Rev John Simpson writes:

Baby Boomers - What Should Our Response Be?

These days every pastor probably has a dray load of books and articles on baby boomers. These products of the post war period have been variously described as self centred, consumer driven, highly mobile, not given to making long term commitments, distrustful of institutions and highly focussed when it comes to meeting their own needs. There are limited concepts of service to others and a preference for acting on their own terms. The end usually justifies the means. There is an abounding pragmatism with a concern for measurable outcomes. As with any group of people, there are clear strengths and weaknesses.

It is no wonder that pastors scratch their heads when trying to work out how to relate meaningfully to such a culture. What is of interest is that we have readily accepted all the definitions with scarcely a question or even a remote niggle of discomfort. The truth is that there is much about the baby boomer philosophy of life as presented by the sociological mechanics which is a country mile from a Christian understanding of the way life should tick. How in the world can a strong congregational ministry be built on the foundation of selfish consumerism, minimal commitment and restricted approaches to service in the interests of others? The answer? Forget it.

There has to be a high measure of admiration for those churches where sincere efforts are being made to reach the baby boomers though. "Seeker sensitive" services and user friendly churches arise from a worthy desire to engage in genuine outreach and thoughtful cross cultural communication. Certainly the old three or four hymn sandwich won't get us too far down the track. It may have meaning for an older generation but not have too much for the under fifties. Welcome to the battle over church music! For the vast majority of your unchurched, average Aussies there is a huge gap between Monday to Saturday and Sunday morning at 10.30 am.

So how can the call to leave our nets and follow Christ be heard in an environment where the nets and boat have probably been acquired on a lease back basis? Or where a credit rating has to be established before any real dealing can be done? Can the Gospel still stand up in a world of use by dates and plastic cards? And what in the world do we do with the temptations of the wilderness, the suffering of Gethsemane and the tragedy of the cross? It is not exactly a user friendly pitch. The empty tomb is good news, of course, if you don't mind the agony along the way.

Is this the message baby boomers really want to hear? And if discipleship means life long service, inconvenience, careful stewardship and going the extra mile at great personal cost, do we still have the inside running with the baby boomer crowd? Probably not. Losing one's life in order to save it is a formula which even the most mature of Christians still struggle with. The truth is that now, more than ever, if the Gospel is to be shared with punch it has to be well lived rather than well spoken. We have relied on words too much. The concepts and principles of the Christian life have become stuck in a mind trap with precious little happening on the ground where selfish people discover dreadful loneliness and where limited commitments produce throw away lives.

The fact of the matter is that we need to work hard at a truly relational Gospel. This means that the people of God had better get their act into gear fairly swiftly. Cliques, in-house jargon and procedures, blood thirsty disputes and piously masked lives are simply not good enough. After all the Christian experience is about vulnerability, love, honesty and acceptance. Baby boomers have a right to see a faith which takes risks, loves the big picture, is unafraid of failure and comes into its own way outside the comfort zone. Jesus enjoyed the no frills people, the down to earth gang who knew the difference between well articulated points of law and sick people being made well.

Like any group of people, the baby boomers need to be converted too. But we need to do our part. The danger is that, in trying to reach the boomers, we may lose sight of the very challenges that make the faith vital, mysterious and compelling. Living for a larger cause has a lot more going for it in the long run than being stuck with a highly polished, finely tuned, personal agenda which is tied into interest rate hikes and real estate values. The fact is the wilderness, selfless service, involvement with people and their needs and the suffering occasioned by obedience and discipline have an innate attraction which goes way beyond a user friendly faith which calls for a cosmetic response.

But we lose the plot ourselves. Church politics and disputes, a crushing lack of creativity and imagination and an unerring fascination for correct procedures combine to produce much activity and little substance. We are so often unattractive to outsiders but do not realise it. If baby boomers are looking for meaning in relationships, we run the dire risk of offering stones for bread (and we will not get away with it). While we need to challenge and refute the self centred and selfish dimensions of the baby boomer life style, we also need to find the appropriate bridges for the Gospel to cross into their lives. That means tuning into new ways of being the church so that, at least, we are authentic people who not only know what we believe but actually live it.

The call, of course, is for change of a most dramatic and threatening kind. We need to rediscover how to be at home with the publicans and sinners (assuming that we do know a few of these, which is unlikely for those heavily involved in church programs). Instead of knowing what we are against, we need to know what we are for and say it with grace, common sense and conviction. We need to recognise that much of what we are doing has little meaning for people turned on by material acquisition and addicted to the fulfilment of personal agendas. It is crucial that we be seen by the wider community to be in fellowship with our brothers and sisters of the faith who carry a different denominational tag.

Let's mix it, not only with the boomers, but with all those Christians out there who are waiting for a church which defends the weak, stands alongside the suffering (with no strings attached) and is prepared to take on the powers that be when the needs of ordinary people are set aside for economic and political reasons. It is time to be the church in the world so that the Good News of Jesus is found in the market place amongst the people for whom Christ died in the first place.

Rev John Simpson is the General Superintendent of Baptist Union of Victoria, Australia.


This article is published courtesty of Rowland Croucher, John Mark Ministries. If you would like to peruse more articles from the pen of Rowland Croucher, visit his website at http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm.

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