I sat in a church sanctuary on Saturday night, surrounded by over 150 unwashed teenagers. We came together from all across the Inland Empire of the PNW, traveling to Washington State’s armpit (the Tri-Cities) for a discipleship conference. A weekend of corporate worship and learning.
I can’t remember what the preacher said, even just a few days later. Maybe that’s due to my own preaching hangover after leading back-to-back-to-back sessions on the power of storytelling Saturday morning. What I do know is that a strange stillness descended upon the room. But it wasn’t stillness. It was some combination of buzzing energy and utter peace. The air felt thick but it wasn’t humid.
It was a holy moment.
Dozens of students went to the altar to pray. Some received calls to vocational ministry. Some needed to wrestle with God, just as Jacob did. Others came to lay a friendly hand on the back of a stranger, to let them know they weren’t alone. The tears flowed freely among them. A few slid down my own cheeks. Normally I would go forward to pray with kids, but something held me in my seat. I knew I was supposed to observe.
There wasn’t any wailing or weirdness. Nobody drew attention to themselves. The few who did raise their voices did so in praise to God. Some chose not to positively respond, to not take the hand of God as it was offered to them. That didn’t derail what I can only describe as a sweet, powerful movement of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know if it was a revival or an outpouring or an awakening. Those aren’t helpful categories, really. Why do we have to define what God does, anyway? God just does what God does. And God seems to be doing something unique among the people who make up Gen Z. An apathetic, burned-out too early, cynical, attention-deficit generation if there ever was one, and for a whole lot of good reasons.
Who would expect them – soaked in pluralism and relativism and traumatized by mass shootings and global pandemics – to react to God they way that they do? Yet it’s happening all over the place.
God’s got a sense of humor and a flair for the unique. God delights in doing the unexpected and in using the least of these.
My hope and prayer is that the Church will meet them in the real-verse and in the meta-verse. May we adults who are supposed to know better and who are called to teach through our words and actions take the time to build relationships with these kids. May we seek God’s wisdom and learn to clear space in our calendars for them. May we repent of and lament over the ways that we’ve messed up, the times we’ve tried to use God as an excuse or shield for our pride and prejudice – because we have. It does neither us or them any good to pretend we haven’t.
Above all, may we not douse the fire of the Spirit with our programs and long lists of do’s and don’ts, heavy on the don’ts. Yes, boundaries matter. They matter a lot. But boundaries and clinging to the way it’s always been done are not the same thing.
Gen Z is often characterized as lost.
God is finding them.
GRACE AND PEACE ALONG THE WAY,
Image Courtesy of Martin Schmidli