Our theme for 2019 is “The Body.” Today we are exploring that theme with the blog…..
The Body that communes differently
Joshua serves as the Associate Minister for Community and Faith Development at First Baptist Church in Monroe, NC and as an Adjunct Instructor in the Department of Religion at Wingate University. At FBC, Joshua is responsible for children and youth ministries, educational programming of the church, facilitating the church’s relationship with its community partners, and providing leadership in worship and other aspects of the life of FBC. Originally, from Roseboro, NC, Joshua graduated from Campbell University in 2011 with a degree in Sport Management. He also holds an M.Div from Campbell University Divinity School (2014) and a M.A. in Practical Theology from Pfeiffer University (2018). Joshua also works as an official for NCAA Division III and high school football. Joshua is married to his wife Lindsay, and they have one daughter, Quinn.
If I was ever asked to summarize the creation accounts of the opening chapters of Genesis, I would declare that, “In the beginning, God created community.” With each “day” of creation, the Divine Creator fashions entities with some kind of partner or cohabitant; light and darkness, waters of the heavens and waters of the earth, land and sea, multiple variations of vegetation, and animals of all kinds. Then after creating a single human, God saw that something was lacking and created both female and male in God’s own image. Yes, from the very beginning, community has been at the heart of God’s story and work in this world.
Over the centuries that followed, the communities of our world have been evolving and adapting to new influencers which have served as catalysts for change. Despite all the changes, community has continued to remain as a core tenant for personal development and socialization. The generation of young people who are a part of our faith communities, and infiltrating the leadership and development of these communities bring with them vastly new ideas, methods, and expectations of interaction.
In 2017, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University released a book entitled, “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood* (*and What That Means for the Rest of Us).” Its quite lengthy title is reflective of the exhaustive work that was done in analyzing Generation Z (those born roughly between 1995-2012), which Twenge takes to giving the moniker of “iGen” due to the overwhelming influence of smart tech, specifically the iPhone. The research conducted by Twenge and her team led to identify ten trends that affect how this social group acts, engages, and thinks about the world around them.  Those trends are:
- In No Hurry (the extension of childhood into adolescence)
- Internet (how much time they are really spending on their phones and what that has replaced)
- In Person No More (the decline in in-person social interaction)
- Insecure (the sharp rise in mental health issues)
- Irreligious (the decline in religion)
- Insulated But Not Intrinsic (the interest in safety and the decline in civic involvement)
- Income Insecurity (new attitudes toward work)
- Indefinite (new attitudes toward sex, relationships, and children)
- Inclusive (acceptance, equality, and free speech debates)
- Independent (their political views)
There is much data that can be helpful for Christian educators in all of these areas, and it is considerably more than can be discussed here. I feel that the biggest trends impacting Christian educators are In No Hurry, Internet, In Person No More, and Irreligious. In these areas, we see what is essentially the creation of a new developmental stage (what psychologists now call Emerging Adulthood), considerable time spent on phones/social media (which we all know), relationships that are not only nurtured but are in fact being formed for the first time via the internet rather than face to face, and of course the growing apathy toward organized religion. These are some weighty challenges, especially when we think about how we create a faith community within our churches.
One of the most influential voices to me has been the work of John Westerhoff. Westerhoff was a United Church of Christ minister turned Episcopalian priest, who also served as a professor at Duke University Divinity School for twenty years. One of his focuses was seeing the Church as a particular kind of family. This particular family had certain elements that define it as a faith community which Westerhoff outlines in his 1976 work, “Will Our Children Have Faith?” In this he provides four key distinctives characteristics of a faith community. First, for it to be considered a community, the people who make it up must share a common memory or tradition, common understandings and ways of life, and common goods and purposes. Next, the community must be small enough to maintain meaningful, purposeful interactions among its members. Third, to be a true faith community, there must be the presence and interaction of three generations, which he defines as vision, present, and memory. Finally, a true faith community unites all the various roles that are represented, and sees value in all of them, declaring each one’s status as important to corporate life. I personally believe that it is within this understanding of faith community as family that a person experiences the most significant kind of spiritual development.
As educators seeking to minister to the new dynamic presented by iGen, we are now tasked with crafting an educational format that provides the healthiest form of community and family for a generation that defines its community in totally different ways. What this looks like will be different in each context, because each church, fellowship, and ministry is its own animal. However, I do believe that if it can be structured in a way that allows for sharing of experiences across generations, and provide meaningful opportunities for students of all ages to then emulate what they have seen modeled, we are well on our way to forming meaningful relationships and life-long foundations for continued faith development.
The challenges we face with this new generation are unchartered waters, but so were the ones presented by pervious generations. The word of God and those leaders who put their faith in Christ have continued to persevere and provide meaningful encounters with the Divine. We can trust that the same will happen with this generation no matter the challenge.
 The data used to compile these trends comes from four large, nationally representative surveys of 11 million Americans since the 1960s. These four databases included, 1) Monitoring the Future, which has asked high school seniors (12th graders) more than a thousand questions every year since 1976 and queried 8th and 10th graders since 1991; 2) The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) which has surveyed high school students since 1991.