Amidst the Noise (Changing Generations Part 2)

27 May 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

In the previous post, we evaluated the way that younger generations have moved away from a foundational view of truth to a coherence model, wherein truth is conceived of as an interrelated system of ideas.  This post deals with the source of truth and how that relates to contemporary ministry (or, for that matter, any form of teaching or communication).

Community and Technology

There was a time where information was gathered from a teacher, from a book or from some other “expert” on a given subject.  The expectation was that by listening to a teacher or preacher or reading a particular book, one would be able to learn information and apply it to one’s life.

The present generation does not thing that way.  With the movement from the foundation to the coherence or network model of truth, younger generations have also moved away from centralized authority to a whole network of authority.  It is community then, which serves as the source of truth and information for a young person’s life.

And technology has shaped that community in powerful ways.  Young people are connected in ways that were completely unavailable to previous generations.  The internet alone has a plethora of resources for staying connected, ranging from social networking sites, blogs, youtube, wikipedia and countless others.

A Plethora of Experts, A Dearth of Absolutes

The end result is an ever-expanding, fractured community that values connectedness over intimacy, and as the number of self-proclaimed “experts” increase (including bloggers like me!), the number of absolutes seems to be decreasing.

Young people have now become so used to being bombarded by information that we now have an entire generation ruled by apathy.  Truth, having been reduced to subjective experience, is lost in the dizzying sea of a community struggling to find its own identity.

Often, the unfortunate result of this type of environment is young people latching onto what seems to work best for them.  In the absence of objective sources of truth, it is tempting to absorb other faiths or philosophies into one’s own (the danger of syncretism), usually based on what minimizes pain and/or maximizes pleasure (the danger of utilitarianism).

Which is why reaching them is so important.

The Good Shepherd

In the first century, Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the source of truth (cf. Jn 14:6):

“I tell you the solemn truth, the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought all his own sheep out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.  They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice.”                              (John 10:1-5)

In the first century, sheep from multiple owners were kept in the same communal pen in order to save money.  Each shepherd would have their own unique call in order to lead their sheep from the pen.

And so amidst the noise of the many clamoring voices and false “shepherds” of our culture, our task is to recognize the voice of truth and to respond to it.

Practical Ministry

Yet we must also be sensitive to the present generation’s needs.  Previous methods of doing ministry encouraged participants to absorb information (Bible memorization, classroom lectures).  Today’s generations desire to engage information through interaction, reflection and discussion.

In the classroom this often translates into more discussion-based types of activities, as well as “hands-on” types of learning exercises.  In my limited experience, the best discussions have typically centered on applying the night’s lesson to real-world situations.

But what about the pulpit?  This is an area that traditionally precludes interaction (though some churches work around this through a variety of ways, such as texting questions to the pastor and having him answer them after the sermon).

Yet just because the environment is not interactive does not mean the environment cannot be engaging.  Sermons that surface the real, deep needs of listeners and answer them with the timelessness of God’s truth have the power to challenge, inspire and, Lord willing, to change hearts, minds and lives for the sake of the gospel.

This is of critical importance.  The next posts shall deal with man’s needs and how they are addressed by the gospel.

27 May 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.

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