By Samuel Aragones 2022-04
The next generation (Gen. Z, in this case), even as a millennial-aged pastor (born ’94) in my 8th year of pastoral ministry, can always find a way to make you feel old, irrelevant, and out-of-touch. “You don’t understand the culture!” But in this effort to reach the next generation for the gospel, the one thing I think pastors and youth ministers get wrong is that “culture” is so much more than fashion, language, or even technology (although it plays a significant role in shaping their worldview)—it’s about philosophy!
Don’t stop reading! No, philosophy is not just for intellectuals and scholars, philosophy is about how we understand and process our existence and reality; it is the lens through which we perceive the world. To make us more comfortable, we can call it “worldview” instead.
The key to building connections with those of different worldviews/philosophies/generations is not to simply adopt their worldview, but to seek to understand it so that we can meaningfully engage with its veracity and real-world implications together.
So what are these lenses through which Gen. Z sees the world? From both my research and personal, youth pastor experience, here are 3 major Gen. Z influences:
Number 1: Social Media: to Gen. Z, apps like TikTok and Instagram are representations of the world, where we are bombarded with the lives and personal details of others, the need to present a polished life or aesthetic, as well as the inundation of world news, events, and perspectives.
Number 2: Social Justice: the air they breath is activism, specifically for social causes like racial reconciliation, environmental crises, LGBTQ+ issues, etc.
Number 3: A Post-Christian World: in the West, young people are quick to define themselves as spiritual, but wary of organized religion, either because of historic abuses in the church, or because the teaching of objective truth and moral values fly in the face of their post-modern tolerance.
Intellectually Nihilistic, Practically Dogmatic
The term I’ve coined for this Gen. Z worldview is Intellectually Nihilistic, Practically Dogmatic. When engaging issues of meaning and purpose with unchurched youth, I have found that they often appear comfortable with the idea of life having no objective purpose or meaning (Nihilism), often in the name of tolerance—the post-modern reluctance of undermining subjective, personal “truths”. But now, this a sentiment brought on by a desire for love and tolerance—by denying objective truth and moral values—has actually driven many to depression and anxiety; we were designed for purpose, and to escape this is to wander into the absurd.
We like to say “There’s no absolute truth! Whatever you believe is ‘your truth’!” and in the same breath, go out and protest against racism; because racism is “absolutely wrong”. Our culture may think themselves relativists, but in our ethos, there is still a hierarchy of values.
How Then Shall We Live?
This is a small window into the Gen. Z worldview. Now we ask: “How do I, a pastor, parent, or teacher respond to this?”
American pastor Costi Hinn said this about Gen. Z: “They are a dogmatic generation…either for wild, liberal agendas, or they want truth. And if you give it to them straight, you’ll find out [that] it’s not the 90s [anymore].” As pastors, youth ministry cannot afford to go soft; we’re not “babysitting” or developing a social program to distract teens from partying, culture, and sin. Youth ministry is about making disciples who have an authentic relationship with Jesus, whose faith and tenacity for the Great Commission are tempered by the truth of God’s word and the edification of battling through life alongside like-minded believers.
They want truth, but what’s more, they want real-world engagement between the truth of the gospel with the reality of their present circumstances and values. One example: as image-bearers of God, even non-Christian Gen. Z bleed the heart that bears God’s innate sense of justice (Rom. 2:15). We as churches need not only to address the church’s role in being God’s arm of justice and mercy in the world, but to also live it out!
In future articles, I hope to utilize my experience to help equip pastors and Christians in learning how to engage the next generation for Jesus! In this endeavour, here’s one piece of critical advice: when listening to the next generation, listen in order to understand, not just to refute. Often a Gen. Z enters the church as a desperate cry for real answers to existential questions about meaning and purpose—where they will encounter Jesus in a powerful, life and worldview-altering way. Asking questions, listening, and building relationships help us piece together the puzzle that depicts their worldview—how they understand/perceive reality—in order to build bridges for the gospel to break into that reality with Christ’s power to both save and sanctify.