, we have our friends!

While many established churches struggle to attract and retain young adult members, newer churches are attracting nothing but. A 50-year-old friend in Portland recently visited a popular church plant there, and she took her 11-year-old daughter with her. She said later, "I loved the energy and mission of the church, but I was too old and my daughter too young. There just wasn't a place for people our age."

As a church planter and ministry coach, I've worked with churches who are primarily young and others who are obviously older. What these churches have in common is a voiced desire for community. Yet that "community" is often a veiled form of group narcissism. Young or old, they want to do church with people who are like us and who, in turn, are easy to like.

We want relationships in service to Christ's mission to be smooth and tension-free. We don't want to get bogged down in the messy problems raised by how differently older and younger people see the world.

As tempting as it may be to do church with friends only, there are at least three good reasons to resist age gentrification of church.

1. Christ and Scripture point to an inherent value in diversity. Jesus' ministry included disciples of various backgrounds, women of all ages, and even the most marginalized. Jesus' theme is that the kingdom of God is for everyone. We give testimony to the kingdom's radical expansiveness by the breadth of ages in our congregations.

2. Both young and old have resources to share. Generational homogenization results in an overabundance of one type of resources in certain congregations. Many older generation churches have plenty of money and facilities, but lack the energy and fresh vision younger congregations have aplenty. Churches that bring together the generations also bring together their respective resources in order to carry out kingdom work.

3. Perhaps most important, multi-generational congregations must deal with a particular type of conflict that has a spiritual purpose. While many organizations (churches included) seek to minimize conflict in order to streamline effectiveness and carry out the mission, intergenerational conflict in a church actually breeds godliness. Churches who value their young and their old will have to deal with clashing perspectives, which may slow things down, make decisions harder to come by, force compromise on difficult matters, and automatically elevate the value of relationship over that of task.

But when generations collide, the ensuing conflict reminds everyone, Church is not just about me. Who knew that church could be the cure to narcissism?