"Generation X" is the tag applied to young people born in the 1960's and 70's. They are the young adults who are in their twenties and thirties who have become prime targets of the advertising industry. They were so named by Karen Ritchie, an advertising executive at a conference in 1992. Since then they have become the most analysed generation in history. Many books have been written to help the church come to grips with reaching the X Generation.
They are regarded as being interested only in their own chosen career, read little in newspapers but much in a few magazines. They are not motivated by politics, nor switched on by contemporary rock music. They are interested in finding the meaning behind relationships, about requiring the right dress and body shape. They often eat in the lounge room, have their evening meal delivered in a cardboard box, go to the service station to buy food and get their money from an ATM. They go to movies and drink coffee sitting outside the restaurant. They are not into denominationalism believing the church is irrelevant. They are into spirituality, especially New Age type mysticism. Jesus is in, but the Church is out.
Actually, you members of the X Generation should be re-labelled as "Generation M3" because you are the people who are going to spend most of your life in the third millennium! Think of it: if you are going to spend most of your life, God willing, in the third Millennium, please stand up! We want to salute you. This sermon is especially for you.
Those of us who belong to Generation M2, who have already lived most of our lives, live differently.
We eat in the kitchen or dining room using knives and folks, thinking eating with fingers rather primitive. We go to the service station to buy petrol not food, and get money from a bank not a wall. We cook meals, and never drink cappuccinos on the footpath. Some of us 20th century people are not coping with change well. We have a Luddite mentality, wanting to break the machinery of change. We often grumble like bears with a sore head. For us, life consists of more than a mobile phone.
If you have already lived over half your life expectancy note these Generation M3 people. They are going to support you older believers if you get into the third Millennium! They are the ones whose taxes will pay what pensions and government superannuation will be left for you. They will pay for your health care and social security. But more, they will be the members who will be running the church you have loved. They have different ideas about how things will be done and a different value system. But they have a real commitment to Jesus Christ.
In research over the last few years, Uniting Church youth worker Fuzz Kitto and his team have surveyed about ten thousand young people between twelve and eighteen years of age. You would think that the X Generation have everything before them and life is full of excitement and expectancy. One of the questions asked is about concerns they and other young people have. Around 38% of young people indicate their top ranking concern is boredom: there is nothing to do. Why do we have so many Australian young people suffering from boredom? They claim there is nothing to do, yet never have a generation had so much with which to amuse themselves.
Every shopping complex has its Intencity or Timezone or virtual reality electronic machinery, Pizza Hut, McDonalds and theatre complex screening X Generation films. We do young people a disservice when we sponsor bigger and better activities. The root cause of boredom is not a lack of activities, it is a lack of meaning. The psychiatrist Victor Frankl wrote that a society which has lost its meaning is marked by rampant libido and an insatiable urge to own things. That is young adult culture in Australia. The X Generation has to find its own sense of meaning. The X Generation says, "You are what you do, what you earn, what you own and how you look". But personal significance is not found in possessing things.
The church is one of the few places left where significance can be affirmed and experienced. It is the only place where young adults can find an understanding of why they are significant. It is the only place where people can grow in faith. Yet many young adults by-pass the church doors. They have not discovered that virtual reality can be found here. They have not yet discovered that meaning and purpose is not in Segaworld, but at Wesley Mission. To help them make that discovery, we have called the Rev Pamela McNally to aid the transition process.
Wesley Mission is an unusual Church. We are located in the heart of down-town, have marvellous service ministries in 260 centres employing two thousand full-time paid staff and 3,500 volunteers, worship in 55 services each week, have an average age of 31 years, and have more men attending than women. Hundreds of teenagers attend this church and hundreds of youth are in our study groups. Tens of thousands attend our outdoor celebrations.
But we are short on the X Generation! Those young adults born in the 1960's and 1970's. Many have completed tertiary education and moved on in their employment. Many have married and are living in new suburbs on the fringes of the city. But many are still here and lost from our church. We see them in large numbers in every tavern and night-club in Pitt Street. We see them cruising up Oxford Street, confused about their own person and sexuality. We see them already divorced in their twenties but dressing up in the hope of being wanted again. We see them as sheep without a Shepherd. They are Pamela's lost and straying flock!
Not all the X Generation are like that! Many of them are within our church now. We are grateful to God that we have many fine young adults, Generation X'ers, who are serving in our church. They are the foundational group upon whom I believe the success that Pamela McNally will have will be built.
As a church we will need to give Pamela McNally freedom to minister in the way she desires. That is going to be difficult for our Elders who have a strong interest in seeing that everything we do in public worship is done decently and in order. For those two words not found in the vocabulary of many of the X Generation. I will be working closest of all to Pamela, so I must give Pamela the freedom to minister as she knows how. I will do that because I have a fundamental belief that in the growth of the church people buy differences, not similarities. My concept of a ministry team is not to recruit clones, but to add distinctives. That is why 17 years ago I asked Rev Tony Chi to join with us! Differences add to a church! Pamela and I will well together because we are so different.
Just about every adjective you can find to describe me, has an opposite to describe Pamela. Not synonyms but antonyms are required. That makes for creative tension. That is why the oldest Uniting Church in our nation is the most virile in its growth and service! That is why we offer people a smorgasbord of worship experiences instead of one or two similar services. We believe that heterogeneity is the way not homogeneity. Our congregations are homogeneous but our celebrations are heterogeneous.
So we offer Pamela freedom within the context of obedience to the scriptures. When REV W.G.TAYLOR was being appointed here in 1884, the church was close to death. The Methodist Conference voting on closing it down, heard one of the old conservatives, Rev George Hurst, urge the appointment of William George Taylor saying: "We must appoint a man to this difficult post. For God's sake let us assure him of our support. We must stand at his back. I hope he will be trammelled by no resolutions and in no way bound by red tape. If he wants to kick out the panels of the pulpit, let him kick them out. Let us promise him a free hand to experiment as he may wish in the interests of God's work." That is a marvellous statement of the freedom we would give Pamela in her ministry.
As a church we will need to expect from Pamela McNally strong accountability for the results of her ministry. That is the reverse side of freedom. We are only free so long as we are accountable. Note the accountability statement in what Rev George Hurst said. There was to be freedom but there was also an accountability: whatever was done had to be "in the interests of God's work."
With every freedom there is accountability. That accountability is to God and His will in the written Word in which Pamela affirms her commitment. That accountability is also to her colleagues whose ministry she also shares as a team member. That accountability is to those who support, pray, and pay her to undertake that ministry among us. That accountability is also to the wider Church as represented by the Presbytery and Synod.
There are many who want freedom to minister, but who are not accountable in their behaviour, moral life, effectiveness and obedience to the Word. Some church leaders believe anything and behave anyhow. Some believe what they will and have ceased to be Christian, to be a new age sect. Others believe what they do has no relevance to what they believe. They do not connect belief and behaviour. But we believe we have a commitment to Christ and an obedience under the authority of the Word of God. Both the commitment to Christ and living under the authority of the Scriptures is essential.
Some today within the Uniting Church, claim they are living in the freedom of the Gospel of Christ but whose lives show neither holiness in living nor the righteousness that marks Christian behaviour. They talk of possessing the Gospel of freedom. But they do not accept the authority of the scriptures. Gospel and scripture belong together. Freedom and obedience are two sides of one coin. Paul puts it succinctly: Gal 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." There is freedom and the removal of barriers, but that is only because we are "one in Christ Jesus" based on our belief and obedience to God's Word.
To the church members of Generation M2 who have spent most of their years in the second millennium, welcome Pamela into your midst and give her the freedom to minister. To the members of Generation M3, who will spend most of your years in the third millennium, we say, welcome Pamela as a fellow X Generation'er and support her as she seeks to reach those still outside Christ. To Pamela we say, you have been given the privilege of serving in a team where freedom and accountability belong together, where what you believe is seen in how you behave.
Once Jesus met a member of Generation X. He was being carried to a cemetery by his friends. His mother was beside herself with grief. He was her only child and she was a widow. With his death, she had lost her only child, only companion and only means of income and support. The wailing group neared the cemetery when Jesus stopped them. He spoke with the distraught mother, touched the bier and called upon the young man to sit up. The young man sat up in the bier. Everyone was staggered and shocked. Then when the young man came to his senses, Jesus gave him back to his mother. (LUKE 7:11-17)
Many of the X Generation are heading towards the cemetery. Only Jesus can give them life that is meaningful and abundant. Pamela's ministry is designed to bring the life of Jesus to them.
May God's richest blessing be upon you, Pamela, in your ministry here at Wesley Mission.
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