Newsweek devoted a cover story this week is to the "boomer" generation (the people born between 1946 and 1964) who are turning 60 very soon! Now there’s a cause for celebration. The richest, most self-centered, most conflicted generation in America’s history is aging, and not so gracefully it seems. The real problem, notes columnist Ruben Navarrette (Washington Post Writers Group), is that this generation simply doesn ‘t have the grace to give up the center stage yet. No surprises here either since this generation believes that it solved almost every problem known to modern man since 1964!
Whether it was Bill Clinton, or now George Bush, our leaders have consciously and shamelessly catered to this huge generation of 78 million for several decades. (President Bush’s startegy for the war on terror and his promotion of the Social Security issue in 2005 both underscore my point about how leaders "market" to this generation.)
USA Today recently concluded a series on aging in America and touched upon almost everything related to getting older in modern America. The conclusion I drew is a really scary. This generation will live longer, and be healthier, than any previous generation, thus boomers will continue to impact almost everything they touch in both church and society. Without a true spiritual revival there is little hope, in my estimation, for "boomer" influenced Christians and churches since this generation will seemingly drive the church longer and further than any other. And many churches, which should be sacrificial, filled with integrity (wholeness), and deeply in touch with Christian tradition in positive ways, will be driven right into the ground for generations to come if the boomer generation stays the present course.
Let me illustrate. A friend of mine recently spoke to a large and very conservative conference. He phoned me in deep distress before he could even go home. The people, he reported, had applauded attacks by the major speakers on almost everything in the culture. They rallied the troops, beat the conservative drums and made everyone feel better about themselves and their sectarianism. Simply put—the "culture wars" paradigm was really huge in this setting. It was the old "us vs. them" stuff. And these same speakers openly embraced the approach to cultural issues that keeps us "removed" from modern pagans, who we are supposed to be in neighborly touch with so we can impact them with the gospel. These Christian boomers, assuming they knew right with deep certitude, continued for several days to espouse assorted anti-misisonal tendencies in a supposedly apologetic and evangelistic context. And all the time these folks assumed that they were taking a strong stand for Christ! What a sad picture of the conservative underside of much boomer Christianity.
Secular boomers, if they have anything, have a deep and engrained self-confidence. They believe their motives are always good, their judgments continually sound and their interest in themselves quite correct. Christian boomers are really no different in the end. Yes, they have different values (conservative vs. liberal we now incorrectly call these differences) but our values look more like the values of the boomers than those of the Christ we encounter in the New Testament. For these folks the central story really is "all about me." My story really matters and Christ’s story is actually there for me!
And combining an abiding generational nacissism, with the most highly developed consumerism in history, this generation has huge clout. And it will have this clout for several decades to come. Clearly boomers don’t think the general rules of life and the past apply to them. If they build it, and control it, then they will come and support it. If not, then forget about it. They fund the vast empire of seeker ministries, direct the the schools and mission boards of North American Christianity, and in general impact almost everything remotely Christian in our culture.
This generation, spoiled by the very families directly impacted by the Second World War, became the center of attention in early childhood and they never got over it. If you think this is just "culture speak" trying pastoring a group of self-confident boomers yourself. This effort has destroyed scores of godly and good pastors I know. I determined a few years ago to not curry the favor of this huge generation. It has cost me something, but I still have my soul and I can speak as freely as I need to regardless of who likes my message. Boomers do not impress me. I am a boomer (1949) and I have never much liked being identified with this particular generation. This may be one reason I love younger adults so much. I see in them a great willingness to sacrifice and to follow Jesus no matter where he leads them. I also see in them a willingness to admit that they could be wrong and thus they have growing desire to pursue Christ above all else.
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Thanks, John, for this very insightful post. And thanks for not identifying the conference. For those of us inclined to speculate, the sad truth is that there are far too many possibilities.
I was born in 1961, which makes me a Boomer by some definitions and not by others. I prefer the latter.