For the past 15years I have had the privilege and challenge of living, working, and worshiping with human beings between the ages of 17 and 24 - university students. I have lived in what I call "incarnational tension;" tension between my elders, peers, and students. Missiologically, "incarnational ministry" is a way of identifying with those you are called to serve. It requires learning language, adjusting to different cultural cues, and being willing to look at issues from their frame of reference.
Our model, of course, is Jesus, "who, being in very nature God, . . . made himself nothing, . . . being made in human likeness, . . . humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8).
Our Lord became a Jewish person in a particular family in a particular town in a particular country. The first blood Christ shed for us was on the eighth day, the blood of circumcision, the blood of identification.
In an effort to identify with the next generation one must look at the world through their eyes, or at least try. In a recent conversation with a group of students I asked what it means to be a Christian. No one mentioned heaven, hell, morality, or Church. They did however talk about experiencing Christ, following Christ, confessing sin, being kind to others, believing in the Resurrection, being baptized, and participating in the Lord's Supper.
After our group discussion, one student who was raised in the church asked if his understanding of Christianity was self-centered since it was all about his salvation, his beliefs, and his behavior. It made me think about my own understanding of salvation when I was his age. It seemed to me that being a Christian was very self-focused. It was about:
- What I did or did not wear.
- Where I did or did not go.
- What I said or did not say.
- How often I attended church services.
- How different I was from those around me ("Come ye apart").
- Time and location of my two salvation experiences.
- My ability to give a testimony or witnessing monologue.
My observation of this generation seems to indicate a different way of seeing the Christlike life. The themes are:
- How one lives in relationship to others and being a part of a community.
- The ability to be spacious and gracious with people who are not like us.
- The disappearance of the line between the sacred and the secular.
- Going to church may be helpful but it is not a measure of one's faithfulness to God.
- The desire to engage in two-way dialogue with people rather than deliver a monologue.
- Involvement in causes that reflect the kingdom of God.
- Taking responsibility to effect change in the world.
- It is important to be engaged in the world rather than come out from it.
My world was defined by hymns and gospel songs that reminded me over and over (and especially in the last stanza) that "this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through" (Albert Brumley).
Their world is defined by the lyrics of the Sea Wolf song, Winter Windows:
This is the world, this is the world we live in
It's not the one I choose but it's the one we're given
This is the world, this is the world we live in.
The Church of the Nazarene has been my home for over half a century. God has been faithful to each generation and each generation has found ways to be faithful to Him. Living these days in the tension between my elders, my peers, and my students, I have decided to embrace the truth that this is our Father's world. We do not need to be afraid of the future, of change, of the movement of life, of other cultures, for the next generation, of our enemies, or of the world.
He has placed us here for this time to live our lives on purpose, to be passionate in our service to others, and to discover new ways of being Christ followers. May we all be motivated by hope, compelled by love, and confident that God didn't stop being God with the last generation. What God does through the lives of the young will look different from what He has done in the past. He isn't challenged by cultural changes. This is His world.
Randy Beckum is chaplain and vice president of Community Formation at MidAmerica Nazarene University.
Holiness Today, May/June 2011