Georgene Rice of KPDQ-FM interviews Gabe Lyons, author of “The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith” talks about the new generation of Christian leaders, who are “Restorers”.
Georgene: The statement how the new generation is restoring the faith suggests that the faith is drawing to a close in this country, but you are arguing to the contrary. Let’s put this into context and reference your earlier work that really is the precursor to what you write here.
Gabe: Yes, we wrote the book, “Un-Christian”, which was based on a project that our organization had commissioned that wanted to find out what is 16-29 year olds really think about Christians. The research came back that basically the average 20 somethings believe that Christians are judgmental, hypocritical, anti-gay, too political and on and on. The reality is that we’re in an environment today, where culturally most people don’t have respect for people who call themselves Christian…That’s the new setting that were in, where Christian values are necessarily held by most Americans.
Georgene: Is this the interpretation largely shaped by the culture’s interpretation or was this their own perception based on their association with other believers?
Gabe: Research like this often say that the person being researched which we asked how much media had influenced them, which was very little. Most people always say that because they don’t want to admit that a television commentator has shaped their views of something that is so important. The thing that was the most surprising to me what that most of the people that we surveyed had up to five friends that called themselves Christians. Many of them had participated in a local church for six months of more. Even some had considered becoming Christian…We felt that there was something deeper going on.
Georgene: Christianity will never win the popularity contest…Is the next generation looking for a more popular form of Christianity?
Gabe: I think the next generation is interested in a faith that is credible to the rest of the world…It means that it’s taken seriously. What we found is that many non-Christians don’t take Christians seriously, they think that their out of step with what’s happening culturally, in that’s ok…When the world looks at Christians and doesn’t like Christians because they think they’re no longer like what Jesus intended Christians to be like…We’re seeing an opportunity to build upon where they’re embolding their faith in a real way in their real world with friends in their world and having a positive experience with it.
Georgene: How does this “Revolution” differ from previous generations who have emerged to criticize the previous generation?
Gabe: I think that’s part of every generation’s experience. I think that’s what I suggest here in the book…this generation is going through something unique, most people are skeptical of religion, skeptical of institution in a way that’s much larger than before. An environment where all faiths are not just tolerated, they’re celebrated. The difference is that most Christians have never experienced that environment. There is a huge opportunity for the faith in that moment.
Georgene: What you’re talking about is an orthodox way of being a Christian, because some would assume that this means that there is a new form of the faith that is emerging.
Gabe: What I’m describing here is historic and I talk about re-learning lessons of restoration…it’s a call to get back to this beautiful holistic story that scripture tells us about God’s pursuit of us…it pulls the best of the two worlds, just as Jesus did, where he lived in the tension of righteousness and justice.
Georgene: Has there ever been a period in our nation’s history when the church has got it right?
Gabe: You can criticize any time…but I think when you look at the Second Great Awakening, they were marked by a few things, one was just the faithful preaching of God’s word but in many of these revivals part of the call of people was to get back to serving those that are poor, to fight injustice, to go about really demonstrating with beads what God had done with their heart. You can see that is the mid 1800’s….God called each generation to be faithful to do their best to discern where he’s moving, how he’s moving and how the gospel shows up in the midst of that new environment.
Georgene: Is this a movement is more of a grass roots effort, where you’re finding individuals springing up into groups or is this a movement that really finds leadership in various parts of the country?
Gabe: This is a movement of leaders, who others are listening to, who many times in the age group of 25-45, who are faithfully working on what it means to live like a Christian in this environment. There all optimistic, forward thinking, they will like pioneers in the new environment, where we’ll all trying to learn from on another what faith looks like and how it demonstrates itself….There’s a lot we can learn from the characteristics of the next Christians.
Georgene: In the second part of the book, you focus on what you refer to as the “Restorers.” Let me ask you to define that and talk about the leaders who have been brought influence in a generation of believers.
Gabe: Christians have reacted largely to a changing culture, one being to separate and do our own thing, the other one is just to blend in, to be a cultural Christian…We’re called to be separate, to live lives that are holy but we’re also called to show the light that we have seen to show up in the midst of darkness. Restorers look for anything in the world that is broken, from human relationships, parent-child relationships, marriages, all the way to school system…they have a mindset that says, If I have a talent, if I have creativity, I’m going to enter that space and try to bring the love of God into that environment…we should see things change and become more redemptive about that phase.
Georgene: You mention the notion of being provoked but not offended. People are easily provoked but what you’re writing about here is that people are provoked about the same things but rather than being provoked to anger, they are not offended and choose to act in a redemptive way. You start out with a story of Jaime…these are young people who want to do something about the world.
Gabe: Yes, Jaime is a classic example where he has a friend that is on drugs, calls him up and says, I need someone to talk to. So, he and a couple friends go over and start talking to her, realizing that she’s in a very bad situation, she has no where else to go. They basically offer to give her help to be the church for her, in a real way. They take her to rehab, the rehab place won’t take her because she is a self-mutilator, which is one of the ways people deal with pain in their soul. Jaime and his friends for three or four days just nurturing her, caring for her and ultimately went out and raised money for people in her situation. She came through with a full recovery. I tell that story because it’s just being aware and having the lens to see that when somebody needs you, that instead them for the sin that might be in their life, that we would actually see the grace that Jesus sees and wants to give and bring to him.
Georgene: To use the term that you use, “Provoked to Engage”
Gabe: Yes, and this is the great part of using the Jaime story, he actually just didn’t critique the problem of drug addiction, he created a program called, “To Write Love on Her Arms”, that raises money to support teenagers and other people who are dealing with depression and suicide….Any place that you’re feeling that call or nudge, God is probably doing it for a reason to just show up.
Georgene: It seems to me that many of the characters you feature in the book, their example really emphasizes the necessity of relationships, the relationship with Christ and with others.
Gabe: It starts with a relationship with Christ, you cannot engage in this world and not fail if we’re not rooted and anchored in Christ. That’s the first importance to being a faithful Christian in our environment. That’s through time with God in prayer, through scripture reading, through fasting, through appreciating human to human relationship…
Georgene: You have a chapter entitled, “In Community, Not Alone”, that’s a real challenge in the 21st century….Community is a major component as well.
Gabe: It’s really countercultural to be part of a community because “Individualistic” is what our culture tells what we should be. It’s all about us. And we have to lay that down and actually live with the sacrifices of others or commit to be in proximity with people we want to serve with…sometimes that isn’t the easiest thing, but that’s critical because if we go it alone, we’ll find ourselves upside down not to far down the path because without being rooted in a local community of faith…it’s going to be key in this moment.
Georgene: What do you see the future of the church as the next generation emerges in leadership?
Gabe: I just lay out the vision that this is a key moment where Christianity could continue to go down in terms of people who consider themselves Christian, or it’s an opportunity, as I think God wants to do, to be be reborn in a new environment where it won’t be any different that it’s always been but it might show up and look a little different that it has for the last few decades.
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