Studying culture has been a big deal since I bit into the post-modernity conversation way back when. Ha, post-modernity. Anyway, I loved sociology in college and even considering getting a Master’s in it; though my current master’s degree is non-existent. Either way, when the study and observation of culture became important for church leadership, I was instantly intrigued.
The process of understanding culture and its relevance to ministry is still important; with or without post-modernity (sigh). This is especially true for youth and young adult ministry leaders. Every day we live in the trenches of cultural differences; whether its the cultural difference between us and our students, the church and our students, or all three. Youth ministries is where I learned to see myself as a missionary to a foreign culture and where I was given the foundational training I needed to do cross-cultural ministry.
As is often pointed out by both myself and others; we live in a time when the church remains culturally divided according to generational lines. We often struggle between these cultures and as youth or young adult pastors, we strive to somehow get them connected. I recently wrote a piece about this which you can access here. This is a struggle which every church in the western church must face and/or is facing in some way.
If our churches have even entered the dialogue on this topic, then usually some solutions have been suggested. Initially, the thought is to force young people into situations where they must simply outright accept the culture of older generations. This has its cons, but also has some surprising pros. Another solution is for the church to become more culturally relevant to the younger generations. This too has its pros and cons. A third option has also been expressed by taking the younger generation and planting a church that specifically addresses their needs and reflects their culture. Generally speaking, each of these suggestions have both merit and shortcomings of their own.
Still, the somewhat depressing thought remains that these are our best options. Either force boomer culture on millennials, force millennial culture on boomers or isolate generations altogether. And while I’d rather fumble my way through these options than do nothing at all, it seems that many people are only becoming frustrated with the unintended results of these strategies.
However there may yet be a fourth option. Rather than asking various generations to jump off their respective cultural cliffs, only to catch each other in the air; why can’t we build a bridge between the two? If we can build a third culture that is both shared and positive, the various generations in our congregations can begin to interact over a common middle ground which is understood and accepted by all (This actually serves the needs of multiple cultural groups, not just two seemingly opposite generations).
Mike Breen and the people at 3dm have done a tremendous amount of work around building discipleship cultures. As I have been exposed to their work and ideas I have come to the realization that a shared, discipleship culture is potentially the answer to our generational-culture divide. Mutually adopting a discipleship culture means sharing language, values, expectations and norms in a way that draws people together into a new vision of community. This may be one of the few strategies that has genuine potential to give Christ-followers of various generations a way to relate to each other. Furthermore, we may find ourselves connected around the lifestyle of following Jesus; which is probably the best part yet.