A College Memory
For about a year and a half during and right after college, I got to live in a house w/ a group of guys, most of whom I still consider good friends and interact with regularly. This was one of the most formative (and fun!) times of my life. One memory in particular has come back to my attention recently.
A few of us were sitting around on the front porch talking and the conversation turned toward the future. One friend commented on how he had had a personal epiphany recently. He said that he realized that he had developed, in no specifically methodical fashion, a vision of the man he would be someday. He went on to offer a litany of characteristics that he believed would accurately describe him when he was, say, 40 or 50 years old. That wasn’t what struck him however. The epiphany sprung forth from the idea that he was not just going to magically wake up and be this person that he imagined at some point, but that he was right then and there, in the present, either moving closer toward or further away from actually becoming the kind of man he envisioned. It’s probably characteristic of college-age students to disassociate who they are from the person they hope to become, but in the midst of an impending graduation, my friend, and through him the rest of us, began to wake up to the reality that there is no such thing as the person we imagine we will be someday, only the person we are actually becoming.
The Inevitable Changing of the Guard
This realization has important implications for how we think of our own formation for sure, but it begs the consideration of another reality; namely, that like it our not, in terms of Christian leadership, the younger generation inevitably becomes the older generation. The sad passing of people like John Stott and Chuck Colson bear this out.
At 33, I feel like this is beginning to be important. I occupy something of a shared liminal space. Whereas I could rattle off a long list of Christian leaders that I and others have looked to for theological guidance over the last 15 years or so, the fact of the matter is, in another 15 years, many of these people will have offered most of what they have to offer and a younger generation of emerging Christian leaders will be looking to (gulp!) my generation for the same sort of theological guidance. Which compels me to ask the question, “What kind of Christian leaders are those of my generation becoming and how will these men and women serve and shape the Church?”
I was insanely fortunate to have had the opportunity ride my wife’s coattails all the way to South Africa back in the fall of 2010 for the Third Lausanne Congress. I am equally grateful that I will get to participate in the upcoming Consultation for North American Younger Leaders. The Lausanne movement doesn’t need to be seen as THE locus for a quest to discern the future shape of the Church, but I have to agree with Dave Dunbar, the President of Biblical Seminary, when he supposes that perhaps Lausanne, and especially the Cape Town Commitment, hasn’t really received the attention it deserves (it’s a pivotal document for the initiative I’m working with, the Missio Alliance). They seem to have managed to bring a more globally and ecumenically representative tribe of Christians together than any other endeavor, and for the fact alone, I think it’s a worth-while point of reference. I think this brief video of my friend and Lausanne’s International Deputy Director for North America, Tom Lin, gets at some of this.
From the Experience and Questions of “Wilderness” to the Experience and Questions of “Exile”
Another friend, Geoff Holsclaw, and I have discussed that while Christian leaders of our generation (those under 35) have benefited greatly from the example and writing of many missional theologians and pastors, our actual experience has been quite different than theirs. They have had to navigate a ton of terrain on the journey from modernity to postmodernity / Christendom to Post-Christendom / denominational stability to denominational irrelevance, leading them to ask certain questions in certain ways with certain expectations and assumptions. By and large, this isn’t a shared experience for those of my generation. For most of us, the destination of our theological mentors has been the beginning point for us, leading us to ask (even if not altogether) different questions in different ways with different expectations and assumptions.
To generalize, we don’t wonder about the shift of Christianity to the global south, we take it for granted. We don’t feel the same sense of Western (missionary) guilt, because colonialism wasn’t our project. We aren’t all that interested in conversations about restoring Christianity to the center of culture, because, for the most part, we’ve never known it, or, in a more theological sense, we reject it as not befitting the nature of Christian faith anyway. This list could of course be added to and argued with (as it should be). It also obviously wouldn’t resonate with the experience of everyone across the board (what does?!) But, my sense is that it nevertheless outlines some of the generational realities that shape and inform not only the questions we’re asking, but the way in which we ask them and, consequently, the shape the Church will inevitably take as younger leaders begin to take on more and more responsibility.
I’m curious. Regardless of what generation you happen to find yourself in, what are your thoughts or impressions on the qualities, characteristics, and perspectives of younger Christian leaders and how do you suppose these will influence the future shape of the Church as these leaders shoulder more and more responsibility over the next 30 years or so?