Over the last week or so Rich Little has expressed concern over Harding Universities selection of its next president. Rich has invited a number of guests (Harding alum) to post their thoughts on the appointment. This has included people like Don McLaughlin, Jonathan Storment, Sara Barton, Mark Moore, Dusty Rush, and several others. One of my first thoughts reading those posts was, “Wow, right or wrong I hope Harding tunes in to this discussion” but the more I thought about it I think the posts tap into something that runs a lot deeper and needs to be heard and understood by a wider audience of church leaders. At its core, the discussion reveals and reflects the growing culture gap that exists in our universities but also in our churches (see especially Sky Vanderburg’s post). It is the latter that this post is going to deal with. Very little of what is said below is about Harding (in case you are interested I support Harding and Dr. McLarty 100%). I am too far removed from the details of that situation to deal with all of that.
Concerned they don’t understand or listen:
When you read those posts you see there is a concern that there is a disconnect between generations and cultures. This is demonstrated in several ways (whether perceived or actually happening). This happens when it appears the older generation does not appear to be interested in the input of the younger. Or, regardless of age, when one side of the theological spectrum doesn’t appear to want any input from those “on the other side.” [That goes both ways, by the way] When young people get shut down, shut out or not invited into the conversation, it appears that the establishment doesn’t really care. Or even worse than all of that…the older generation does invite you into the conversation but then doesn’t do anything with your input, solutions, and creativity. Again…perception is reality. Create this perception and people will criticize you for being uncaring, whether it is true or not.
The way to address that concern is to be transparent and invitational. It is important that church leadership be transparent with what is going on. Transparency takes good communication. I don’t say that as an indictment of Harding or anyone else. I am not close enough to that situation to know if that was the case or not. I am speaking generally here. You have to let people know where you are headed and how to get on board. If they actually get on board it is even more important that you value them, their input, etc. The vision of where you are headed has to be informed by scripture but you also have to be aware of those you lead. So you have to invite them into the decision making process so that they have input in the most important areas of their lives and value that input enough to actually implement at least portions of it. That validates the whole process and builds bridges to reconnect the generations. This is why it is important to have connections between the eldership and younger groups in the church.
Deep Feelings of Hurt
The result of that disconnect, whether theological or cultural is hurt. You see in the discussion on Rich’s blog there are a lot of people who have been hurt by the ideological gap between the generations. It is more than hurt over the actual ideology but over actions and attitudes that have come out of the discrepancy that have broken some relationships. [again...this goes both ways] This happens in universities and it happens in churches. It has to be addressed and cannot just be glossed over. It is imperative that we don’t adopt the attitude that hurt people will just have to work it out themselves. If people are getting hurt, it is important that we understand what happened and how to prevent it as best we can in the future. The fear is, in order to fix it we will have to compromise ourselves theologically. That is not the case. Reconciliation does not mean we all have to agree on everything in order to avoid all forms of people getting hurt. Rarely does the hurt come from just disagreeing on something. Hurt comes from more significant events and specific actions that spring out of the differences not in the differences themselves.
Maintaining a Position of Relevance
Young people are having a hard time seeing how we have done things in the past continues to be relevant today. There is a fear of status quo. Status quo feels like death (again, whether that is fair or not we have to be aware that is the perception). In churches, young adults have a hard time feeling like Sunday is relevant to the rest of their lives. You come and sing and pray and listen and go home just to come back the next week and do it again. Sunday morning worship doesn’t scream relevance like it used to. We have to help people understand how to live for Christ in ways that are relevant and Sunday won’t ever completely foot the bill all by itself.
The world has changed. Have we adapted? The world is not what it was even 15 years ago. In church world it is too easy to get stuck. You can be ineffective for lengthy periods of time with no perceived immediate penalty or recourse. The fear here is that the world has changed and the church is losing its relevance. The plea is to recapture the imagination of all parties and get them in line with Jesus Christ. Sometimes it takes some criticism to pull that off as long as it isn’t criticism for the sake of being a cynic without seeing any viable options or direction in the process.
Appreciate voices of dissent:
To those of you who are church leaders, here is the rub…when young people express their concerns…it can sound like harsh criticism by uncaring people. The reality is, if you have people who are willing to speak up, be thankful for them. Most people just leave without saying a word and not helping you get any closer to figuring out what is going on. If you have people who will help you understand what is going on, even if it sounds like complaining, rejoice that those people are in your corner because they will help you navigate this if you don’t get too defensive. If someone is telling you their frustrations it means they love you and the church enough to express it. The worst thing you can do is shut them down and shut them out. We can learn a lot from those we disagree with if we are willing to listen.
Seth Godin said this on his blog today that I think is entirely appropriate as it pertains to these conversations,
“You can’t argue with success…
Of course you can. What else are you going to argue with? Failure can’t argue with you, because it knows that it didn’t work.
The art of staying successful is in being open to having the argument. Great organizations fail precisely because they refuse to do this.”