Crucial Conversations with Gen Z
Posted by: DVULI | January 4, 2022
Opinion by Jon Coker (San Antonio 2010)
Yesterday’s trauma can be healed through today’s conversations, but to navigate today’s tough topics with tomorrow’s leaders, discipleship must demonstrate both spiritual power and practical strategy.
Young people’s perspectives about religion, politics, relationships, money, and social issues are being shaped by a loud culture and a quiet church. It is safe to assume that their passionate preferences are internalized and processed online long before they manifest into real-world expression. This means protests are not born in the streets but in social media feeds. Ministries struggle to navigate crucial conversations with their youth because many of them are attempting to disciple from the branch of behavior and emotional expression rather than from the root of character and sound principles.
According to Forbes, members of Gen Z (people ages 6 to 24 years old), mainly junior high and high school students, spend more than nine hours per day on screens. If that trend continues, when they die, they will have spent more than one-third of their lives scrolling. They have more computing power in their phones than the astronauts had on the Apollo 11 space mission. The virtual world is deep with games, pornography, violence, conspiracies, notifications, social media engagement, and other dopamine triggers and false realities. For youth ministries, screaming into a microphone about hell for 30 minutes on a Wednesday night will not uproot what has been planted in them by the culture. To navigate today’s tough topics with tomorrow’s leaders, youth workers must welcome young voices to the table and demonstrate both spiritual power and practical strategy.
The apostle Paul boasts to the Roman church, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16 NKJV). Is the mass exodus from the church to the culture a direct result of preachers becoming ashamed of the gospel and shrinking back from speaking truth? The gospel is not a sermon about God. It is an announcement from God. It is not good advice about what people should do. It is good news about what has already been done for them. Somehow, in many communities, the gospel has been canceled because of preachers who have cowered away from controversy to be more accommodating to the culture. There is nothing more detrimental to a community than silent preachers and absent leaders. Those who ghost their post leave a vacuum that will be immediately filled by darkness. To sum up the consequences mathematically, if the church adds to or subtracts from the gospel message, it will stop its own multiplication and cause division. Adding strict requirements to grace produces a culture of legalism. Subtracting from grace produces a culture of carnality.
Paul insisted that the twisting of the gospel is witchcraft, and he asked the Galatian church who had bewitched them. That question echoes to this generation. Who has bewitched you to believe that your political persuasion, race, gender orientation, or opinion makes you superior to someone else? Who has bewitched ministers into believing that cultural resistance and pandemic pressures are valid excuses for changing God’s message and for social distancing ourselves from serving the broken? Who has bewitched this generation into believing that anyone who disagrees with them should be canceled? Ministries that promote this twisted paradigm are persecuting the work of God in their own communities.
Botham Jean was a 26-year-old black man who was in his home when a white police officer broke in and fatally shot him. His younger brother, Brandt, offered forgiveness toward the officer and consoled her with a hug in the courtroom, saying in a CNN report, “I want people to have the heart that God has.” He said forgiving her set him free from anger and anxiety. Social media lit up, and mercy went viral. The gesture was only on display for a few hours before well-known black pastors condemned him. One of them posted a meme with a picture of the young man hugging the officer. The text over the picture read, “This is what slave conditioning looks like.” This backlash set the tone for how many urban communities resisted racial reconciliation. The narrative suggested that forgiving one’s debtors was a weakness when the gospel says it is strength. This perspective has fueled hatred and destructive social movements.
In Mark 8:15, Jesus warned His disciples to beware of the “leaven of Herod.” This is a subtle yet prideful doctrine that exalts the laws of government and culture above the laws of God. It considers emotional preferences above sound principles. When faced with pressure, many influencers will sacrifice revelation on the altar of relevance. The vertical dimension of the gospel paradigm breaks the invisible restrictions off communities, while the horizontal dimension serves the felt needs of the people and creates space for discipleship and genuine connection.
From the church house to the White House, today’s youth have been at the center, the sidelines, and the frontlines of many national conversations since 2020. It’s fascinating how frequently we hear conversations about our nation’s youth but rarely experience conversations with them. They are often judged by generalizations, which is why they protest for the respect of their individuality. What do they think about the pandemic, vaccines, the divisive political climate, race, and injustice? Why have we not asked them? Their worldview and outlook on religion, politics, relationships, money, and social issues are being shaped by a loud culture and a quiet church. It is safe to assume that their passionate preferences are internalized and processed online long before they manifest into real-world expression.
This means protests are not born in the streets but in social media feeds. Ministries struggle to navigate crucial conversations with their youth because many of them are attempting to disciple from the branch of behavior and emotional expression rather than from the root of character and sound principles. In order to disciple a generation that is called to stand for righteousness in a post-Christian era, ministries must empower the youth and create space for regular communication with them. Urban ministries must leverage their creativity to build strategic plans for digital ministry.
The breakthrough in this intergenerational conversation can be settled at the cross where there is acknowledgment, forgiveness, and hope—a vertically focused kingdom creatively reaching horizontally into the community. Today’s leaders must take up that cross so tomorrow’s leaders can take up the mantle.
Jon Coker (San Antonio 2017 | @JonCockerTV) is the Student Ministries Director at Christian World Worship Center in San Antonio, Texas. He is also a multimedia journalist and digital reporter for KENS-5, a public speaker, and a contributing writer. email@example.com
Brian Dye of Legacy (@legacydisciple) Weighs In on Tackling Burning Questions
When it comes to talking with youth about sensitive subjects, you cannot beat around the bush. They live in realities of turmoil and are bound to have questions for someone who can keep it real. The music they listen to, the friends they hang around, and even the teachers they learn from are offering all kinds of information on the big three questions of racism, sexuality, and the political divide. If church leadership cannot verify the truth, then it makes the Bible look like an old book from the past that doesn’t address present-day issues. We must show them there’s a better remedy for their pain than numbing it with drug use or dangerous song lyrics. There is a better way to live and love, and the Bible has to be their answer.
Both articles were published in the Winter 2021 issue of DVULI’s On the Level print newsletter.