Christian Leadership: Making Way for the Younger Generation
It is the digital age. Technological advancement is moving forward in hyperdrive, the amount and flow of information overwhelm the mind, and computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices abound. Meanwhile, the world has become both much smaller, and infinitely larger. The internet has connected much of the physical world, even the far-flung corners. And the web — the boundless online world — has become a place for worldwide communities that break economic, racial, and cultural barriers (and even a place for alternate reality and identity).
And the Christians, bound as they are to the words of their God, must find ways to reconcile living in this digital age and still remain true to their faith.
Here at Tukutoi we are exploring what it means to be a person of faith — a Bible-believing Christian — in this modern and electronic world. But before we deal with specific issues, like the problems involved in using social media, we will deal first with the larger generational issues. Because the simple fact is, there are at least four generations of people that are living in the world right now (the grandparents, the parents, the young adults, and the children), and the younger a generation is, the more adept it is in using and assimilating technology, and the more their lives are shaped by it. And because knowledge of technology is power, the younger people have now taken much of the authority that used to belong to the older ones, at least in the digital domain, and they are making changes in societies around the world, empowered by the global reach of the internet.
In this article we will consider the older Christians, particularly church leaders, and the impact on their influence and behavior by these young people who are changing the world. In the next article, we’ll focus on the younger Christians and the responsibilities that they now have — as both stewards and products of technology, they have the potential to do great and wonderful things.
A Younger, Smarter Generation
In the book Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation Is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott, which is based on a worldwide research study of the Millennial generation (people who were born from 1977–1997), the author asserted that this generation is distinct and unique, because it’s the first generation to have grown up under the influence of computers and the internet. Or, as the author put it, it’s a generation that has been “bathed in bits.”
Eight characteristics, or norms, describe the typical Net Gener…. They prize freedom and freedom of choice. They want to customize things, make them their own. They’re natural collaborators…. They’ll scrutinize you and your organization. They insist on integrity. They want to have fun…. Speed is normal. Innovation is part of life.
And although the book was published in 2009 — when the Net Gen had just come of age — the technological progress and societal changes in the past 12 years only testify to the power and influence of this generation.
The generation is more tolerant of racial diversity, and is smarter and quicker than their predecessors. These young people are remaking every institution of modern life, from the workplace to the marketplace, from politics to education, and down to the basic structure of the family.
A generation where technology is like the very air they breathe. A generation that is smarter and more capable, wielding digital power. This is the Net Generation, the Millennials, and surely one of the institutions so affected by them is the Christian religion. After all, this is clearly evidenced by the fact that most of the Christian Church today has gone electronic and digital. Churches and ministries now having their own websites, or Facebook Pages. Pastors streaming live their worship services.
And yet one wonders, is this truly the case? For an institution that has operated on rigid hierarchies for centuries, has the Church truly welcomed the contributions, talents, and innovations brought by the younger and smarter generation of Christians? Or has the Church only embraced technology, but not the people behind it — changing its outward coating of paint, so to speak, but still remaining very much the same inside its walls? An institution that has no real place to offer the more tech-savvy, more radical, and more global-reaching younger generation.
It is impossible to make a definitive conclusion about this without proper research, but based on my own personal experiences, and based on my own readings, this is certainly the case. The Church is still jealous of its authority, jealous of its hierarchies, no matter how modern and electronic it may have become. And the Net Generation, with the power of the internet behind it, is a direct threat to that authority.
You can just imagine it: A Net Gener Christian man who is on fire for his God, so eager to share the message of salvation to the world. Using his superior intellect and his above-average computer skills, he launched his websites and started his evangelism campaign on the web, influencing far more people worldwide than his local church leaders could ever hope to achieve in their lifetimes. Gaining fame and authority in the process, of course. Bringing change, scrutiny, and transparency to his church. And then… gaining envy, enmity, and scorn from those who are close to him. Especially scorn. Being shown by his supposed caring leaders that his works, because they’ve been done on the cyberspace and not on the physical plane, are inferior… are less valid… are less real.
Is it wrong then, to go against tradition and the established authorities? If you have the desire to serve God in some great ways, and if you have the skills to do them, is it wrong to just go ahead and do them? No, it’s not, because in the end, you are only accountable to God. What is wrong is if you waste your God-given talents, doing nothing with them, just because some people don’t approve.
The truth is, there is nothing wrong with being a young and innovative leader who exercises much faith. The Bible approves of such leaders. Paul said to Timothy, his spiritual son, “Let no man despise your youth; but be an example to those who believe, in word, in your way of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 WEB).
What is wrong is this: For the Church (or more specifically, church leaders) to ignore this awesome generation and to squander the gifts and opportunities they bring to the Christian community. That is a terrible sin. Remember the Parable of the Talents? These people are just like any other resources that God has entrusted to us. We are expected to invest them and to multiply them. Or else, if we are lazy and just hid them in some hole, we will suffer his wrath.
Not a Lord, But a Servant of All
Religion is a fact of life. You may not personally believe in God, or in heaven and hell, but a lot of people of do, and they look for leaders who can guide them and teach them. It is a matter of trust, and yet spiritual authority, if not monitored closely, can become insidious and dangerous.
You see, religious leaders have far more influence on their followers than any other kind of leader. Business leaders, for instance, can only affect the professional lives of their employees. But religious leaders can affect all areas of life: spiritual, personal, professional. Yes indeed, it is a heady kind of power, and like all kinds of power, it is susceptible to abuse and corruption. Any time you see a pastor or a priest being defensive of his authority, that’s a symptom that power has already gone to his head.
And so the question now is, what marks a true Christian leader, one who is truly following in the steps of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ? How can you recognize them amidst the false ones? It is this: If the leaders are not proud of their authority, not proud of their positions and the honors they are receiving, and if they are acting as if they are truly the servants of all. Which they are. Christ said to his disciples:
You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever of you wants to become first among you shall be bondservant of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. — Mark 10:42-45 WEB
In the context of our discussion, you’ll recognize true Christian leaders if they are not threatened by the presence of Net Geners in their congregations. They don’t care if these people are more intelligent than them, more popular than them, or more skilled than them in using the computer. They don’t care if someday their own works and legacies might be overshadowed, even forgotten, by this generation’s fresh and tech-based works. Instead, they welcome these young people with open arms, acknowledging their gifts to the community, and then they help them achieve their full potential. Yes, they don’t care about themselves, because the only things genuine shepherds really care about are the glory of God, the welfare of believers, and the advancement of the Kingdom.
This is the ideal, and think of what would happen if there are more leaders who are like this — leaders who care more about the glory of God than they care about their own glory. An army of tech-savvy young Christians in their hands can definitely do so much good in this world!
But… what is the real? What is the actual situation out there? Do Christlike leaders truly exist? And if they do, where can we find them?
This is the real: Christians talk about serving all the time, but the truth is, for many of them, “service” has become synonymous with ambition, and prestigious positions of service, like pastoring, are reserved only for those who are willing to play the political game. That is, to not go against the power structure, and to compromise one’s beliefs and dreams. And so anyone with a pure heart and motive for serving God will only get rejected once they start dreaming of doing something much more.
It is sad, but true. True Christian leaders, true shepherds of the faith, are rare nowadays. Though it may not be apparent at first, because everything is being done in the name of love and service, many leaders today are just seeking after power and glory. And leaders who certainly won’t be sharing that power and glory with the “upstarts” of the younger generation.
Warnings of Judgment
What shall touch these hardened hearts? What shall open their blinded eyes? What shall break down centuries of pride? Only divine warnings of judgment will do.
This is the bottom line: God deeply cares about the well-being of believers, and God holds accountable the leaders who are in charge of them. And to those who have failed to do their jobs, God executes judgment. In the book of Ezekiel, we can clearly see God’s heart on these matters:
Yahweh’s word came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and tell them, even the shepherds, ‘The Lord Yahweh says: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat. You clothe yourself with the wool. You kill the fatlings, but you don’t feed the sheep. You haven’t strengthened the diseased. You haven’t healed that which was sick. You haven’t bound up that which was broken. You haven’t brought back that which was driven away. You haven’t sought that which was lost, but you have ruled over them with force and with rigor. They were scattered, because there was no shepherd….”
The Lord Yahweh says: “Behold, I am against the shepherds. I will require my sheep at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the sheep. The shepherds won’t feed themselves any more. I will deliver my sheep from their mouth, that they may not be food for them.” — Ezekiel 34:1-5,10 WEB
Most of all, God hates pride.
For there will be a day of Yahweh of Armies for all that is proud and arrogant,
and for all that is lifted up,
and it shall be brought low—
for all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up,
for all the oaks of Bashan,
for all the high mountains,
for all the hills that are lifted up,
for every lofty tower,
for every fortified wall,
for all the ships of Tarshish,
and for all pleasant imagery.
The loftiness of man shall be bowed down,
and the arrogance of men shall be brought low;
and Yahweh alone shall be exalted in that day.
— Isaiah 2:12-17 WEB
It is the digital age. A young generation has risen up that is ready to take on the challenges of this great, unprecedented age of computers and the internet. Among them are young Christians who dream of doing wondrous things of service — for their God, and for the world. For sure, their accomplishments will eclipse that of their elders’, but that is all for the good, isn’t it? There’s no need for pride and envy. No need for scorn and enmity. Rather, let us help them — let’s help each other! — face these challenges. And in doing so, we will, together, secure our future.