Evangelical leaders of previous generations are in the process of passing the torch to younger leaders, for whom there are at least 10 fresh challenges. We’ve considered the challenges of Navigating Newfound Authority, Waging a Bloodless Revolution, Overcoming Spiritual Superficiality, Creating Culture, and Returning to Virtue; now a sixth challenge:
Bridging to Everyday Relevance
As those of us who are Christians consider the needs of the world around us, we are wise and faithful to address first the deep spiritual needs of individuals, that they may be transformed by Christ. While the people we encounter will openly verbalize their concerns about external situations and crises—the ones that effect them personally and others that touch their hearts–the deep cry of the soul is often the most difficult to express.
But to be fully human and to identify with the humanity of our neighbors, we must address both the societal crises and conundrums and the spiritual hunger that seizes every human heart. Because of this dual responsibility we can meet physical and social needs as both urgent ministration and as a means to address spiritual needs. While this breadth of ministry has been common for the neo-evangelicals of the last generation, it is not as publicly known as their work fighting the culture wars. This is a serious identity challenge for young evangelicals as they engage in the issues that are of greatest concern to the rising generation. Often this will require bridging to issues of concern such as environmental degradation, nuclear proliferation, and persistent poverty.
Simply, to connect with those who are now coming of age, evangelicals need to overcome the blurred image of orthodox Christianity caused by controversial political involvement–by working alongside their contemporaries on often new issues of common concern.
Just what are those concerns?
Beyond the ongoing concerns of relationships and social connections, multiple polls about the most important current concerns and worries about the future surface two major issues for Americans ages 18-29:
- Will I have a job and be able to pay the bills in the near future, and will world and national economies be sound enough to provide stability throughout my life?
- Will our quest for energy and the damage it does to the world’s environment allow for a healthy and productive lifestyle today and in the distant future?
Typically, the environment and the economy figure prominently when Americans predict what the nation’s top problem will be 25 years from now. One of those two issues has been the most commonly mentioned in 7 of the 10 years Gallup has asked this question. Social Security topped the list in 2005 and 2006. In 2010 the top concerns about the future (for all Americans) were the economy, the federal deficit, and the environment. In other polls, terrorism, healthcare costs, war, and illegal immigration were also of great concern in 2010.
A poll by Harvard’s Institute of Politics found that six out of 10 young adult Americans are financially anxious, worried that they cannot meet their educational, housing and health care needs. More than eight out of 10 said they expect difficulty finding a job after graduation. Fewer than half said they believe they would be better off than their parents when they reach their parents’ age.
In another survey of young adults, 24 percent of the respondents consider the breakdown of the family to be the most pressing issue facing their generation today, followed by violence in neighborhoods and communities, and then poverty and global warming. Personal finances and school ranked as high stressors
Jason Hayes wrote that in a Lifeway Research national poll almost 90 percent of unchurched 20–29 year olds said they would be willing to listen if someone wanted to tell them about Christianity. About 60 percent would be willing to study the Bible if a friend asked them to do so. However, while they agree that Christianity is a relevant and viable religion, they are harsh in their judgment that Christianity is more about organized religion than about loving God and people. In fact, only 17 percent (1 in 6) would first go to church if seeking spiritual guidance. They prefer going to trusted individuals.
That’s probably because someone who is going to sit down and talk with them is going to listen to their concerns and hear their emotion and spend the time finding commonality.