Ethics and the generations
Summary of a discussion
We talked about the decline of 'respect' over recent years - respect for authority is no longer as common in the way young people are guided, for example. There's been a gradual change in education, some aspects of which are positive (greater acceptance of people from different backgrounds or races, or with disabilities, and encouragement to young people to think for themselves), while others raise concerns - more challenges in maintaining order, and less uncritical acceptance of moral absolutes. And for churches, it's no longer good enough to tell people what's right: respect must be earned and positions justified.
In this new climate, communication is easy, connectivity almost ubiquitous and standards of presentation - in the traditional media and online - high. In presenting faith and arranging worship, older methods are at risk of failure. We won't win the attention of young (or old?) people or engage them just by 'telling': innovative and contemporary methods are needed, including those that get young people themselves actively involved in, for instance, organising a memorial / communion service. Engagement can sometimes be better achieved by socially valuable practical activity - a soup kitchen for example - than by formal church services.
Responding in this way can be unsettling for some of those of more conservative tastes, and their feelings must be considered sensitively while avoiding the pitfall of blocking change 'because it might upset the older generation'. It's a pitfall to which churches have all too often succumbed, with the result that they've lost a generation and are spiralling downwards, unable to resist advancing age, diminishing numbers and reduced relevance.
Fortunately there's much that can still be done. Certainly presenters and worship leaders - no longer merely speakers and presidents/ ministers - must raise their game, asking 'who exactly am I speaking to - who's my target?' even before working out the details of content and style. The 20-somethings and 30-somethings must be engaged proactively, brought in and involved in church work (but without overloading the few who are most willing). To keep that engagement, and to improve relationships across the generations, older and perhaps 'busier' people must show up in support: it's hard to communicate with some - not all - of a different age group and a very different lifestyle, but we can contrive situations, again perhaps involving practical activity, to facilitate and ease that communication. Putting the young and the very old together in a community (Shunem as an example) has a lot to teach us: it used to be that way in society, and we've lost something since. Churches can be communities where with tolerance, earned respect and genuine interest in one another, we can learn from and contribute to one another in the spirit of Christ.