The process of reverse mentoring started early for me.
There was once a time when fifty was about the right age for a pastor of a baptist church. You were young enough to have energy, old enough to have experience and had demonstrated survival traits.
Fast forward to today. Available information doubles every eighteen months, we are told. Technology becomes obsolete just before you pull it out of the box. The Generational Divide is wider than the Generation Gap of my teenage years.
Add this to the mix; our culture worships youth. "Old" is a pejorative. Twenty year olds sit in the CEO seat of .coms.
I can learn technology. I can learn the language. The values? Well, that is another thing.
Wisdom does not necessarily accrue with age. To quote the old adage, some have thirty years experience, while some have one year of experience thirty times.
I decided early in my denominational service to make the rounds of the "edge" guys as well as the "box" churches. I spent some time in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and El Paso with men and women doing the fringe things. I spent a lot of time reading Chris Seay, Brian McLaren and Joel Myers, along with the theology of Stanley Grenz and Dallas Willard.
Mainline churches are mostly missing the "Body Art" generation, as my mainline church skipped the "hippie" thing in the sixties. Of course, God took over my generation, turning us into "The Jesus Generation." We can assume God will do the same with the "Body Artists."
"I think the whole Emergent, Post-Modern Christian movement will collapse inward on itself," Calvin Miller told me. "Not only will they not draw lines, they won’t even draw circles. They exist without shape and boundaries. I don’t think they will do well."
"They represent a very tiny fragment of Christian society," Ted Elmore said to me at lunch one day. "Their names don’t represent evangelism for most people."
"Of the fellows we interviewed for the Evangelism position," E B Brooks confided one day, "you are the only one who had any kind of answer about Generation Next."
This made me the only one with an answer but, equally, one who knew only enough to be dangerous to himself. The monolithic formalism of the BGCT was not going to be much help, either.
See, the big Building in Dallas is the Establishment. We talk change, nod vigorously, smile vacantly and go back to business as usual. That is what Establishments do.
I leaned hard for help on reverse mentoring. I asked the younger guys who they read and followed. Todd and Paul Littleton introduced me to Stan Berg and Joel Meyers in literature. I spent a lot of hours sitting with twenties guys, listening to them talk about evolution, homosexuality, abortion, life styles, acceptance and condemnation.
I also heard and accepted the wisdom of mainline guys who were doing a good job with the cultural center. Phil Strickland straightened out my thinking on this subject, when I was particuarly adrift.
"The convention," the late, great Phil said, "is like a legislative body, a congress. It has a lot of levels with numerous constituencies. You really have to listen to everyone, let everyone lobby you but stay true to your star. You have to have some convictions about right and wrong. You can’t just change direction by the last person who talked to you."
I had entered an embryonic stage during the late portions of my ministry in Midlothian. I was becoming more an incarnational than a propositional evangelical. The business form approach, seven verses, two questions and a prayer, did not seem to cut it with people under thirty, who were attracting at record levels for our church.
The young business owners in our church started mentoring me without their knowledge. I was very much an immigrant in the land of technology, though I learn quickly. These guys assumed the technology, spoke in the koine and taught me tons.
None of what I was learning coincided with what I had thought. I would have to learn something old/new.
For me, the Emergent, Post-Modern, Generation Next folk are like the Hasidic Jews of two centuries ago in Eastern Europe. Judaism had hardened into a strict observance of ancient law as interpreted by rigid rabbinical schools across the ages. The Hasidics, with their three quarter length frock coats, wide-brimmed hats, beards and ringlets (garb borrowed mostly from the culture of their day) burst on the scene to renew Judaism with singing, dancing and other forms of joyous communion with God. They Hasidim focused on an individual, personal relationship with God and love for one’s fellow man rather than on the intracies of Jewish law.
This did not set well with the Establishment. The Hasidim were sticking it to the Man.
Our Post-Mods emerged not from the Drug Culture but from the Smug Culture (Copyright, Rick Davis, 2008). You know, the Cold War, build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door, assurance of your salvation genre. The Post-Mods watched us strip mine evangelism, baptizing thousands, but divorce, abuse and crash at about the same rate of the general population.
The Post-Mods make great believers. They want a spiritual foundation for life. Many will readily confess Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. They will emphasize Lordship over instantaneous salvation. Some will not even admit they believe in personal, individual salvation at all. This is one of my great arguments with the Post-Mods and their successors. I insist Christianity is first a religion and only then a way of life. The acts of Jesus and of the First Church are best understood in their religious context. When we make it a "way of life" divorced from its religious context, we put the faith once delivered to the fathers on the same par with the latest fad diet or Dr. Phil.
The Post-Mods and their sucessors will smile knowingly, respect your view and roll their eyes. They will deny a six day creation immediately but argue for hours over the Apple versus Windows as an OS controversy.
I swear, the Apple guys have their own secret hand-shake. It’s like a cult. They will abandon the Virgin Birth without a thought, but you don’t touch their MAC.
They do not care much for our mass meetings but they did want someone to come along and tell them how to organize life. They come out of one of the most unparented generations in American history, after all, and the world is not getting easier.
With their emphasis on real experience, durable in nature but renewable along the way, the Emergents were not well accepted by the Establishment. Charles Wade rebuffed my every effort to invite Brian McLaren to Texas because "his church is not even growing."
I got the same rebuffs regarding Chris Seay and Dallas Willard. Once those two worthies got to speak to us, however, Charles could not have been more attracted to any two speakers. He took in everything Willard said and appropriately quoted much of it in his Baptist Standard column.
The Emergent Village/Culture/ Post-Mods suffered a major set back on 9/11, when the national response to a terrorist attack proved to be militaristic, patriotic and religious rather than philosophical or even inquisitive. Rober Webber acknowledges this fact in his seminal work, The Younger Evangelicals.
For the Emergents are nothing if not inquisitive. Even those who are not good readers of the printed page can tear up a search engine. They just do not know yet where the fit once the computer screen goes blank.
I was convinced we had to give this part of our little legislator some reason to bond with us. Andrew Jones, the tall, skinny kiwi was some help here, for he had partnered with the BGCT for some time. He made a case for us with some Post-Mods, though he simply did not have the time to do more than influence from afar.
Chris Seay was more help. I invited him for two years to the Evangelism Conference. He did not bother me with whether or not he would be "headlining," which was a problem for some of our other fellows. Chris looked at his calendar, said, "I’ll be there." He did not ask how much I could pay or if I would be paying at all. He asked for a table to set up his books and how much time he had to speak.
Oh, my, may his tribe increase.
I had limited exposure to the Christian celebrity subculture before I entered denominational service. One fellow would not speak on the same "bill" as another fellow. One fellow would not speak if this other fellow was invited to the same conference. One fellow wanted $17,000, his agent informed me, and an additional guarantee for book sales. For one session. One.
The problem is not with your set.
One fellow wanted a liviried (uniformed) limousine driver waiting for him at Baggage Claim with the minister’s name printed, not written, on a sign identifying him. Folks who felt closer to the SBC than the BGCT would not even return calls.
One singer sent me three pages on arrangements, including what kind of water to have in his dressing room.
Life must be tough at the top of the food chain.
I was aghast, appalled, amazed. I was angry, irate and deeply shaken.
Mostly, I wanted to go back to Midlothian and never come out again. It was too late and I would have to be a big boy.
Let me tell you, it can be lonely in the play pen.
Regardless, it was six months out from my first ever conference and I had to have a program, money or no money.
The bump in the road now looked like Mount Everest.