Bible Study last night. My buddy Sean and I led the discussion, using “Too much [whatever], not enough God” as our topic. We prepared like mad dogs–I’ll bet we each put more than five hours into preparation for this thing–and yet I still looked every bit as disorganized as I do when I prepare an hour beforehand. So it goes. I think when I speak in front of a group I’m always going to look a bit disorganized and a bit eccentric and it’s probably just part of me. People seem to like it anyway. One of our regulars brought a couple of friends, and one of the friends came up to me afterwards and asked if I was on the radio, because I seemed to have the voice and charisma for it. That was odd. I’ve never been complimented on my voice before. And the charisma is easily explained. There wasn’t anyone there tonight I was trying to impress. (Which ought to teach me something, but I’m digressing.)
At one point, the subject of Generation X came up. I think it was because the other friend (the one who didn’t compliment me on my voice) talked about how he never plans anything in advance. It just happens and that’s how he likes it. Of course I’m exactly the same way–Sean and I made up two thirds of the sadly defunct Bastions of Decisiveness, and believe me, it was a sarcastic nickname–and one of the girls piped up, “You…. I know you! You’re a GenXer! I read a book about you!” Of course she was laughing as she said it.
And that’s a hot topic for me. Churches fret over how to reach GenX and what they have to do differently. As far as I can tell, churches didn’t operate too differently when I was young from how they operated when my parents were young. And there was a point in their lives when they didn’t have much to do with any church. But they came back, as much for the sake of my sister and me as anything else. They may not have always liked the church, but they trusted the institution for whatever reason.
Now we GenXers are growing up and having kids of our own. Some of us are coming back. Most of us aren’t. And on average, we’re waiting longer to have kids, so there are buckets of us out there who have nothing to do with a church and don’t really care to. Meanwhile, churches’ ranks are dwindling as their members age, and our generation is a large, mostly untapped resource.
What gives? I think one of my ex-girlfriends put it very well. We were talking about gifts and abilities, and I told her sincerity was all I’ve got. She rolled her eyes, as she often did with me, and said, “Sincerity is everything.” I’ve forgotten a lot of things she said to me, but I’ll probably carry that to my grave. In fact, I was talking to someone else a couple of weeks ago and I said that sincerity is usually more important than good intentions.
What else about GenX? I don’t think we like hypocrisy all that much. Bill Clinton didn’t alienate my generation at all. He was as old as some of our parents, but as a demographic group, we dug him. You can say a lot of things about Bill Clinton, and I certainly have because I can’t stand the sorry excuse for a man, but you can’t say he was a hypocrite. But our generation has great disdain for people like Jimmy Swaggart, who said not to do one thing and then did it.
I think the biggest difference between GenX and the previous generation is that the previous generation accepted that hypocrisy exists and you can’t get away from it, and that sincerity is nice but you won’t always find it. GenX isn’t tolerant of that. If you’re insincere, talk to the hand. If you’re a hypocrite, don’t let the door hit your backside on the way out.
And, yes, I’ll say it. It’s easier to find insincerity and hypocrisy in a church than almost anywhere else.
So… I help organize this group of GenXers who meet on Friday nights to read the Bible, of all things. That’s prime party time. But, consistently, 15-20 people come. Most churches don’t have 15-20 GenXers in the sanctuary on Sundays. What’s the secret?
Here’s the secret. There’s no bull with me. I am what I am. At one point tonight it looked like I got choked up and someone commented, asked if I needed Kleenex. Actually I wasn’t choked up. I just lost my place. But I don’t try to hide anything. I’ve got an expressive face, so I’m easy to read. They’ve never seen me get choked up at the beginning like that, but it wouldn’t be out of character. You want sincerity? I’ve got it and so do the other people who lead.
As for hypocrisy, we’ve all been around the block, some of us more times than others, but we don’t try to hide it. And when I say, “Here’s how to overcome this problem,” I’m generally not talking from experience. When I talk about the problem itself, I usually am. But I look to see what God says about solving a particular problem, because when it comes to life’s problems, I sure haven’t solved very many, and I’m not afraid to talk about those failures. Neither are the others who lead.
OK. So we’ve taken care of the sincerity and hypocrisy. That’s not enough to bring people back. What is?
I think it was Mark Twain who said God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. We listen. At least I listen. I listen to the questions people ask and the prayer requests they give. You can tell what’s bothering a person based on those things. And what’s bothering one person is usually bothering more than one. You can tell that from looking at those things. If you see a pattern, you go for it. Go find what God has to say about it. The Bible’s not a short book. Name any life experience, and chances are the Bible’s got something to say about it.
No one ever comes and feels like they wasted their time. Sometimes they have other reasons for not coming back, but that’s never it. We have deep and challenging discussions. But they’re not academic. It’s stuff that we’ll spend the next couple of weeks applying to our lives.
So here’s the secret formula. Check hypocrisy and insincerity at the door. Listen. Care. Then go where that leads. Interestingly enough, it usually leads to relevance.
So much for me ever writing a book about ministering to my lost generation–it’s not a subject long and complex enough to be worthy of a book. But if the sales of my last book are any indication, that’s probably just as well.
a wise man once said to me..
‘the hardest thing to fake is sincerity..’
Yes, indeed. To expand on Tim’s comment (and quite possibly to take it a direction that he didn’t intend), "Sincerity is everything; once you can fake that, you’ve got it made."
I’m of your father’s generation. Much the same things were said by us and of us. We thought that hypocrisy was the greatest of sins. Then, one day (for all of us, of course, it was over the course of years), we discovered that there were people who actually disagreed with us. Some parroted the party line (i.e., were hypocrites) to fit in, some because they wanted the rest of us to think better of them. Some were actually ashamed of what they thought and did, and striving to become better people (and not be condemned as wretched scum in the meantime).
And some openly disagreed. And we suffered the realization (some of us) that they weren’t being selfish hypocrites, they weren’t hiding their true feelings behind layers of hypocrisy, they really believed the things that they were saying…at length. And we couldn’t stop them.
Suddenly, we discovered the value of hypocrisy. We realized that it allowed us to talk to people who weren’t mental clones of ourselves for more than two minutes without hurling mortal insults and being restrained from killing each other only by the fear that The Man would come by with bigger guns and arrest the survivor.
We, as a people (and I speak of Americans here) hold up a set of ideals, secular and religious, greater than most of us can be. That we consistently fail to reach these ideals, and sometimes don’t even bother trying, isn’t hypocrisy — it’s a feature of our being only mortal, beings whose vision consistently reaches further than our grasp.