First posted in 1999, and updated in 2005
Sometime between 1960 and 1980, an old, inadequately conceived world ended, and a fresh, new world began.
Hauerwas and Willimon 1989:15 (see bibliography at end for details)
The world of today is caught in the crack between what was and what is emerging. This crack began opening in the 1960s and will close sometime around the year . Trusted values held for centuries are falling into this crack, never to be seen again. Ideas and methodologies that once worked no longer achieve the desired results. This crack in our history is so enormous that it is causing a metamorphosis in every area of life. Today, the fastest way to fail is to improve on yesterday’s successes.
For many churches, the most disruptive discovery of recent years has been that few of today’s teenagers were born back in the 1950s or 1960s. A new generation of teenagers arrived with the babies born in the post-1969 era. What worked well in youth ministries in the 1960s or 1970s or early 1980s no longer works. Why? One reason is those approaches to youth ministries were designed by adults for an adult dominated world in which most teenagers looked to adults for wisdom, knowledge, leadership, affirmation, expertise, authority, and guidance. That world has almost disappeared and today largely in the heads of people age twenty-eight and over.
An age of transition
My grandmother was born in 1916, in East London, South Africa. When she was born she had a reasonable expectation of growing up, getting married, working, living and dieing in a world that remained largely unchanged. After all, although there had been changes in the decades before her birth, most of these took more than one person’s lifetime to work their way into society. But not now! Since about 1950, the pace of change has exponentially increased. So, to help us understand the rate of change,consider that my grandmother was born before inter-continental air flights, jet-aircraft, space travel and moon walking, before individual telephone lines, before computers, before the first commercial motor vehicle in South Africa and tarred roads, before Johannesburg got electricity, before calculators, before “the pill”, before radar, before Elvis, before calculators and ballpoint pens, before faxes, PC’s and cell phones, before photocopiers, before miniskirts and bikinis, before television, before video machines, CDs and DVDs, before satellites and before the Internet. (Yet, every Monday morning, she sends an email to her children and grandchildren, spread around the world).
Yet, it is not just these things, and the speed at which they have arrived, that separates the young from the old in the world at the beginning of the third millennium – today’s young people are separated from their elders by incredible, fundamental shifts in thinking. There is a yawning chasm between todays adults (over 30) and youth (under 30) – in virtually every country in the world. In the last 10 to 30 years major shifts in every sphere of life have fundamentally changed the world: in South Africa it is largely defined by before and after apartheid (and earlier, before and after June 16, 1976), in Germany by the fall of the wall (9 Nov 1989), in America by Vietnam and Watergate, in Britain by trade unions and the Iron Lady, in Iran by the Islamic Revolution (1979), in Portugal by the Carnation Revolution (April 1974), in Estonia by the Singing Revolution (June 1988), in Czechoslovakia the Velvet Revolution (November 1989), in New Zealand by the end of socialism (and by the Eden Park Springbok test match that sparked Maori resurgence), in China by Tianamen Square (June 1989), and everywhere by PCs and the Internet.
We are living in an age of transition, between what was (the Industrial Age) and what will be (as we work through the Information Age into the Biotechnology era we are only beginning to discover the new socio-polital-economic geography of the world). The older generations are frustrated because the young don’t seem to listen to their advice or follow their footsteps. The young are frustrated because they see no guiding light or words of wisdom applicable to the path they’re on. We are in a dangerous place at this moment of history. So, does the Bible have any assistance to give us in such an age?