Jan 1997 – Today’s generation gaps

For centuries children and teenagers have been seeing things differently from older people, but the difference seems more noticeable now, probably because people are living longer now. In Generations, William Strauss and Neil Howe describe today’s generational differences and  point out how a recurring pattern of personalities and moods results from powerful historical events. In Three Generations, Gary McIntosh writes about how differently three of today’s generational groups see the church and how important it is for churches to pay attention to these differences in designing worship and other activities.

Feb 1997 – Generation X—Christian or unknown?

The generation born between the early 1960s and early 1980s is not being reached effectively by churches. This Connections reports some reasons for this and suggests some books that can help.

Mar 1997 – The worship wars

In Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn expresses her fear that churches have abandoned too much of the traditional Christian ritual and music and thus lost some features essential to real worship. In Praying the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann describes the Psalms as serious speech addressed to a real God, about things genuinely important, and he recommends restoring their inclusion in worship.

Apr 1997 – We want members, but why?

If  we older members want younger people in the church only to help preserve the features we like, we’re seeking younger members for the wrong reason and are likely to keep them away rather than attract them. To reach the people we’re not currently reaching, we’ll have to look at the church with outsiders’ eyes. We also need to  think about the church’s true purpose rather than just what will keep current members comfortable.

May 1997 – Two different systems

Many UMC clergy, especially clergywomen, find that the UMC system for appointing clergy is really two systems, one for favored clergy and another for all others.  In addition, many UMs find that UMC Annual Conference sessions (regional decision-making meetings) are like two meetings, too—one devoted to issues that only concern clergy, and the other dealing with what concerns the whole church. Also, lay members often find that the fit between pastors and congregations doesn’t seem to get near as much attention as pastors and their families’  personal wishes.

June 1997 – Two different reactions

Most readers who responded to last month’s Connections have said, in effect, “I’m so glad someone is finally saying openly these things that we constantly observe.” But a few responders have strongly disagreed, saying  that I mislead people and harm the church by expressing my opinions and observations. The UMC bishop of my area said this and asked me to meet with him and his Cabinet to discuss what I was doing; I report on that meeting here.

July 1997 – Making what’s important interesting

The editor of a news magazine said this is what he’s trying to do. Shouldn’t it also be what the church tries to do? Improving the quality of preaching is an important way to accomplish it, and lay members could help pastors improve if the pastors would let them.  The communications that churches send to outsiders are also important, so their spoken and unspoken messages need to be carefully considered.

Aug 1997 – Evaluating effectiveness

Looking for God’s list of what constitutes effectiveness in pastors may result in using measurements different from those we usually use. Some church members say they want their pastors to be spiritual, but this often seems to mean merely being superficially sweet, which may not be a result that comes from the Holy Spirit.

Sept 1997 – Following the party line

Should pastors and church members always conform to their church’s official policies and doctrines? Clergy, especially, can suffer serious financial harm for refusing to conform, but sometimes  following God’s will requires it. In God-Talk in America, Phyllis Tickle observes that the yearning for experiential religion within an affirming community often causes people to rebel against religious systems. She finds many people feeling that the church has inserted institutional impediments between believers and Christ.

Oct 1997 – Challenges for the church

In Five Challenges, Loren Mead discusses five tasks that we must give top priority if we want our churches to survive. But he feels very lonely in this concern. He doesn’t see many church people working on these tasks he sees as essential. He sees most church people and institutions planning for tomorrow as if it is going to be a repeat of yesterday. He believes God always raises up the people with the necessary new ideas and energy, but he wonders whether we will recognize and support them in time now, when they speak about the current need for change.

Nov 1997 – A golden opportunity for the church

In Rediscovering the Sacred, Phyllis Tickle express her belief that a series of wrenching events in the past thirty years has caused many U.S. people to give new attention to the sacred. Many other well-informed observers agree. If they’re right, it’s a golden opportunity for the church. I wonder if the church—today’s body of Christ, we say— is going to die and be reborn into a different form, just as Jesus’s earthly body had to die and be reborn in a new form.

Dec 1997 – Conflict in the church

Characteristics of our different personality types influence our ways of reacting to conflict and change in the church. Because so many church members find conflict unbearably painful, we too often stifle views and information we need to hear. This only makes the conflict worse and drives away members who could help make needed changes.