Ministry leaders serve and lead within a cultural context. And we should understand the language of the culture and utilize the tools of the culture to serve and reach people. At the same time, there are cultural norms we must challenge and not embrace, cultural realities that must be overcome to effectively serve people well. In our culture, several paradoxes exist that ministry leaders must understand to grasp the world the people we serve are living in. A paradox contains seemingly contradictory statements but upon further evaluation we discover that the statements don’t contradict one another at all. Here are three paradoxes ministry leaders should know about and also respond to.
1. There is more information and there is less learning.
Daniel Levitin, author of The Organized Mind, says “we have created more information in the last few years than all of human history before us.” We can browse articles on almost any subject, are bombarded with snippets of information, and find it impossible to keep up with all the content fed to us. One would think more information would mean more learning, yet there is significantly less learning. The national average SAT score has been on a declining trend for the last decade. High school students read significantly less than they did in previous generations and the number of Americans who read works of literature is on the decline. More time on our phones has brought about less deep reading and less deep reading surely equates less learning. Our culture has more information but is learning less. We can read broadly about more subjects but do so less deeply. More information is not creating more learning.
How should ministry leaders respond? Reading must be reclaimed and engaging the Scripture must be heralded. Sadly more information and less reading has the likelihood to impact spiritual formation among God’s people. Throughout history, God has used written words from His servants to encourage His people. And the Bible stands alone and apart. God uses His Word to save and sanctify. Every research project I have been involved with about spiritual growth reveals engagement with the Bible is the biggest predictor of spiritual growth.
2. There is more connectivity and there is less community.
Compared to any other time in human history, we are able to more quickly and broadly connect with people. One would think the ability to connect would increase community, but the opposite is happening. Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT and author of Alone Together, articulates that our uber-connected world gives the illusion of community without the demands for it. Instead of deep conversations and relationships, people often settle for casual connections. In our culture, people can easily be alone together instead of in community together. The constant connectivity has given the illusion of community but has escalated loneliness and shallow relationships.
How should ministry leaders respond? Community must be facilitated. Based on the Scripture and based on research, helping believers know and be known by one another should always be a priority for church leaders. For example, in Transformational Groups, Ed Stetzer and I share research that shows those in a group display attributes of discipleship much more than those not in a group. But authentic and deep community is even more important now as our culture often offers connectivity without commitment.
3. Children and teenagers are exposed to adult themes more quickly and they are growing up more slowly.
Kids are exposed to more sexual images, more mature messages, and more adult themes than any generation, yet they are simultaneously less prepared for adulthood. According to Jean Twenge in her book iGen, teenagers today are less likely to venture from home without their parents, less likely to drive, less likely to be home alone, less likely to have a job, and less likely to care for others. In many ways eighteen-year-olds today have the level of responsibility and social interactions that fourteen-year-olds had a decade ago. They are growing up more slowly in the midst of being exposed more quickly.
How should ministry leaders respond? Ministry leaders must not equate good behavior (as it appears on the surface) with Christian commitment and heart transformation. We must go deeper than behavior and go for the heart with the gospel of our Christ. Ministry leaders must also provide opportunities for teenagers to take risks, to serve those in need, to see other parts of the world, and to step out of their comfort zones. Mission engagement and serving others has always been important to student ministry leaders, but it may be more so now in terms of helping students mature and develop.