Thursday, August 08, 2013

Gen Xers Will Save the Church

Gen Xers Will Save the Church

Here's why. 

Only Gen Xers are jaded enough to look at what is going on with the massive burn-out of the Boomers and the weirdness/Noneness of the Millenials--not to mention the absolute morbidity of the Gen Yers--and yet remain able, with their unique blend of creativity and irony, and their ability to sustain and reinvent, to create and be the future.

Gen Xers are our future. This is just about right. When you look at our roads and infrastructure, our/my generation (I am a Gen Xer) when it assumes political leadership will be the only generation sustaining rather than building. If you don't believe me, just go look at a bridge somewhere.

Like our national infrastructure, much of our church infrastructure is "built out." But if the Gen Xers are our future, the irony, the destructive and creative dimension of Gen Xer (radical detachment and attachment, for example), are the kind of things that uniquely situate us to look to what was built that needs to be torn down, and what hasn't been built that is yet to be built. Millenials are so last millennium!

Forget about the Millenials. Gen Xers are the church's future!

Some readers of this blog are going to need biblical proof texts to back up this culture war proposal. For such readers, I offer St. Paul the Apostle's (patently a member of Generation X) radical statement in the Corinthian correspondence: "God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are" (1 Corinthians 1:28).

If you doubt that Gen Xers are low and despised in the world, ask yourself: When was the last time anyone got all angsty about Gen Xers in the way absolutely everyone gets angsty over Millenials? When were we even blamed for something the way everyone blames the Boomers?

In fact, when was the last time someone mentioned Gen X at all without a slight snicker and then a look of grief and sadness as they paid homage to Cobain and DFW of blessed memory?

And you know why? I have a thesis. Please bear with me in some music culture geekiness (side note: Gen Xers brought us geek culture as the Zeitgeist). The only thing Gen Xers had going for them at the time they were emerging as Gen Xers was Kurt Cobain. And look where that went (may he rest in peace.)

Then, there was Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam was a good band. But the best thing they ever did was with Soundgarden when they recorded that amazing album Temple of the Dog. After you listen to it, pretty much everything else that comes afterwards is a disappointment.

And I mean, Eddie Vedder is cool and all, but after that solid Into the Wild soundtrack, he decided to record a bunch of ukulele songs, and that was simply embarrassing.

Gen Xers are like that. Just when you think they are most definitely rocking it, they pull the rug out from under the project and take it in an absurdly creative if embarrassing direction.

Because let's be honest with ourselves. Yes, the ukulele and Eddie Vedder is a "low and despised thing," but once you've heard it, once you've even simply heard of it, you can't stop thinking about it, can you? It makes you wonder why anyone ever played guitar in a rock band when the ukulele was available.

Say the word "Millenials" at a synod assembly and clergy will start saying, "We need to do music that appeals to Millenials in our worship services." Say the word "Gen X" and no pastor says this. Why? The answer is obvious. Gen Xers, when asked what kind of worship music they prefer, typically answer, "Whatever."

In addition, it is transparently the case that no generation has as cross-centered a theology as Generation X. It's in our name, after all. We own cruciform theology. No one can build a cross anymore without offering a commission to our generation. The patron saint of our generation is St. Andrew, who purportedly was martyred on such a cross, a saltire.

Some stats: Gen Xers volunteer more than other generations. 

Gen Xers created the best music, and the worst. We remember MTV when MTV was music. 

We have Stephen Colbert. He's more funny than all the other comedians, and will save the church, America, and the world with his truthiness.

We won't try to explain irony to you. If you aren't Gen X, you probably don't get it. But it is the core of the gospel. So we probably are slackers on this one, because no Gen Xer has yet to help the wider culture see the connection between irony and the cross (except for Kierkegaard, and maybe Matt Groening--and Douglas Copeland, okay actually quite a few if we are allowed to include a Danish philosopher from the 19th century)

And if you don't believe me, listen to Wikipedia!

Compared with previous generations, Generation X represents a more apparently heterogeneous generation, openly acknowledging and embracing social diversity in terms of such characteristics as race, class, religion, ethnicity, culture, language, gender identity, and sexual orientation. 
Unlike their parents who challenged leaders with an intent to replace them, Gen Xers have a less prominent tendency to idolize leaders and a greater tendency to work toward long-term institutional and systematic change through economic, media and consumer actions. 
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Generation X statistically holds the highest education levels when looking at current age groups: U.S. Census Bureau, in their 2009 Statistical Abstract. 
The 2011 publication "The Generation X Report", based on annual surveys used in the Longitudinal Study of today's adults, finds that Gen Xers, who are defined in the report as people born between 1961 and 1981, are highly educated, active, balanced, happy and family-oriented. The study dispels the materialistic, slacker, disenfranchised stereotype associated with youth in the 1970 and 80s.
Or maybe we're none of these things. I mean, if we were, wouldn't you know about it already? What's the point. Maybe the Millenials are the last great hope. Whatever. All I know is, Gen Xers will likely save the church by losing the culture war. And by and large we're just fine with that. Except when we're not.


  1. It is a false hope to assign one (any) generation the role of "saving the church". The church doesn't need saving. The church needs all the generations to respond to and carry out the mission of God in the world today. We, any and all generation, ought not be concerned with saving the church but being God's disciples in the world today.

  2. Love it! Though I'm increasingly weirded out by the tendency for Baby Boomers born between 1961-3 to try to sneak into our cohort.

  3. I thank God I was not actively drinking coffee when I got to the "low and despised" paragraphs. Laugh-snorting coffee is very uncomfortable.

  4. I'm with Drew...but who can blame them?

  5. @paul lutz, you're clearly not a Gen-Xer.

    As someone born in 1979, I'm stuck in the awkward transition between Gen-X and Millenial. But I'll claim Gen-X, Nirvana and Pearl Jam any day!

  6. @Dan, thanks for that. I was trying to articulate a best response to Paul, but yours says it all.

    @Meredith, indeed, who can blame them. Although I watch a lot of Gen Xers try to sneak into the Millenial cohort, which is equally strange and simultaneously oubvious.

  7. I loved it. I'm a Gen Xer who sees how the boomers and the millenials are trying to squeeze us out of existence. In my synod, we are skipped over like the skinny nerd in dodge ball. As boomers burn out they are turned on by 20-somethings. But if you're 39 and you've been doing transformational gospel ministry for 15 years among aging boomers, forget it. You don't exist.
    That's okay, though. Gen Xers are reformers with hopeful imaginations and a certain groundedness from traditions we inherited. We aren't schitzing about declining attendance because we want real relationships instead of a healthy bottom line. See "Friends" or "Seinfeld" reruns to get it. Thanks, Dan.