The other day I was thinking about pop culture after Douglas Wilson referred to it as an “anti-culture” in his book Future Men. I’ve thought a little bit more about it after reading Adam’s post asking why college students find parachurch organizations more attractive than a local church. To take it further, I’ve been wondering for years why it’s so hard to get our college students and other churchgoers to interact.
I believe the key here is the Western anti-culture — also known as the “generation gap.” As Wilson pointed out, true cultures pass down their heritage from one generation to the next. As a result, young people have built relationships with their elders, respect their authority, and strive to carry on their traditions. However, in the Western world, the opposite is true. It is expected that young people will like different music, different movies, and develop a different mindset than their parents and elders. The result, of course, is the generation gap. Young people and older people just don’t “get” each other. This tendency is ingrained in our culture, and frankly, it’s very ungodly. The Bible is overwhelmingly clear that younger people should respect, learn from, and follow in the footsteps of their elders. Yet the American cultural cancer is made worse in Christian college students because of several factors:
- Parents don’t pass on their spiritual heritage to their children (Deuteronomy 11:19). They expect their children to “figure it out” on their own. Problems contributing to this include a lack of spiritual maturity on the parents’ part, a failure of fathers to properly lead their families, a tendency of parents to hand their kids off to the youth pastor, and an individualist worldview that believes kids should make up their own minds about spiritual issues instead of being taught what’s true. This failure in the home has devastated a whole generation of youth from Christian families. It also means that those who “make their faith their own” in college feel spiritually isolated from their parents.
- Church youth groups isolate junior and senior high students from adults. They rarely feel like they are a part of the church body.
- The “college bubble” further isolates students from adults. Students spend almost all of their time around other people of the same age. The church is across town…though to many college students, it might as well be on the other side of the world. I had one student tell me that he liked the fact that he got to worship at the Purdue Christian Campus House because it allowed him to be around other college students only.
- Lastly, parachurch organizations take over the church’s responsibility to shepherd college students (1 Peter 5:2-5)…and few churches really seem to mind.
As a result, the local church may be viewed as unnecessary or incidental to one’s spiritual development. Students go there on Sundays for the preaching and for the music, but not much else. Their actual spiritual development is overseen by other college students who are not much older or more mature than they are. This is a critique of parachurch organizations and also of Salt and Light itself.
The generation gap is a major problem. Students feel intimidated by older churchgoers who in turn feel intimidated by students. People in our church are more willing to work with international students than American students — partly because of the incredible opportunity for missions, but also because international students aren’t as threatening. You don’t feel like you need to “impress” an international student.
I’d like to think through practical ways we can respond to this unbiblical worldview. Whether it’s the older folks, the college students, the church leadership, or parachurch organizations, we all are at fault in some ways. Praise God that, despite our failures, He still uses churches and parachurch organizations to shepherd college students here at Purdue.