Thom Rainer is dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
In his book, The Bridger Generation, published in 1996, he describes the generation who have eclipsed the ‘Busters’. This generation, he writes, were born between 1977 and 1994 and are the largest generation in the United States.
My first reaction in reading this was a slight resentment that Generation X were being squeezed into a small time frame, thus discounting their significance for the future. Forget them, pay attention to the next generation. Not a helpful approach as far as I was concerned. I guess his readership in 1996 would have been Boomers who were concerned about their teenage kids.
There are some useful angles to Rainer’s material. At the end of each chapter he explores the response of the church to the realities faced by the Bridgers. He tackles the apathy expressed by many churches who think that young people are just too hard to work with.
Like many Evangelical Boomer authors, Rainer tends to paint the emerging culture in dark hues. I was disappointed in some of the responses suggested by Rainer – they seemed like more of the same ‘reach these young people with the Bible” without consideration of what form the Christian gospel might take if it was to be grown up in the emerging culture of Bridgers.
Rainer draws heavily on observations by Susan Mitchell’s Official Guide to Generations, American Demographics, Walt Mueller Understanding Youth Culture, Edward Cornish of Futurist Magazine and George Barna (Generation Next).
The link below will take you to a summary of the book from Thom Rainer’s consultant company, Rainer Group
The Rainer Group | Rainer Online
Almost every book on theological reflection written after 1982 refers to the methods and models developed by James D. Whitehead and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead in their book, Method in Ministry. James is a pastoral theologian and Evelyn a developmental and social psychologist. Together they formed Whitehead Associates, training people in ministry to make connections between experience, tradition and culture.
Based for many years in a Catholic context in Chicago (Institute of Pastoral Studies at Notre Dame University) the Whiteheads have made a huge impact on theological education as well as continuing education for ministry, both lay and ordained.
This couple never seem to stop.They continue to publish very helpful material on spirituality, sexuality and community. They’re both involved in Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History.
The Whiteheads live in South Bend, Indiana, but I haven’t found a web presence for Whitehead Associates.
The Whiteheads republished Method in Ministry in 1995, integrating learnings from their conversations with other theologians and writers. They still use the three-stage method of theological reflection: attending, asserting and pastoral response. The style developed in this edition however takes a more personal, imaginative, playful and conversational tone.
Method in Ministry: Theological Reflection and Christian Ministry
Dawson McAllister, radio talk back host with teenagers in the States, published his 1999 book, “Saving the Millenial Generation: New Ways to Reach the Teenagers You Love in These Uncertain Times”. It’s out of print now but still available secondhand on the net – Amazon lists places you can obtain it secondhand and new.
McAllister begins with his experience of speaking engagements in which young people clearly don’t trust him as a speaker. He realises that he’s encountering a generation with changing values. He explores the broad changes these young people are experiencing because of life experiences and global philosophical movements. He draws on Strauss and Howe (see April 29) to map out the development of the Millennial Generation.
This is a good example of a writer doing his theological reflection on his ministry, drawing on his own experience, learning from sociological frameworks, reading the generational culture of the people he works with. There are plenty of opportunities to listen to these teenagers on his talkback show.
Dawson recognises that what he’s doing is cross-cultural mission, requiring patience and humility. At times he awfulizes the music and movies of youth culture – maybe its his teenage callers who are doing it for him. He does get a bit defensive about the attitudes of postmoderns toward reality and truth – he’s clearly concerned about Millennials’ perception of conservative evangelicals.
The book finishes with a group discussion process, equipping his readers to do their own reflection on generational change and the church’s response.
Dawson McAllister provides a living model for the spirituality-focused ministry he advocates in the book. His online “Prayer Room” is an interactive forum for Millennials and leaders from the Gen X, Boomer and older generations.