How did we get here?
My goodness. Just when I begin to think the divisive politicking of the American public has reached the bottom, something happens on one extreme side or the other to show me more depths of depravity. Morally vacant candidates fight to see which commits the most egregious sins. Old men stuck in decades past continue to run for offices as though there are not enough smart and capable leaders decades younger who could do the work more efficiently and with greater results. And the church writ large is not immune from the culture wars, the political roilings, and the personality cults.
I won’t mention names here because they already generate too much attention. Besides, they are just the latest names to call out “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands” as though the worth of a leader is grounded in how many lives are destroyed (1 Samuel 18:6–8). The recent elections seem to indicate that most American people are tired of the extremists; candidates who drifted toward the center did better than the far left or far right in most cases. Commentaries, editorials, and social media comments reflect a desire to reunify under reasonable policies, but the power remains with the all-or-nothings on both sides. There isn’t much grace in secular leadership these days no matter what religious identities they claim.
Interestingly, I am seeing Gen Z pushing past the old men and women who continue bickering amongst themselves and doing the work that the Church is supposed to do. Yes, there are ridiculous activists whose publicity stunts do little more than fan a matchstick flame of notoriety without touching it to fuel, but for the most part, Gen Z (born ~1996–2015) is also changing the face of American culture in a way Millenials thought they could, but didn’t. (Full disclosure, I am Gen X, AKA the “middle child” generation. We just survive.) It is Gen Z that is leading the charge to actual diversity and inclusivity in how they interact with each other and, more importantly, how they spend their money. Gen Z spends less, looking at second-hand items and embracing minimalism. Gen Z shops online and pays for delivery. Gen Z values personalization, recognition, and being recognized more for how they identify than for how they are perceived.
If Boomers are reluctant to relinquish power (as evidenced by the ages of leaders in Congress and the White House), Gen Xers just want to make it to retirement and Millenials continue wringings their hands and talking about how bad things are. Gen Z takes action. McKinsey has an intriguing study about Gen Z’s attitude toward consumer products wherein one finding is that 80% of Gen Z will refuse to buy a product associated with a company scandal. Gen X goes for what’s cheap; Millennials buy for status. Boomers buy what they know. Gen Z is collaborative, pragmatic, and connected more than any generation preceding it. Maybe, more importantly, Gen Z believes the government has more ability to solve problems than individuals do (Pew Research).
Bottom line: Gen Z is poised to be a catalyst for fundamental change and if the Church is going to be influential in what comes next, it needs to embrace this younger generation.
There are plenty of positive Biblical ideals that Gen Z embodies, beginning with diversity and equal treatment of all people regardless of race, culture, social status, and ethnicity. James wrote clearly that favoritism is evil (James 2) and Jesus taught that no tribe is better than any other (see the Good Samaritan in Luke 10). That seems like a good place, to begin with, grace. A church that values diverse ethnicities, points of view, cultures, and social status is going to appeal to the authentic ethical desires of Gen Z. It’s a biblical perspective that has been too often ignored in the West for centuries, but runs throughout the New Testament (Romans 15, Galatians 3, Revelation 7). Martin Luther King Jr famously proclaimed, “Everyone knows that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American life” (New York Times, August 2, 1964). Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so, especially nearly 60 years since Dr. King said those words! I believe Gen z can bring the church to biblical correctness in the matter of race better than preceding generations because they are corporately committed to social change in a way we have not experienced since the 1960s.
What does grace require of the current leadership in the Church? I submit grace requires getting out of the way and supporting the biblical perspectives of the newest generation of adults. That does not mean abandoning known truths of scripture, but it does require acting on known truths in tangible ways. What does that look like? Ask the Gen Z members of your congregation. They’ll tell you, and they’ll lead it — and probably bring their friends along to a church that both preaches and practices Jesus.