Juvenilization And The Church. Childish Versus Childlike.

There is a big difference between being Childish (immature). And being Childlike (simple).

One of the most interesting conversations in the Bible takes place between Jesus and the Disciples at the middle of His ministry. The conversation is found in Mark 10. There are children running around and playing near the Disciples and Jesus as they are talking. Maybe one of the children runs up into their space and Peter pushes him away. The noise they are making as they play their games begins to upset one of the other Disciples and a conversation ensues. The Disciples rebuking them. Jesus defending the children.

"He was greatly displeased and said to them [the Disciples], 'Let the children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for such is the Kingdom of God.'" (Mark 10.14)

In a recent book from 2012 by Thomas Bergler, 'The Juvenilization Of American Christianity', Bergler says that "this 'juvenilization' of churches has led to widespread spiritual immaturity, consumerism, and self-centeredness, popularizing a feel-good faith with neither intergenerational community nor theological literacy. Bergler’s critique further offers constructive suggestions for taming 'juvenilization'."

(This blog article is not a rebuttal, or, a revival of this book and its thoughts. Nor is it a review of the thesis. I use it as a reference for those who want to read further into this subject.)

Jeans, Suits, Sunday School, and Small Group

I love the discussion because I am the youth guy. I love juveniles. And many of the qualities they display. And, on the other hand, I love the elderly. And many of the qualities they display. But, there are traits within each that I run from also. From my perspective, the younger we are, the more we desire the authority and the resources of the elderly and can't wait to grow up. But, the older we get, we desire the freedom and the vitality of the children and we want to go back and do it all over again.

Whether a church has a pastor in jeans or a suit, what makes us think that we cannot relate? Whether a church has Sunday School or Small Groups, what makes us think that we cannot relate? I don't believe the importance lies in the programs or systems, but, the importance lies in the people and the relationships. It's leadership. I've seen a pastor in jeans miss the whole idea and not connect with a crowd. And I've seen Small groups become a breeding ground for immaturity and dissention. But, I have seen the same effect of the suit and the Sunday School also. 

A Little Of Each

Juvenile. The retention by one species to remain with the traits of a previous species. Adulthood. The development and aging process of one species leaving the traits of a previous species. I guess I see this differently. Positively. Not without experience and wisdom. The marriage of the traits necessary for both species to remain vital.

Okay. I am 53 but I play 33. I'm sure other 53 year olds think that I never want to let go of the past. The way I see it, I witness 53 year olds every day acting like they are 73 and they never want to let go of the past. It all depends on how we view the past and its relationship to the future. In our efforts as a 'becoming church', we must try to be as contextual as possible. With both the 1st century theology and the traditions of Christianity, and, with the 21st century and sociology and our culture. I love the scriptures and I love my culture. Understanding culture and theology is what a good sociologist and a good theologian does. As a matter of fact, I don't believe you can do great theology without doing great sociology. The two go hand in hand.

The Practice Of Childlikeness

The answer to me is simple. Elementary. We must practice Childlikeness and not Childishness. That is what Jesus was getting at anyway when He celebrated children in front of the Disciples. To play more. To trust more. To hope more. To dance more. If we fail to reach the children we fail to prepare the church for its future. Frederick Douglass once said that it is easier to build children than it is to fix men. We must balance the passionate creativity of a younger generation, and, the passionate theology of an older generation.
If we look at the history of awakenings in the world, almost every renewal was started by the younger generation. But, it was sustained by the older generation. A cooperative strategy of inter-generational efforts.
I learned a long time ago that it takes all kinds of people to reach all kinds of people. There are things that we can learn from every sector of the age spectrum. To Christ, speaking with the Disciples back in the 1st century, children were not a distraction from the more important work. They were the more important work. What we need is an inter-generational cooperative relationship that values the traits of each. That is great church growth.