Recently Drew and I went to the Maven Conference, which focused primarily on equipping parents and youth leaders to reach Gen Z. If you’re like me and never payed attention to the catchy names people use for age groups like Millennials or Gen X, Gen Z mostly refers to kids who are right now in elementary through high school.
A recurring theme and question throughout the conference was “Is the church preparing children for a world that no longer exists?” There are plenty of ministries, studies, and groups dedicated to helping our youth. But something is going wrong, given the numbers of kids leaving the church and Christianity altogether. There are many factors that contribute to that. One that often goes overlooked is that many in the church don’t realize what the current culture looks like for this generation. So I thought it might be good to break down 2 assumptions about Gen Z that the church and parents need to stop making.
1. The Bible and the Church are still their Authority
One of the points that Brett Kunkle made at the conference stuck with me. He talked about how strangers don’t hold authority over us. We might do something nice for someone we know, but, generally speaking, it’s hard to realistically expect a favor when someone doesn’t know who you are, or why they should listen to you. This is significant, because to a large amount of kids these days, the Bible is a stranger. We tend to think that things haven’t changed. There was a time, perhaps, when telling people that “The Bible says so,” or “What would Jesus do?” carried weight. But more and more our culture and children don’t believe that the Bible or Jesus hold authority over them. And why would they, if they don’t know the Bible beyond a superficial amount learned in Sunday School?
Have you ever complained about kids ignoring you and just staring at their phone all day? One might rightfully see that behavior as a problem. Or do you find yourself growing more and more concerned by the rapid changes in sexual practices among young people? Whether increased pre-marital sex, co-habitation, or the rapid growth of the LGBT movement, you’ve probably wondered what changed? You might be thinking that these are simply bad behaviors that need to be corrected, especially by better parenting. There may be truth to that, but it goes far deeper than that. The behavior is just the tip of the iceberg. The behaviors are directly linked back to their worldview, and who their authority is. If they are their own highest authority, and not the Bible, telling them to change their behavior is pointless.
2. They are Just as Conservative as You
It’s a strange time in American politics. Being a high school or college student in this political landscape is even stranger. We see a very stark divide between conservativism and liberalism. I think most conservative parents go with the assumption that their kids are going to be just as conservative they are. Some will, but what parents fail to see is that it is much harder to be openly politically conservative in Gen Z. Our culture is in a spot right now where young people are more and more on the left side of that divide. Holding onto conservative viewpoints on a college campus is likely to get you far more flak than being an orthodox Christian.
Adults are generally content to stay within their groups. Watch your news channels, listen to your political commentaries, and avoid the topic with friends and relatives. For students though, this takes a different form. You can’t avoid political conversation anymore. Even my general college English classes involved reading extremely political material for in-depth class discussions. You can’t avoid being immersed in that worldview. This leaves even the most inoculated and on-guard Christian conservative with questions and opinions that their parents have never even considered.
What Can You Do About It?
First, don’t assume they will hold the same political views that you do. Second, try and help them sort through the information without shutting it down because it’s not your view. You might be able to shut out the topic, but your kids are going to have to go back to that classroom the next day. If all they have to go on is that their parents say one thing while their professors, textbooks, and overwhelming majority of peers say the other, it’s only a matter of time before things start to shift away from you.
Two of the most important things needed to help Gen Z are evidence and relationships. They need to have good reasons for views, and they need to know good people that hold them. Don’t just teach them a view, model it and train them up in it. Ask the hard questions, and always bring it back to the authority of scripture, to keep that consistent. But don’t just tell them what the Bible says, tell them why it says it, and why that impacts them.
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