Cultivation Blog

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Our Greatest Challenge?

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In 1633, the Vatican condemned Galileo and placed him under house arrest for the remainder of his life. His crime was that he stated the earth revolved around the sun. He ended up taking back his statement. In 1992, John Paul II righted the wrong by apologizing for the “Galileo Case.” It only took 359 years!

I think it’s safe to say that adapting to change is not one of our historical strong points. The comedian Kathleen Madigan humorously said, “If there’s one thing the Catholic Church isn’t hip on– it’s change. The last pope, before he died, made a special trip to Russia to apologize to the Orthodox Church for things we did in the year 1204. That’s the file their on! They haven’t even gotten to gravity yet!

I believe the speed of today’s change is going to be one of the greatest challenges to the Church. We are in a world that’s changing at an ever-increasing rapid pace, and we are often standing still, frozen in time. We have a tendency to address issues when they are no longer issues or embrace learning approaches or practices when the rest of the world is moving on to something new. (I am not talking about changing doctrines and morals—that stability is one of our greatest strengths)

According to RDR Group’s research, “In a changing world, it is not the strongest organization, nor the one with the most knowledge that survives; it is the one most resilient to change.”  They define resilience as the ability to foresee, adapt, learn and benefit from change with speed and agility. The RDR group identified three common responses to change: 1) becoming a victim, “there’s nothing I can do.” 2) being a survivor, “That’s just the way it goes.” or 3) being a navigator, “I can make a difference; here’s what I can do.”

The third response is the one we need to embrace. We are the People of God! We are entrusted with the task of sharing the greatest news the world will ever know, and therefore, we should be the innovators and the navigators. The dignity of our message demands it. The value of young people requires it.

Unleashing the World Changers

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While leading a discussion with a dozen Millennial teens, I asked, “Do you feel your parish cares about you as teens?” One young man spoke for the crowd when he exclaimed, “They care if we come, but they don’t care if we’re involved.” For many Millennials, going to church and sitting passively is not enough. A part of being “special” is having a special purpose or role in the community. Millennials believe that they have an important individual and collective purpose in the world. They want to make a difference. Parishes who fall short of offering teens ample opportunities for meaningful involvement will find an increasing number of disconnected youth. They are not content to wait until adulthood to be active in their faith communities and world.

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Church As Rufuge

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Youth ministry must change in order to reach the present generation. Many of our youth ministry assumptions and practices are rooted in approaches that were created during the Baby Boomer and Generation X teen years. But, the Millennial Generation possesses some unique characteristics that challenge our past approaches.

Millennials  are high achievers. They spend more time studying and take heavier course loads in school than previous generations. They are painfully aware that their present performance directly impacts their future opportunities. Boomers and Gen X teens didn’t feel the life-impending pressures of their adolescent faults and failures. Past generations were anxious about nuclear war, violence, and AIDS. Today, teens greatest source of anxiety are their grades and getting into a good college.

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Church As Choice

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While growing up, I remember having two basic choices on Sunday morning. I could choose to go to church, or, I could choose to go to hell. Church seemed the better option to me. Thoughts like these are hardly a consideration for teens today (and many adults, really).

Over the past several posts, I have been focusing on some of the characteristics of the present day teens, who are a part of the American generation known as the Millennials. In this post, I want to talk about the fact that young people’s lives are rooted in a culture of personal choice.

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Increasing Faith & Reducing Risky Behavior

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In my last blog, I detailed some of the distinctions and differences in today’s teens, known as the Millennial Generation. In this blog I want to discuss something that hasn’t changed.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” I think that old adage originated while watching the behavior of a group of teenagers. The truth is, teens will often adopt the values and behaviors of the peers they are hanging around. When a parent tells me their teenage child’s values and morals have suddenly changed, I usually respond by asking, “Has the group of friends he or she hangs around with changed recently?”

As close as Millennials are to their parents, they still want to be accepted and be a significant part of their peer group. For many teens, being embraced by their peers is more important than embracing their parents’ values. During the early and middle teen years, belonging is a Herculean instinct.

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Those Special Millennials

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Today’s teens are a part of the newest, youngest, and largest American generation known as the Millennials. They were born between 1982 and 2002. They have some unique characteristics that require some changes in our youth ministry game plan.

Over this next year, I will be detailing some of the qualities of this present generation and the ministerial implications. If we don’t address these unique characteristics, we risk losing a generation. Today, I want to begin with the fact that they have been hovered over and made to feel “special.”

The Millennials are the most watched, protected, and supervised generation in American history. The pendulum wildly swung from the Gen X teens (born 1961 to 1981) known as the “latch key kids” because they raised themselves to the Millennial parents earning the title of “helicopter parents” because they are always hovering over their children.

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The Elephant

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In the end, the real story is not about teens, the failure of modern adolescent catechesis, or youth ministry. In many ways it’s not even about parents. It’s about something much larger.

There’s an elephant crowding the pews of many Catholic sanctuaries. Most see it, but mostly don’t address it. Maybe we’ve simply become accustomed to it. Maybe it’s been a part of our spiritual landscape for so long that it has blended into the design of the stained glass windows and we largely ignore it. Maybe we’re afraid we will appear weird, disrespectful, or unfaithful if we honestly describe what we see.

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Evangelization Doesn’t Work Anymore

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After years of speaking, writing, and personally practicing evangelization, I am moving on. I’ve come to the conclusion that evangelization doesn’t work any longer in a postmodern age. I have officially retired from evangelization.

But, I’ve found a second career. It’s in “immanuelization”. In reality, it’s evangelization (just in case you were beginning to write a nasty response and declare me a heretic!). Immanuelization is a form of evangelization that speaks to the postmodern age.

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The Medium is the Message

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Over the past several years I’ve talked a lot about change. The world is changing. Young people are changing. Teens’ responses to our established catechetical methodologies are changing. But, few of our parishes are changing.

There are several major cultural currents converging into a Niagara-sized force. First, we are transitioning generations—from Gen X to Millennials. Secondly, we are experiencing an epistemological transition from modernity to post modernity. Finally, we are in the throes of a communication revolution—shifting from the dominance of a broadcast culture to the ascendancy of digital media.

Young people today are indigenous to each ensuing movement, while those of us in church leadership are cultural foreigners, understanding the resulting movements as a second language. Whether we are as conversant as an Aborigine plopped into the heart of New York City or are progressing to the point of losing our native accent—we must become culturally fluent in order to reach this emerging generation.

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Curse Or Play The Hand?

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In the past we hedged our bets on wayward Catholic youth and young adults eventually returning to the faith of their childhood. The conventional road often included post Confirmation construction detours from regular church attendance. While constructing their own faith convictions, values and beliefs they would often bypass the Church, entertaining alternative life routes. More often than not, however, they returned to the Church in order to raise their children in the same faith tradition of their own childhood.

Recent research has changed the gambling odds. It’s no longer a sure bet that young adults will return to their church of origin when getting married or raising children. The majority fails to return and those who do, often return to a different faith tradition. Well-worn pathways to faith are over grown as a result of a new cultural climate. Teens are not inheriting their faith as much as they are choosing their faith. In her research of adolescents and church, Carol Lytch concludes, “Passing on faith to the next generation is challenging today in a new way. In fact, ‘passing on the faith’ is no longer the task it used to be. Teens choose faith instead. American society has changed to favor individual choice of a highly personal religion that is less tethered to religious traditions and institutions.”

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