I’m a little bit worried we might throw the baby out with the bath water. Well, not the baby, more the fully grown parent-aged adult out with the bath water… An equally disturbing image. Weird phrase all round come to think about it. But that’s beside the point.
As a 26 year old female in church leadership I am smack bang in the middle of the scarily labelled ‘missing generation’, the 18-30s aged group of people the UK church has realised aren’t really present in our communities, our leadership teams and our mission.
I am one of those statistical exceptions to the rule and I am therefore just the kind of ‘younger leader’ churches and organisations are seeking to find, involve and ‘release’ as the buzz word goes.
Trouble is, with all this emphasis on raising younger leaders and reaching my generation, I’m slightly concerned we might also be creating another problem, opening up a different void, moving the focus rather than transforming the process, and therefore not really strengthening the awesome and dysfunctional family that is the local church for the long run at all.
If it’s all about the 18-30s, if it’s all about bringing the younger generation front and centre otherwise the church dies out and retires out of existence in the next decade or so, then I would have thought we’d need the existing family members of the church more than ever?
Rather than those in their 40s and 50s feeling ‘passed it’, or redundant or overlooked now that we’re freaking out about the lack of Gen Y in the room, I would have thought those in the generations above would need to be mobilised like never before.
I AM THE GENERATION THAT IS SO RELATIONAL WE ACTUALLY CRAVE CONNECTION.
We want to be part of a family, and that means if you’re in a different age or life stage to us and you actually chose to make friends with us, you are one of the major reasons we feel able to belong in a church community.
As a student worker, one of the big things I say to local churches who worry they won’t connect with students because they don’t have big numbers of that age group to start with is, “students might come for students, but they stay for family”.
If we don’t feel part of a family, in the end, we won’t really settle, dig in, serve and become the younger leaders everyone is hoping for. Because we won’t commit if we don’t realise we are invited to, that we can belong, and that we are a real part of shaping and forming the church community.
It isn’t actually all about the 18-30s. If we don’t have older siblings in their 40s, and parents in their 50s and 60s and grandparents in their 70s and above, also empowered and given the permission and encouragement to be present, active and vital members of the family, then a bunch of us young lot are going to be set off like fireworks and eventually burn up, crash, fall down or explode.
ON OUR OWN WE CAN’T DO IT AND WE WERE NEVER MEANT TO.
Please don’t ‘release’ us to shoot off on our own with our black and white opinions, our naivity and our lack of life experience. Go with us, jog alongside us, stay near us. Don’t control us but don’t leave us alone to work out how to lead by being as close a follower of Jesus as we can be. Coach us, pray for us, ask us to serve you, but then also serve our ideas too.
Please don’t hand us your vision and hope that we can carry it on for you, but instead share with us how you got a vision in the first place and help us hear the voice of God for ourselves. Please don’t count yourself out when you have kids, but add us as a plus one to the family table at tea time. Tell us about marriage and the workplace, and pensions and priorities. Learn to laugh at your own comfort zone rather than get offended when we do something outrageously different to you, or approach church community with a completely different language or sound or look. Talk to us about it. Ask us good questions. Prepare to leave changed too.
If you are reading this and you do not count yourself as a younger leader, or you feel like you might have been made redundant in all the recent 18-30s chat, I just want to apologise.
Sorry if you have been made to feel anything less than a capable and necessary part of the body that is the church.
Please don’t get apathetic or bitter or cynical. Please instead step in as our older siblings, our spiritual mums and dads and grandparents and show us the story of Jesus unfolding in your life.
Please know that without you, the church won’t thrive and flourish and grow and represent the fullness of God and life.
Without you there is no family, without you there won’t be many space-makers, mentors, role-models and cheerleaders.
Without you we are being set up, in both panic and passion, for what will ultimately be a fall.
But with you, we might just learn how to journey in the faith from generation to generation looking a lot more like heaven will be, all ages, tribes and languages present and loving life.
That’s all from me. One of many, many younger leaders I know God is raising up and equipping for this time.
Not to become the answer to the missing generation problem, but instead just play our part in the story of a massive family on a mission where everyone is invited.