THE 4 WORLDS YOUTH LIVE IN

By Chan Yen Ping

“Generational gap” is a buzzword in churches. It is raised when Christian youth fall out of church or leave their childhood church for more contemporary ones. Many churches take effort to bridge that gap – turn up the lights, sound, music or even start the service later to cater to the youngsters. Yet that gap remains.

As a young person working with young people, I hope that starting with the “why” of this generational gap can shed light on the world Christian youth may be living in. Hopefully, this will clue older and wiser folks in on how to journey with us as we try to make sense of our world.

1 The ‘TMI’ world (too much information)

When a young person shouts “TMI!”, it usually means a description is getting too disgusting. But drawing from the original word meaning, ironically, youth today live in a world of information overload.

In the past, when youngsters wanted advice on how to do something, they would ask the older folks. Today, they just need to type ‘How to…’ on Google, and sieve through 1,000,000 results to the question.

As a result, I believe elderly advice becomes less valued or becomes the 1,000,001st advice. While Google results can be filtered on the most relevant or helpful advice, advice from older person cannot be screened off, especially when it comes unsought for, and the older person is standing right in front of us.

With the vast amount of Google information and advice, youth may not be able to process the overload. It can leave us bewildered, lost for direction, or even detached from life. Consequently, older and wiser people are all the more important as personal mentors to journey alongside and hear us out, but it should involve less “talking down to” and more dialogues and discussions.

I find it useful to ask youngsters these questions – “How do you feel about this?” “What do you think you should do?” “What do you think will happen if you make this decision?” Often, they will come to their own conclusions through simple guidance. Also, when youngsters realise you are keen to know their opinions, they become interested to know what you think. This then opens the opportunity for me to share my views or values.

2 The ‘grey area’ world

In the past, societies were more homogenous. With today’s globalised world, we are increasingly exposed to different ways of life. This creates questions among Christian youth on grey areas. Many are left dissatisfied with answers from their pastors or church elders. It gets even harder when issues become personal, when we personally encounter friends who maintain less traditional lifestyles.

“You say the Bible states homosexuality is a sin. What about my gay friend who loves God, whose monogamous relationship seems to reflect Christ’s love more than the broken heterosexual marriages around?”

“Some pastors say having tattoos open up pathways for evil spirits to enter your body; some Christians tattoo Bible verses on their wrists, so how?”

“If you say yoga is demonic, what about the pastors who do yoga as a form of physical exercise?”

“If God is all-powerful and all-loving, how do I answer the seemingly uncalled-for suffering around me?”

I still struggle with questions but in my pursuit for answers, I go back to the Bible. While I listen to the older adults’ perspective, the Bible still stands as my final authority. Many of the so-called contemporary issues today existed long ago in biblical times. Homosexual acts have been peppered throughout Scripture since Genesis 19. Abortion-on-demand existed during the Graeco-Roman period, and Roman Christians convicted of the Biblical view on the sanctity of life were commonly “scouring dump sites for exposed babies and raising them as their own” (Culture Shock by Chip Ingram, p.143). While we acknowledge each situation is different, we can still attempt to draw biblical principles and see how they can be applied to our 21st century.

I also believe it is important not to over-infer when the Bible is relatively silent on a topic. It is not for us to address something as a sinful/demonic unless clearly stated in His Word. That does not mean however, we cannot listen to advice on “best practices” from the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before us. We can weigh in on “permissible versus beneficial” things, while not being legalistic over grey areas.

3 The Technology World

Millennials grow up in a world where things are instant, fast and efficient. We have also witnessed so many evolving systems (I saw movies go from VCRs to Netflix). Nothing is irreplaceable. Shortcuts are aplenty (‘Ctrl+F’, or ‘Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V’, etc.). The general mantra of the millennial generation is: If something is too slow, something is not right.

Hence, we sometimes clash head-on with the worldview of the older generation (particularly baby boomers), who grew up in the industrial revolution where the role of every cogwheel to complete its faithful duty really counts. “Systems took time to be set in place, and if we persevere and plod on long enough the results will come.”

This difference in mindset sometimes creates frustration among the younger-generation Christians. Why does a sermon have to be an hour long when the points can be effectively delivered in half the time? (Disclaimer: There are churches where youth happily sit for three-hour long sermons). Other systems in church may not make sense to us when we feel there is a better, more effective way to get things done.

For example, I was instructed by a superior at work on various forms and procedures to be completed. As I found the system somewhat confusing, I proposed a simpler format, only to be told, “No, no, this is fixed already.” This confused me when I felt there were much more efficient ways to get better results.

The ‘iWorld’

A term coined by American Christian politics professor Dale Kuehne, “iWorld” describes a more individualistic world that’s focused on the “I”. This world infiltrates our social media platforms, how product marketing fights for our attention, and how technology is structured for our convenience. Parents too support this world when they tell us to aim for a good and comfortable life. People become more focused on the self and achieving their dreams and purposes.

Unfortunately, this goes against the grain of what Jesus teaches – to “die to self” (Mark 8:34, John 12:23-26). As younger-generation Christians, we may have grown up hearing Jesus’ words, but it is much harder to deny oneself when we are bombarded 24/7 with a completely opposing philosophy.

It is a continual struggle against the current of this world where rights and equal treatment are valued over submission and sacrifice.

The above are only a few points to highlight the generational gap and the world younger Christians live in. I hope by raising them, it will make us more aware that the gap is not just a narrow ditch to cross, but it involves firmly established worldviews. It involves both sides of the divide making effort to understand each side and seek for the common ground, which is our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He offered Himself as sacrifice to bridge the Ultimate Gap separated by sin, redeeming us back into the Father’s love.

Through Him, regardless of what gap it may be, we have hope to overcome.

Recommended reading/watching:

  • The Bible
  • Culture Shock by Chip Ingram
  • Sex and the iWorld by Dale Kuehne
  • “Millennials aren’t entitled. It’s employers that need to change” by Rachel Thompson (article on mashable.com)
  • Simon Sinek on “Millennials in the Workplace” (Youtube video)
The 4 worlds youth live in

Chan Yen Ping, 25, teaches Chemistry at Methodist College Kuala Lumpur.

Asian Beacon: Oct – Dec 2018 (Vol 50 #4, p36-37)

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