Bye Bye Boomers
David Posthuma @ Jul 8, 2005 09:40 AM
Wayne Jacobsen, in his book entitled “The Naked Church”, has an interesting critique of the Boomer-driven church-growth ministry model. Using the writing genre of CS Lewis and the Screwtape Letters, he describes our growth-driven churches from the perspective of one of Satan’s henchmen….
"Trying to keep it small hasn't worked - let's make it big!"
All the other devils gasped, thinking that old Screwtape had finally bolted his sanity.
"Make it big? What do you think we've been working so hard to prevent?"
"Hear me out, colleagues: We can kill it with its own success. What would happen if the church suddenly became acceptable?"
"But what would all those people do to it?" Screwtape replied with a smirk, then, sat back as he watched their minds churn.
One-by-one the others began to see the brilliance of his scheme.
"Many would come just for social reasons. They would quickly dilute those who are really in God's clutches."
"And imagine all the programs and activities they would have to plan to keep those people happy. Nothing chokes out intimacy as well as busyness."
"A crowd like that would have opinions so diverse and disruptive that the power of the gospel would be compromised in just a few short years."
"The church would eventually become a machine, chewing up individuals instead of loving them. Programs would take over where personal ministries now flourish. And everyone knows how easy it is to kill a program."
"Hear! Hear!" they all yelled.
They couldn't possibly teach all the followers to walk with God personally, so they would soon substitute rules and guidelines for his ever-present voice."
"The machine would have to be run by professionals. The others would become nothing more than spectators and bill-payers."
"And that leadership would waste most of its time tied up in administration, which we know benefits almost no one."
"Who would have time for individuals? They would have to try to disciple people by regulations, and the cracks in that are so wide we could go on vacation."
"And best of all," Screwtape spoke up again, "they wouldn't even know what had happened to them. They would think themselves successful beyond their wildest dreams.
They would be pillars in the community and stand before huge crowds. We would let them keep all their Christian terms, but we would substitute our own meanings. It's foolproof!"
"But size alone won't do that, Screwtape," Satan himself finally said. "They could still teach all those people what it really means to follow God and they could still love people one-by-one no matter how big it got."
"True, O Wicked One," Screwtape waggled his index finger, "but do you think they would?" Do you think they would risk losing all those people or would resist the corruption that such power and influence would give them?"
Satan smiled in whatever ecstasy hell allows…"Of course not!" He slammed his fist on the table, "Let's do it!"
I have to admit, that when I read such words, my spirit responds with an emotional mix of sadness and exhilaration.
I feel sadness, not because these words hurt me in any particular way, but rather because everything described by
However, I also feel exhilaration because before an unhealthy problem can be cured, the illness must first be diagnosed. Once the illness is diagnosed, steps can be taken to improve the health of the body…in this case, Christ’s Body, the Church. So there is hope…and we know that there is always hope for the Body of Christ because Christ is the head of His Church, not any particular institutional pastor.
I believe the Boomer generation, born following 1946, has been greatly used by God to impact this world for the sake of Christ. However, I believe that the Boomer generation has left us not only a great inheritance…but also a great dysfunction. The task before Christ’s emergent Church is to now strip away the dysfunction that has evolved over the past decades, and to value the healthy inheritance the Boomer generation has left for us.
A Healthy Inheritance
2006 will mark the 60th birthday of the true Boomer. As our Boomer leaders prepare for retirement, it is only appropriate to thank them for their faithful service and to remember what positive influences they have had upon us and Christ’s Church. Our positive inheritance includes, but is not limited to:
The Jesus Movement of the late 1960’s and 1970’s was inherently anti-establishment and anti-institutionalism. It was not so much about “rebellion” as so typifies that generation, but about a desire by many to have a real and vital relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and to exist in authentic Christ-centered community. The Jesus Movement was a spiritual revival. It was a grassroots spiritual movement that was not orchestrated by any organization, but rather by the Holy Spirit. Many postmodern ministry leaders today see parallels between the values and goals of emergent postmodern ministry, and the values and goals of the Jesus Movement decades ago. This parallel, I believe, is not merely “70’s-retro” spirituality, but a call by God’s Spirit to return to the place where Christ’s Church was once healthier.
It is interesting to me that it is often the Boomers, whom themselves participated in the Jesus Movement, that today are the ones criticizing the emergent postmodern Church for seeking to lay claim to the spiritual values and goals they once espoused.
The Charismatic movement was a direct outgrowth of the Jesus Movement. The Church had finally re-discovered that God was real and active within His creation, and within the life of the Christ Follower. God was not dead institutionalism. God could not be contained in a human “plan” or a “routine” program as typified by so many church services then and now. God had His own purposes, and it was an amazing honor that He would be willing to move in and through His people, to accomplish His good work. The Church of that day learned that the supernatural should be expected…it should be the norm…after all, our God is supernatural. God cannot be constrained or put into a box.
The Charismatic movement crossed denominational boundaries. People were Charismatic, not churches. Yes, there were Pentecostal churches, but the Charismatic movement applied primarily to a spiritual revival among people within non-Pentecostal mainline Churches. This influence led to renewed sensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit within the life of the local mainline congregation.
Yet, today, many of our churches put God into a one-hour highly programmed and performed box, designed right down to 15 second increments. We have often programmed the spiritual passion right out of God’s people and simultaneously quenched the Holy Spirit. What the
The Charismatic Movement made the Church aware of Biblical teachings regarding spiritual giftedness. In addition, the Biblical scholars working on the NIV Bible in the early and mid 1970’s discovered that Ephesians 4:12 had often been mistranslated. They now realized that it was the job of Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists to equip the laity so that the laity could do the works of service. Everyone’s spiritual job description was now being re-written. The spiritual job of the leaders was to “equip”. The spiritual job of the people was to “do works of service” according to their God ordained giftedness. Suddenly Spiritual Gift Surveys began to proliferate within the Church. Finding one’s gift or gifts was considered essential to spiritual maturity. This movement was not birthed in an effort to fill holes within exotic church programs. This was a movement in which ministry service was often devoid of programs and structures.
Only later did church leaders deviate from the God ordained role of “equipping” and begin to “administrate” programs that artificially utilized people’s giftedness. Rather than permitting God ordained giftedness to define the ministry, today we have programs that require particularly gifted people, and exclude people who are not gifted according to the needs of our programs. Furthermore, our churches have often established artificial and subjective standards of “professionalism”. People who cannot meet these standards are often discarded by today’s church. Even if it can be argued that professionalism is a legitimate value, the church must come to terms with the reality that very little “equipping” ever occurs to help the lay person become more “professional”…let alone more become effective and obedient to the call of Christ within their life.
It was the Boomer generation who first taught the Church that worship was not about forms or liturgy. Worship could be real, heart-felt and authentic. Gone was the pipe organ. Enter the culturally-relevant Hammond B3 organ, Fender Rhodes, guitars and drums. Worship songs by the thousands were written and distributed, all without a commercial music distribution market in place. The songs were simple, but they helped turn the hearts of people to their God. Worship services often went on for hours. It was not about performance. Even the band members were typically more concerned with worshiping God than getting everything down perfectly. The simplicity of the music may have freed the musicians to focus less on themselves and their instrument, and more upon God. Boomer worship in the early days was like a flowing and unstoppable river…a great movement of God’s Spirit within His Church, calling the hearts of each worshipper to His heart. It gave birth to theological applications such as “Worship Evangelism” by Sally Morgenthaler.
But this does not describe what today woefully passes for “worship” within many churches. Our bands typically seem more interested in performing…gigg’n, rather than worshipping. Our services have become so programmed, that it is now possible to go from church to church (and many people do) and know exactly what is going to take place without ever looking at a service program. Week after week, service after service, the process is spiritually stifling in its redundancy and routine.
In the early 1980’s, the North American church began to leave its disorganized roots founded in the movements previously listed. Some may rightfully claim that all these diverse movements were only perspectives of one great movement of God’s Spirit. The very thing that the Jesus Movement Boomer earlier reviled, institutionalism, now began to be the driving force for the North American Church. Some of the responsibility for this shift in values should rightfully go to Willow Creek, who so aptly taught American churches how to institutionalize like a corporation and program like a Broadway production. Now, I must be clear that I am not anti-Willow Creek. God has used Willow Creek in many positive ways. But as the historic Israelites traded leadership by God for a human leader with human structures, so too has the Boomer church traded surrender to God’s Spirit and direction for human institutional church-growth models. For a while, the church-growth models seemed to justify the trade by their apparent effectiveness. Churches began to grow in greater numbers than ever before. The mega-church movement was born. However, the trade came at a great price. The mega-church soon learned that it paid a serious price in relational intimacy…even to the point that leaders did not know enough people to mobilize and run their huge institutional programs.
In seeking a solution, mega-churches turned to the small group models originating out of
Today, there are many healthy small groups, but far fewer healthy small group ministry programs. It is common to find small group programs that do not equip the small group leaders at all, or provide minimal equipping at best. Most small groups exist as isolated spiritual islands in a vast sea of institutional programming.
It’s Time to Strip Away the Dysfunction
As I have described the five ministry movements above, each movement began in simplicity and authenticity, and became corrupted over time by man’s desire to program and institutionalize the good things that God had set in motion. Now, it is time to strip away the dysfunction and, following the lead of the prophet Nehemiah, re-construct the true spiritual walls of Christ’s Church that have been broken down.
How can we continue to follow dysfunctional church leaders who can no longer separate the work of the Holy Spirit from the institutional life of their organizations? A case in point is Wayne Jacobsen’s response to Tim Stafford. Tim asserted in a Christianity Today article:
“There is no healthy relationship with Jesus without a relationship to the church.”
What many of us have found on the outside offers more connection, more transformation, more opportunities for ministry than we ever found inside. Does it ever bother you that if Jesus wanted us to be part of these institutions with morning services, he did nothing in the Gospels to prepare his disciples for it? On the contrary his example and words were far more de-centralized than that. Love each other as you’ve been loved. Where two or three of you get together I’ll be there with you. He didn’t envision church as a building, an institution or a service. He viewed it as a company of people following him, sharing his life with each other and serving the world with compassion and humility. For the first 300 years in the life of the church believers met in homes and would never have conceived of the Lord’s Supper being served any where other than the family table?
I know our Christian institutions are fading and the last thing they want anyone to believe is that we can flourish in the life of Jesus and in real connections with other believers outside its influence. But I’m afraid the tide has turned. People are beginning to awaken to a reality of God’s life together that cannot be contained by any institution. Those who claim otherwise sound like bankers in the 1920s trying to assure people their money was safe inside so they won’t all try to withdraw it and find out otherwise.
What was begun by God within the Boomer generation was awesome in its vitality, scope and impact. But that same generation’s desire to package God’s work into something manageable and reproducible…and then enshrine the package within a giant building campaign…has resulted in corruptions that will impact the
The Church has Paid the Price, Now Who Will Pay the Mortgage?The Boomer and Builder generations (born from 1920 to1940 and 1946 to 1963 respectively) both value building campaigns associated with institutional ministry. Due to the inflated population numbers in these two generations, the values and pocketbooks of the builders and Boomers have re-shaped the landscape of the
Within the next ten years, most of the Builder generation will die, and the Boomer generation will move into fixed incomes. Obviously, these are the not the generations that will build the future of the church. Although the current financial base of most churches is likely the Boomer generation, even this fact will change drastically within the next ten years as the Boomer generation enters retirement and fixed income living. Retirement will take its financial toll on our inflated budgets…inflated due to expensive buildings, expensive programming and expensive staff. Within the next ten years, churches must either come to depend upon the Echo-Boomer generation, or they will die.
But wait a minute: do we realize that most of our churches have very few Echo-Boomers in attendance, let alone in key leadership roles? The young adult between 17 and 35 makes up approximately 35% of our population nationally, but within our churches, most are lucky if they average 10%. This is not a foundation upon which to build the future of our ministries! Echo-Boomers are abandoning the institutional churches they were raised within. Barna tells us the mass exodus is as high as 65% by age 29. We also know from every study and focus group that the unchurched Echo-Boomer abhors and greatly distrusts organized institutions. So while the Echo-Boomer’s interest in spirituality is at an all-time high (spirituality is the #1 search category on the internet according to 2004 Pew Internet and American Life Studies) what the Boomer generation is passing down to the next generation as a spiritual inheritance is likely to be rejected.
Institutional Churches should expect their membership demographic to significantly age and decline over the next ten years. Disproportionately, church budgets will also need to decline. Churches that do not pay off their mortgages within the next ten years are at serious risk for bankruptcy. Even those institutional mega-churches that do find a way to financially survive, will struggle with ever-shrinking attendance within their cavernous walls.
Is There Hope?
There is always hope for Christ’s Church, because Christ is its head. However, hope for man-made institutions is a whole other matter. If churches are willing to stop their model chasing, stop their service programming and stop their performance…and return to the simpler and more authentic values God displayed when He gave birth to the Jesus Movement, the Charismatic movement, the Laity Reformation, the Worship Reformation, and seek to truly deconstruct the institutional church into small relationally authentic expressions of Christ’s Body…then there may be hope. But to do this takes real faith…faith in God, not faith in ministry models. It requires that we step out boldly in faith and humbly in spirit. It requires that our leadership humbly admit to God, to themselves and to their congregation that they have been leading the church down an unhealthy path. It requires that we re-think how we “do church” entirely.
It’s time to say goodbye to the Boomer-driven church. We thank you for the positive inheritance you have given us. However, we also recognize that much of what God initiated within your generation as positive has degenerated as you tried to package and replicate the work of the Holy Spirit. Our goal now is to return to the core spiritual values that God initiated early in your generation, while looking forward to the new work the Spirit of Christ has in store for this next generation. I pray that God would protect the emerging generations from repeating the mistakes committed by our forefathers.
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