If you aren’t familiar with the term “Gen-Z,” you need to get acquainted. This is the newest, up and coming group of young people in our midst--those just turning 18 years of age and younger. Like every generation before them, they have qualities that make them distinct, fraught with unique challenges but housing enormous potential for impacting their world for good.
Gen-Zers are a bright lot, success-driven and career-focused. They are taking the AP classes and aiming for accolades and degrees. Unfortunately, as prepared as they are for academic achievement, spiritual training has not kept the same pace. While doing college level chemistry at their schools, many are still “coloring pictures of Jesus” in terms of their knowledge of the Bible, lacking an understanding of a Bible-based view of the world. Is it any wonder that most of those who claim Christ as Savior struggle on some level to hold truths where faith and science coexist? How can the adults in their lives help? How can we pass on our faith to the next generation?
As believers, we have a mandate from God to train our children. Psalm 78 says that we are to teach children so that they will go on to teach their children and those who are yet unborn will learn the great things God has done, living a life of obedience to Him. In this we have found three Rs essential in rebuilding broken faith walls that are half-built for many. Here they are:
2 Peter chapter 2 is a difficult passage for students. It's difficult because it is their life.
Peter starts the second chapter saying that there are false teachers among the community who introduce destructive heresies, denying the Lord as they explain the world. Studies on this generation show that most believe that the Bible and science can't coexist. When asked which is true, the Bible and science, past generations said both, believing that the Bible explains the overarching theme of the science we study. There is an intelligent creator, and as intelligent beings we can intelligently study creation because it has order and organization put there by intelligence. However, most students today believe that science is more true than the Bible, and they find themselves putting their Bible on the shelf which leads to experimenting in life rather than living an ordered and organized lifestyle.
It is important for students, teachers, and family members to realize that students are wrestling out their faith in their high school years, and many are doing it with the Bible on the shelf. Students need reasons for why the Bible is true, how we see that God is the Creator in simple and complex things, and that there is purpose in questions that doesn't lead to confusion but is resolved as we seek truth.
It is important to note that for Gen-Z the way a question is addressed is sometimes as important as the answer. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We are told to be ready, to speak up, but to do so with “gentleness and respect.” Gen-Z regards forceful dogma as rude and extreme. They don't like answers for answers' sake. They are sensitive as they navigate the minefield of relativism, and in following Biblical principles we are able to best communicate to this generation over the tumult of aggression for people explaining the world from man's point of view. God's story rests in the Gospel. It is a beautiful, relational story. This may be a quality that helps their message be more palatable to their peers and something we can capitalize on. Relationships matter.
A common complaint of Gen-Z is loneliness. They know what it is to be “alone together,” in a crowd but not connected. This generation has not only grown up with screens, but with parents on screens. Distraction and disconnection is a completely normal part of their lives, and they have no memory of or experience with anything different.
But, virtual relationships have not come close to replacing the need for face-to-face, human conversation. This generation loves connection, and if anything, the lack of connection due to the barrage of technology has heightened their love of community within a vacuum. Today’s students want, more like need, their parents, mentors, and friends to model connecting through godly behavior more than ever before. We must examine how we have raised this most recent batch of youngsters. What we must consider is What We Do For Them vs. Being With Them. They need our attention, not our entertainment. They need our ears, our presence. They need to be heard. They need to be trained. They need US.
Gen-Z needs help establishing godly rhythms. The habits of their life are often self-discovered right now. Their disciplines can be expected and their parents are living in a world of expediency with little consideration of the habits necessary to move into healthy and flourishing lifestyles. Church is replaced by sports practices. Youth group is missed for math tutoring or to catch up on sleep because of the other habits that are encroaching on students' time. What this teaches students is that busyness is important, and success is the defining characteristic of a persons value. Students need to breathe in the God-answers of who they are and to Whom they belong. Church does this, and it teaches them that there are places for respite, where people will drive you to a deeper understanding of life by understanding Jesus Christ.
Good habits develop good character, and this generation seems to be lacking in both. A recent survey revealed that lying and stealing are considered a normal part of life. This is the first generation to hold these aspects of the 10 commandments loosely. We need to understand the importance of Christian fellowship and conversation for our students. In daily study and reading of God’s word, repentance and prayer, we can reorient our students to a more holistic and God-honoring way of life, one that leads to human flourishing and one that built the modern era. In order for our students to believe that Christian character is important they must see adults in their lives who can step aside from their own busyness and make these things a priority, teaching rhythms that celebrate rest, reconciliation, and reconnecting to God's character and design. No amount of preaching that you do will matter if they don't see rhythms in your life that reflect your words.
The exciting thing about recent studies coming out that are describing this generation is that these kids are quite transparent about their questions and struggles. They are passionate in practical ways and desperately want to make a difference. Many of them have not been even introduced to the church and are essentially blank slates. That means they have no solid grounding for their identity, value, and way of life. These are things that we usually determine through our spiritual beliefs. This generation is being raised in a world that wants to lose spirituality. What an opportunity we have to take these bright, curious, lonely kids into our lives and introduce them to the real world changer--Jesus Christ. Are you ready to pass on that baton in your hands?