Where have we overreacted to our parents’ generations? Where will our children’s generations overreact to us? Nancy Beach pricks our thinking.
Reflections on a New Generation
By Nancy Beach
This year marked my first Mother’s Day as a Grandmother (we’re going with the name Nana for now). As I look into the bright eyes and chubby cheeks of baby Eloise, I cannot help but wonder how her story will unfold. A big part of my wondering concerns what her faith journey will look like, and what kind of church community she might someday join. Eloise’s mother – my 32-year-old daughter, Samantha – writes that “we are always building in reaction to what we inherited.”
I am a 60-something Baby Boomer who played a part in the building of a megachurch known for launching “The Seeker Movement.” Our little band of Jesus followers imagined a church vastly different from the ones our parents built, basically saying, “Your version of church isn’t working for us.” We desperately wanted to create gatherings that would be relevant, highly engaging, and transformative for people far from God. We considered the churches that formed us to be out of touch with the culture, boring and exclusive. Now I can see how much we were reacting to the former generation, with an arrogant spirit that assumed there was nothing there worth carrying forward.
We wanted to see a church revolution! But decades later, I can see that we swung the pendulum too far. In our earnest desire to change the landscape of church, we too quickly overlooked or even tossed out some foundational practices that might have saved us from ourselves. I was a part of leading the arts team who sought to create moments of transcendence and transformation on Sunday mornings. We unleashed visual artists, story tellers, filmmakers, musicians, dancers, and actors to connect with people and paint a picture of the breathtaking love of God. Sunday morning was only one part of our church’s ministry, but it certainly was the catalyst for the rest of the week.
Imagine my alarm when I hit my 40’s, and the next generation was itching to ignite their own revolution! I remember long meetings with Generation X as they told us, “Your version of church isn’t working for us.” They wanted to avoid anything that felt “showy or slick”, words that cut me to the core. They rightly questioned how much life change and true discipleship was truly happening, and they began to create missional churches that looked and felt much different from what some of them inherited. At the risk of over-simplifying, I think their reaction also failed to bring forward some of the good learnings of the boomers, including a concern for the perspective of those who have been outside the church.
As we all try to imagine the post-pandemic church going forward, I wonder if the Millennials and those who follow them will also do the work of swinging pendulums and over-correcting. Maybe they will forge a path toward merging the best learnings of the past with new wisdom for today.
To my great surprise, Samantha is now pursuing full-time ministry in the local church. I did not see that coming, considering her theater major in college and her years of working in the arts. She laughs that in some ways I’ve been the least excited about her decision to invest her life in the church. That gave me pause. Am I excited? I guess the best answer would be that I’m cautiously excited. The caution comes from my own experience in the church, as a woman leader. The greatest highs and deepest lows of my life have centered on the church. So the protective mother hen in me does not want my daughter to get hurt. And yet….when I observe her leading and hear her preaching, it truly does take my breath away. I cannot think of a more worthy calling for her to devote her life to, than making the Bride of Christ more beautiful.
I will love watching Eloise grow up watching her mom serve and lead and try to figure it out. And I wonder what Eloise’s generation will react to and then create for their own communities of faith. I truly hope I live long enough to hear her tell her mother, “Your version of church just isn’t working for us!”
Nancy Beach serves as a leadership coach with the Slingshot Group and on the teaching team at Soul City Church in downtown Chicago. Previously, Nancy served as the programming director at Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago. She is the author of An Hour on Sunday and Gifted to Lead. Her latest book, Next Sunday: An Honest Dialogue About the Future of the Church is co-authored with her daughter Samantha Beach Kiley.