Listening to All of God’s People, and Considering the Time

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As children grow they react to the perceived failures and successes of their parents. I know that I do. I know that my parents did before me. I already see my children are doing it. This is a “no-brainer.”

I am doing a lot of dissertation research right now in generational and cultural differences, focusing especially on those born between 1982 and 2004. Of particular interest at the moment is the work of demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe. Strauss and Howe posit a four-part generational cycle that spans (roughly) a long a human life. I will not recapitulate that here, but anyone interested in building community will do well to at least consider their theory. I recently listened to Neil Howe on an economics podcast. I do not know anything about the podcast’s author (Chris Martenson), but the discussion provides a good summary of Strauss and Howe’s generational theory. (Find the discussion, entitled “The Fourth Turning Has Arrived,” here.)

Why do I mention this?

The picture above is from the second of two “Aspiration to Action” sessions that we conducted during St.Paul’s Wednesday night “Time to Grow” classes in February 2014. Leading the discussion is Kyle Swanson, a lay leader at St. Paul’s whose paid vocation is in leadership development for the Harley Davidson corporation. Two weeks prior, in conjunction with consultant John Sproul of The Lutheran Church Extension Fund, we had led a group of adults through the process. These discussions were built upon “listening sessions” in September and October 2013 where we attempted to get a sense of what the people of St. Paul’s are proud of and how they think we can better serve our community as we approach our 150th anniversary in 2015.

The fall 2013 listening sessions eventuated in five different “aspirational statements.” To move the process from “Aspiration to Action” (February 2014) Kyle brilliantly printed some 100 pictures of people who reflected the needs in the aspirational statements, put these on a table at the center of the room, and asked each participant to take a picture to which they gravitated and then find other similar people. These small groups then constructed “the story” of the people in their pictures, asked how they were feeling and what they needed.

In the construction of stories, the description of feeling, the group of adults that met on Saturday, February 15, 2014, and the 5th-12th students who met on February 19, 2014, came up with essentially the same descriptions. Essentially the same. I believe that’s significant. Part two of the “Aspiration to Action” process (almost all adults on Sunday, February 16, 2014; 5th-12th grade students on Wednesday, February 26, 2014) asked “How, specifically, can we help these people?” Here’s where Strauss and Howe come into play.

Whereas all participants constructed essentially similar stories and needs from the same pictures there was a distinct difference in the answer to, “How, specifically, can we help these people?”

The vast majority of adults answered with some form of physical infrastructure changes: make the facility more accessible and light-filled, expand the food pantry area, add on a social ministry wing by purchasing an adjacent property, etc.

The overwhelming majority of students answered with some form human resource: counselor, youth pastor, social worker, etc.

The fact that the adults and students understood the needs in the same way yet saw the necessary response to those needs differently needs to be carefully considered. Carefully considered.

I’m very thankful to Kyle and John, who led us through the process thus far. I’m thankful to have heard the voices we’ve heard, but I’m also eager to hear more. I’m eager to hear the prayerful reflection of adults who, knowing the results of our process thus far, have also listened to what demographers Strauss and Howe suggest that the next generations are likely to deal with (Again, click here to listen to Neil Howe on this subject.). I’m also eager to hear from our young adults (20s and early 30s) who have not participated much in the process thus far (If you’re a member of St. Paul’s and in your 20s you’ll soon get an invitation from me to “MOSAIC: Conversations on Community Service & Generational Differences”  at Vino Etcetera on March 27, 2014 at 7pm.).

Above all, I’m thankful to serve a God who listens, who transcends generations, forgives the sins of parents and children through Christ, and makes of many members one body, the church.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, ESV)

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