“To Impact the culture, we must change the way we do ministry”! We here it declared in every modern church growth book and mega-conference. The guru’s of this recent push are convinced that the present generation of young people have special needs and new values. They tell us that today’s youth are no longer reached by the aging evangelical approach of yesterday, but should be allowed to weigh in on what’s truly important for cultural impact. We are being told that our youth culture now highly esteems qualities like authenticity, credibility, and character more than the trappings of ‘religion’. Is this true? Should we begin a thorough demolition of all that has gone before that we might raise up ministries of “authenticity”? I agree that such values may still be generally attractive to many, but no student of the postmodern culture (especially the youth pop-culture) could genuinely conclude that young people truly “value” or even understand character qualities such as authenticity or credibility.
What is “authenticity” anyway? Postmoderns differ greatly here, and many of them speak of it in terms that sound more like they value “non-judgmentalism” and “freedom of expression without scrutiny” (what they deem “the trappings of religion”). I’ve raised four children, all who’ve grown up in a postmodern, youth pop-culture kind of age. They’ve been in a pastor’s home all their lives and had to forge a genuine faith of their own just like every true believer. Authenticity (i.e. true genuineness) is not at a premium in the student culture around them. What their unsaved peers value most (at least those who do the most complaining about today’s church culture) is their own opinion and personal right to call it “truth” and have it validated. Anyone who disagrees is viewed as judgmental and unable to be “authentic”. Furthermore, does today’s average postmodern really value credibility? If so, why are their lives so rife with hypocrisy? If I claim to value credibility and find fault with a religion that seems out of touch and hypocritical, yet I make no attempt to model the quality I “value”, am I not the greater hypocrite? If an unsaved postmodern attends our ministry looking for “credibility”, becomes uncomfortable with our ministry “culture”, and concludes that we’ve missed it, have we “failed to reach them”? Should we adjust the worship of our God to become “credible” by their definition? Or could it be that what they mean by “credibility” is really a church’s “willingness to adopt cultural norms and embrace other lifestyles indiscriminately”?
I find that when postmoderns speak about how the 21st century church ought to “emerge”, they camp on two major themes: Their disillusionment over the hypocrisy of the evangelical church (sadly, a legitimate complaint), and the urgent need to jettison every vestige of Christian heritage in favor of what they deem “cutting edge” and therefore “relevant”. Moreover, they tend to use the above as an excuse to justify their new ideas instead of offering sound biblical proof as to why the church ought to morph as they suggest. I speak with unsaved college students (who are curious and like to debate the issues) all the time, and what is clear from our interaction is that they value worldliness, autonomy, and the fewest scruples possible, all the while sensing the emptiness of these things. Whenever talk of biblical credibility and character arises they are suddenly in a dilemma. Their conscience bears them witness that the truth is being spoken, but a rebellious heart and sinful habits drown it out. Is this the time to ask them in what context or in what way they prefer to hear these things? A lost man doesn’t even know how to make sense of all the converging desires within him, much less what he really needs. That’s why the scriptures are so thorough on the convicting work of the Spirit. Before the Spirit’s drawing, I had all kinds of religious notions but no clue as to real spiritual realities (holiness, sin, judgment, saving grace, the Church, etc.). No postmodern can ever “determine” what kind of church can “reach” his/her culture, and to believe they can is like asking a fish to describe its surroundings and expecting it to mention the water!