Posted by: Philip Rushton | September 10, 2014

Beyond Cool: The gift of intergenerational community

“There is neither hipster nor boomer, guitar player nor organist, nor are there young families and retirees, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” My paraphrase of Galatians 3:28

In preparation for our small group leader retreat this past weekend I watched a number of talks from a discipleship conference called, “Verge.” The conference was primarily made up of young urban church planters. Everything about it struck me as very cool. Most of the speakers wore dark-rimmed, “post-modern” glasses and skinny jeans, the stage had state of the art lighting, and the graphic design utilized in the powerpoint was very modern.

There was a noticeable contrast between this cool hipster conference and my humble small group leader retreat. We viewed a couple of the sessions from the “Verge” conference because the content was helpful, but our gathering did not have the same cool factor. My powerpoint graphics weren’t very “urban.” My glasses were probably cool 7 years ago, but they are dated now. We were also an intergenerational group that spanned from age 30 to 90. I helped one of our members who is in a wheel chair navigate the stairs. Our group burst out laughing when one of the speakers referred to a 50 year old in his congregation as an “old guy.”

As I witnessed the juxtaposition between this cool hipster conference and our small intergenerational leadership gathering I found myself feeling very grateful.  I felt blessed to be part of a church that has managed to forge a unique setting where people from different generations can collaborate and faithfully serve God together.

Hipster Christianity, Revisited, Brian McCraken

Hipster Christianity, Revisited

This morning I read an article by Brett McCracken titled, “Hipster Christianity, Revisited.” In the article he suggests that there are, “instances where the inherent qualities of cool clash with those of the gospel.” He argues that when churches  place too much emphasis on being cool, they can compromise what it means to be an authentic Christian community. He writes:

The medium of cool is necessarily exclusivist; it can only exist as a minority, in-the-know subculture. Not everyone can be cool. Indeed, this idea drives fashion’s fast-moving ephemerality. If something is cool for too long, it becomes known and accessible to too many. How does this exclusivism square with a faith that is fundamentally inclusive and open-to-all?

The answer to that question, of course, is that exclusivity does not square with Christianity.  One of the values of the early church was to promote unity in the midst of diversity.  The church made a huge effort to bring together people from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds.  This was very counter-cultural in the ancient world.  Wealthy people did not associate with the poor.  The idea of getting Jews and Gentiles in the same room together was unheard of. Yet, the message of Christ compelled this new movement to bridge these barriers.

The contemporary church, however, is extremely homogenous.  Martin Luther King Jr. once declared Sunday morning at 11am as the most homogenous hour of the week in America.  I am noticing that this is becoming especially true around the issue of age.  Intergenerational communities are becoming rarer.  Many young church plants target a certain age demographic.  Some large churches even provide multiple worship services to cater to the tastes of each age group.  While this might make church life easier, it seems to confront the gospel values of openness and diversity.

McCracken recognizes that it is legitimate and necessary to try and contextualize the gospel in ways that reach different people. We are, after all, a people who believe in the incarnation. Jesus took on flesh and moved into the world in order to explain himself to us. This models for us a call to make the gospel accessible to people.  Perhaps there are contexts where some will be called to become a hipster to reach the hipster.   However, McCracken suggests that we need to recognize how the methods by which we communicate the gospel impact the message. Contextualization becomes problematic when it causes us to sacrifice the values of the gospel. He suggests that our over-emphasis on being cool has the potential to create communities that are individualistic and exclusive.

I have grown to appreciate our intergenerational church community.  While we are certainly not as cool as some of the young hipster churches that are being planted, we experience a level of community that I think some of these “cool” churches are missing.

First, there is a sense of openness in an intergenerational church.  We do not have to fit a certain mold to belong.   Our Sunday morning service provides a beautiful (and colorful) collage of Hawaiian shirts, neckties, blue jeans, wool suits, Seahawks jerseys and blue tinged perms.  One does not have to be wearing the right kind of plaid or have a tattoo to fit in here!

Second, our intergenerational community is teaching me humility.  In some of the emergent church literature these days I sense a subtle ageism, or generational arrogance.  Some of the speakers at this conference seemed to imply that previous generations totally missed the mark about the church.  It is as if nothing good happened between the first century church and the twenty first century church.  The true church of the Bible is finally re-emerging after years of failure.  As I have had the privilege of walking alongside believers who are a couple generations ahead of me I have discovered that this is absolutely not true.  In fact, I often see a higher level of commitment and sacrifice to the mission of God in the members who are older than me.  I am overcome with respect for my 90 year old friend who is still showing up to leadership gatherings even though he has had a stroke and needs help getting up the stairs.  This is something us younger folks can learn from.  Being a disciple has nothing to do with being cool.  It has everything to do with being faithful!

Lastly, diversity provides a context where we can learn reconciliation.  It is important for us to learn how to be hospitable to those who are different from us.  Whereas homogeneity breads individualism and selfishness, diversity creates a context where we learn to make sacrifices for other people.  This happened beautifully on Sunday morning during our combined worship service.  Some of our members put up with drums and songs they have never heard, while others listened to the organ for the first time in years and tried to figure out the tune to the old hymn, “His eye is on the sparrow.”  I found myself unusually teary-eyed on Sunday.  This convergence of different music reminded me that the church does not exist to cater to my preferences and needs.   The church is supposed to be a community where we can learn to die to ourselves and love our neighbor as ourselves.  Diversity, I believe, provides a context where this can start to happen.

 

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Responses

  1. Thanks Phil!
    “First, there is a sense of openness in an intergenerational church. We do not have to fit a certain mold to belong”. My tendency is to think “my” mold is how it needs to be, but being intergenerational makes me stay pliable and flexible because I realize I’m part of something bigger than just my little world of spirituality.
    “Second, our intergenerational community is teaching me humility”. Looking around at folks older and younger than myself who are following Christ helps me reaize that we have both much in common in our experience with Christ and that we have many differences as well. I have to respect both the commonality and the differences. We are family!

    • Hey Randy,

      Thanks for sharing how these ideas connect with your experience! Grateful that you are part of the family!


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