Tuesday, June 02, 2009

REVERSE MENTORING by Earl Creps: It's Not Just About Technology

(Reflection on a book by Earl Creps, REVERSE MENTORING: HOW YOUNG LEADERS CAN TRANSFORM THE CHURCH AND WHY WE SHOULD LET THEM. Leadership Network Publications, 2008)

"Words don't stick" for our younger church members, not the way they did for those of us who are Boomers or older.

For Creps, information came in words, and these were mined with great effort and skill in hard - to - reach sources, to be mulled over in essays, with all these words to be kept in files and notebooks as treasures, and their possession gave a person authority. That's certainly the way I've always thought of words and information. And the subject that I teach in middle school, History, is based on that model.

But for those raised on the internet, information is no treasure, but a utility as easy to turn on and off as water. It's there to download anytime; no need to treasure it or to keep it.

Then there's the issue of "playlists." Boomers were raised on radio, while younger members take for granted that they can instantly choose their music, tv shows, and anything else. The typical church experience for them is "too homogenized," one size fits all, like radio. They want their own playlist.

So what are People of the Book supposed to do, especially in our liturgical church that proudly preserves its texts and rehearses them every time we meet? How can we draw younger members into an experience when they balk at lectures and three - point sermons?

The first step, according to Creps, is simply to ask for their help. First admit, "I'm not cool," and ask, "What is that? Who is that music group? What matters to you?" He suggests a number of models for doing this formally, and strongly suggests that church leadership should approach this informally, over a long period of time, meeting at coffee houses, getting help with technical things, meeting two (young) on one (older).

Creps admits that this generational conflict has been around "since the Tower of Babel," and he describes the show-down brewing between current "Gen - Xers" and the even younger "Millennials" (i.e., those who grew up watching 90210 on TV or Dawson's Creek). His Gen - X youth leaders complain that "Millennials" can't do anything, and that they are "immune to instruction" unless it's a humorous video or else "about me" (119).

Creps also seems to have forgotten earlier manifestations of the hunger for "authenticity" for which he admires his younger colleagues. When Boomers were in High School, it was the hunger for "relevance" and it re-shaped the curriculum. A generation earlier, folk music was "authentic" (and Peter, Paul and Mary were "too commercial"). In years before that, the badge of authenticity was whether one appreciated be - bop. So I'm not too impressed with a huge chunk of this book.

But he does put his finger on some issues to be aware of:

- Boomers, like every generation before them, are afraid that they will be "ignored to death" (81).

- Relationship is more important than information; leaders should begin with the idea that they won't just present and guide, but will learn from those they lead (124) and very few churches have a coherent strategy for doing this (152).

- God conveyed his lessons by sending a human being -- texts came after. A young audience wants to know what the Kingdom of God means to the ones presenting the lessons and sermons; Greek roots and quotes from authority don't carry weight with them (137)

- "engagement" of the younger audience isn't about information, even if it has pictures, but about asking questions and telling personal stories... as Jesus must have done when he told parables that had no easy interpretation.

- Our younger members are also largely ignorant of the overarching story of God's purpose in the world. Creps likens the typical young person's experience of a sermon to his own uncomfortable lack of comprehension when he watched the second movie in the LORD OF THE RINGS cycle without being familiar with the books or with the first movie.

Ideas for St. James: "iPod byGod?" Some kind of mentoring by young members re: technology they take for granted... Wiis and iPods etc.

Borrow Creps' idea of sending text messages to the preacher during the sermon for review later... just to get fleeting impressions of how the message is getting across, and to keep young ones engaged.

Some kind of shadow Vestry -- commitment by Church leaders to meet with pairs of younger members regularly.

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