Generations - Moving Forward in Tasmania
Tall and strong it stands its ground
Unmoveable, yet paths are found
Each piece boldly unique
Bound together in unity
By Jenna Blackwell
A winter-warming thought
It was June 17th, 2020. I was walking past this sun-lit brick foundation of a bridge. I had driven past it many times before and never really noticed. I have driven past it many times since, and now cannot help but notice it.
As I walked toward the structure on this day and stood under it, I sensed the still small 'voice' of God get my attention.
As I took in the strength and might of this structure that withstands wind, rain, flood, weight and time, I felt reminded of the human effort that would have gone into creating it and of Jesus Christ the Cornerstone (Psalm 118:22). I was reminded of our God, our strong tower, who goes before us.
I was also reminded of the thousands of people who have gone before us over the years, serving and sacrificing for the sake of the Kingdom. Feeling warmed by the sun on a winter's day and warmed by God's presence, I smiled.
Speechless, frustrated, challenged, and inspired
I was unaware that just hours later I would be shown a document that would leave me speechless and yet with so many unanswered questions.
"Many young people feel isolated and alienated within their local church. They are often an underrepresented age group, they feel strongly that there are things about their local church that need change, and they want to have access to the decision-making processes of the church. Young people need signals from the local church and their denomination that they are wanted and that their point of view is valued.
In order to be faithful to the gospel, the churches must respond much more readily to the rapid changes taking place in our society. It is a gospel imperative that we convey the Good News and shape our churches according to the culture we have been called to serve. As that culture changes, so must we." (emphasis mine)
I was gob-smacked! I kept thinking: Who wrote this? What is this? How did they know exactly what's going on?
It turns out these are the words of people who have gone before us in this movement - Tasmanian Baptists. They were written 20 years ago, by The Baptist Youth Network for the 1999 October Assembly of the Baptist Union of Tasmania (where Baptists from Tasmania gather together).
I was speechless.
I was reading these words 20 years later but feeling like nothing had changed. That report could nearly be copy and pasted into a 2020 report.
There were many questions running through my head.
- Is this even possible?
- How does this happen?
- Is it true that nothing has changed?
Then the deeper questions came.
- What is God saying through this?
- What am I meant to do with this?
- How does this impact what we do now?
I left that moment with a heavy heart. Confused. Frustrated. Challenged. Yet, in the depth of me, I knew there was something to this, and I sensed hope.
We are not the first and we will not be the last.
The Gospel message: Then and Now
Our society is rapidly changing. We did not need COVID-19 to tell us that. Despite this, it can be argued that our basic human needs rarely change.
The Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), suggests that identity, belonging and purpose are three of the most important aspects of life, regardless of people group or generation.1 'Who am I? Where do I belong? What's my purpose?'
These are questions every person asks, continually, throughout their lives. The encouragement is that these questions are most fulfilled when answered with life in Jesus. For example, I am a child of a loving God; I belong in a Kingdom family that is not bound by human understandings; and my purpose is to know my God and help others to have the opportunity to know my God.
Jesus came to give us life, and life to the full (John 10:10). Life to the full is found in Jesus.
For centuries, the Western church has conveyed a Gospel message that centres on forgiveness and life everlasting. It is a good and true message. But its relevance can seem absent in an instant society. Younger generations want to see a better world than the one that has been handed to them.
Thankfully, our God is a God of reconciliation. Our God wants us to join in his work now. To make a difference now. The hope of Jesus is not just for eternity, it's for now. Our God longs to restore, to heal, to celebrate and to commune now.
If we can convey this Gospel message afresh, if our actions can precede our words, we might just help God's Church to flourish in the years to come. Isn't our greatest desire, beside first knowing God, to assist in His reconciliation?
Where to from here?
So, let's move forward! How do we help Tasmanian Baptists, and God's people in general, to listen to our God and to take prophetic action.
Let me suggest that first, we need to listen. We need to listen to the heart of Tasmanians, and the heart of younger people, and discern God's voice in it all. Because if we serve our own interests, and continue in what we've known because it feels safe, are we really God's people?
Second, we need to be courageous. We need to let go of what we think is the "right way" and include younger generations to discern God's way for the future of Tasmania.
Everyone has been affected (positively and negatively) by this pandemic in different ways, including younger generations.
Deloitte observed that Millennials and Gen Z's:
"are deeply affected by the pandemic but seem able to see opportunity in the darkness... (they) aren't just hoping for a better world to emerge after the COVID-19 pandemic releases its grip on society - they want to lead the change. ... Young people have seen how quickly the environment can heal, how rapidly business can adapt, and how resourceful and cooperative people can be. They know that a post-pandemic society can be better than the one that preceded it - and they're tenacious enough to make it a reality."2 (emphasis mine)
My hope is that we can support and equip young people on this journey.
Our society is rapidly changing. Our job is not simply to keep up with it, but to witness to the Kingdom of God through it. We have been called to serve among this culture. As the 1999 report stated, "as culture changes, so must we."
We are inviting you to come on a journey with us. Be bold enough to dream. Be courageous enough to act. Be faithful enough to wonder.
Our God transforms and we need His transformation in us, to lead us in His Kingdom ways.
If this idea resonates with you, and/or you want to talk about it further, I would love to connect with you. Head to: https://www.tasbaptists.org.au/youth
Tasmanian Baptists Youth Leadership Development Coordinator
1 Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin, Growing Young (Baker Books: USA), 2016.
2 Michelle Parmelee, The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020 : Highlights: "In the midst of crisis, younger generations show resilience." (published June 25, 2020) https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/insights/topics/talent/deloitte-millennial-survey.html
Good News for Emerging Generations
"This is the opportunity to actually steward the gospel in a new way that moves from getting forgiveness to go to heaven when you die, to receiving a new identity and being given a ministry and message of reconciliation to partner with God in remaking a broken world. I believe that is good news that emerging generations would sign up for."
Maddy Svoboda, Tas Baptist Mission Leadership Team, Launceston
BOOK to read, Growing Young
Growing Young, Sept 2016 by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin
Available from Koorong >>>
Based on groundbreaking research with over 250 of USA's leading congregations, Growing Young provides a strategy any church can use to involve and retain teenagers and young adults. It profiles innovative churches that are engaging 15- to 29-year-olds and as a result are growing--spiritually, emotionally, missionally, and numerically. Packed with both research and practical ideas, Growing Young shows pastors and ministry leaders how to position their churches to engage younger generations in a way that breathes vitality, life, and energy into the whole church.
EXCERPTS from How to Stop the Drop(ping) Out
By Rowan Lewis, Equip. Issue 25, May 2015 (Read the full article >>>)
p5: Forty years later, there is a large gap between the age profile of the Australian community and church attenders. It was the young who first started to leave the churches in the 1960s and 1970s - and they have not returned. . . They defected in large numbers from the churches, and most did not return. . . Now, younger generations are absent from the churches in greater numbers. . . Many churches missed that moment, and have never caught up. (Powell and Jacka, NCLS Occasional Paper #10, 2008).
p6: The reality is that the Australian church is not just failing to 'reach' the next generation, it is failing to 'keep' the current one.
p6: As I have listened to, accompanied and researched the spiritual lives of young people, it is my growing contention that many of our young people who dissociate from church are not initially rejecting Christian faith (though many eventually do) but rather are exhibiting what I call an 'exilic' form of faith. It is the faith borne of disorientation in a world that has become rather more complex than a simple, inherited or socialised faith could handle. It is a faith that can still believe in a God who is borne of mystery, who can handle our laments and remain present to our wandering soul, in contrast to a church that may appear to be borne of politics, unable to tolerate our questions and too caught up in attractional forms of ministry to be present wherever they are. (italics mine)
p6: For many decades now, the literature relating to faith development theory has highlighted that the kind of faith exhibited during periods of transition and change (what I am referring to as 'exilic faith') is vastly different to the kind of faith expressed during periods of consolidation and 'normality'. Transitional faith ( akin to Fowler's 'individuative-reflective' stage, Westerhoff's 'searching-critical' faith, or Oser & Gmunder's 'ego-autonomy' stage) struggles in institutional settings because it is seeking to internalise and individuate a personal response of faith beyond that which is asserted by the faith community. The consistent lament of faith development literature was - and is - the observation that churches commonly fail to recognise and authenticate transitional expressions of faith and as such they go largely unfacilitated in the life and ministry of the church.
p6: Our young people need safe places in which to doubt and explore the profound questions of faith. They need reassuring contexts to rail against the mystery of God and the depravity of our world. They need presence and belonging in the midst of their prodigal wandering. In the absence of these young people with their doubts, questions and concerns dissociate and disengage. They are left with no choice but to go into exile where over time most will de/ disidentify. With the clarion call of more than four decades of research resounding in our ears, it is time we made a change. (italics mine)