Pastor, are you too hipster for your own people? – 4 principles to navigate cultural & generational shifts

Photo Credit: Joel Klampert (Church Sarcasm Timeline Photos)

It is true that you can often find the worship leader or youth pastor by the hair, clothes, and generally hipster-ish demeanor about how the church is run. This is especially true of younger leaders, but not entirely a monopoly of the young. It goes further than that. The senior pastor who changed his title to “lead” pastor might have done so to make a statement. Young is cool. Age is…well, not. Seniors are something AARP made up. Could it be that we are too hipster not only for our own good but for those we lead?

In a multigenerational church, it will be hard for a modern worship leader to get an 80-year-old to appreciate the gooey, vibey tones of his massive guitar pedalboard. The immigrant family from Asia may not appreciate the course words used in a sermon by the hipster youth pastor. And, when a “lead” pastor gets up and acts more like Gallagher smashing stuff during a sermon, or dancing on the stage to an over-produced walk on video a narrative is formed. All of this looks like a youth group for adults. Well. It is.

Now, I have grown up in the church and know the fear all of us have of losing the next generation–starting with our own. This fear is the horror creating a church our kids will run from, and a faith our kids end up leaving. So, the attempt to address the massive stodgy traditionalism that when we were young made us want to bolt from the church through the narthex and reinvent church. We did. It is called a church “for the rest of us” and was won in a revolution of sorts. We called that the 1980s-1990s  the “worship wars” and it was like a 1960s cultural shift in the Evangelical church.

Now, in the name of being “authentic” and “relevant” in the Millennia’s early second decade have we pushed too far? Has our bent to reach forward broken our elasticity to spring from the past? Will our revolution make our kids revolt against us and the traditions we have setup? These are big questions, but the answer is “yes” a revolution is underway. But, there is another way. And, I think the Millennials will embrace it. It is evolution versus revolution.

Here are four ideas to navigate the changes that happen generationally:

The past is important for the future: This includes history, theology, and identity. Younger people want to know that we are not ashamed of our parents, so they can stomach us as well. Explain where your faith roots came from. Did you evolve in the process?

Dream and build, rather than react and revolt: It is easier to bring multigenerational people together to build something great. What happens most is “I want a church opposite than the one I grew up in” rather than a positive vision. Change is going to happen, but why is it happening?

Culture preserving versus culture creation: Institutions need both. The days when the church met in a living room matter as much as the future building campaign. The new bend on the road creates a new culture, but it does not have to erase the past. Redemption can come even from the dark times of a church’s history. Why is the former pastor’s name not on your website? What in your history needs honest reflection and explanation in your church’s story?

Pass the baton but don’t retire: Yes, the worship sounds and look will change and should. Every generation needs its time in the spotlight. But, rather than benching the older guys, why not shun retirement and build a class of coaches that can help the new players win? Does not the tribe need sages as well as warriors?

What other ideas do you have for those navigating the generational shifting that will always be present?

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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