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Keeping it real

"Keeping it real" Continued...

Issue: "Iraq: Liberation Day 2004," April 10, 2004

Young people, Mr. Wheeler says, long to learn from a person who is honest about his struggles and who passionately longs to be spiritually transformed -- "not a fakey pastor who wears a fake smile and pretends at a fake relationship with his wife."

The worship style of many younger evangelicals is also different than the show-time emphasis of professional-style choirs and instrumentalism at some churches. Aaron Niequist, 27, worship director at Mars Hill, says that what people "cry out for is honesty." People want to know "how I can be really broken and not have to get cleaned up in order to sing to God."

That might even involve singing a few old-time hymns. At Doxa in Seattle traditional hymns are used, even if the music is tweaked a bit for Gen-Xers. Advent was a "big deal" that invoked the ancient church and the congregation as well, says Mr. Clem. During last year's Advent, Doxa "used traditional Scripture readings from Old Testament, Gospel and Epistles, sang hymns and carols, and lit advent candles. There was even communion."

The biggest emphasis is on Bible teaching applied to real-life situations. The preaching and teaching of Gen-Xers in these churches is far from watered down or seeker sensitive. "We know the message of self-esteem is bankrupt," says Shaun Garman, 34, pastor of Red Sea Church in Portland, Oregon. "We know we are not the center of the universe." Rather than seeing a desire for feel-good messages, he sees people who are hungry "for someone to tell them the most subversively true message -- how bad they are and how great God is."

Longing for a place to come alive typifies the quest for a new way of ministry for this generation. Steve Mayer's journey landed him an internship at a small evangelistic church. His immersion into the Christianity of "evangelism only" prompted him to lead a team to Alaska to share the gospel with villagers. That trip forever changed his passion for ministry.

Among Native Americans, he saw the effects of alcoholism, suicide, depression, hopelessness, poverty, and broken families. Mr. Mayer realized that he had no answers for these situations. He had a programmed evangelistic method, but this was of little help in dealing with the situations before his eyes. "We thought we could just come in a week and change their lives" with things like VBS and other evangelistic programs, says Mr. Mayer.

So he broke all the rules of the program. He stayed out very late at night talking to people on the street, often alone, and often in co-ed contexts. He could not escape the feeling that he was selling prepackaged Christianity -- and he balked. The programmed Christianity he was taught was not in touch with the brokenness of the Native Americans he met.

For help, Mr. Mayer turned to the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. From King he learned that Christianity should be passionate about souls and passionate about the "slums those souls reside in." Caring about souls and the real-life situations in which those souls move became authentic evangelism for Mr. Mayer. But where could he do that?

After being told by a seminary professor that many programmed-based churches wouldn't support his passion for addressing social issues, he left the world of "evangelism only" for Mars Hill. There he says he found a place where people cared about souls and life situations. "If you programmatically implement what it means to follow Jesus, you're missing it," says Mr. Mayer.

As an emerging leader at Mars Hill, Mr. Mayer recently accepted a part-time staff position in the Global Outreach office. In addition to his church work, Mr. Mayer leads a group of young adults studying justice issues and a men's group where, he says, "authenticity is simply a requirement." Mr. Mayer's passion for people and their various circumstances convinces him that in the end "you just can't think programmatically about this stuff."

It may be too early to make a sweeping generalization about where this movement is headed, but some may rightly ask: Are the concerns of the Gen-X leaders like these just a reaction? That is, in 20 years, when the children of younger evangelicals come of age and break away to start the next "new" movement, will they see the work of their parents as a healing force? Or will there be fresh brokenness to lament?

-- Anthony B. Bradley is a research associate at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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