My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Something I noticed with the 2016 presidential election was the intriguing chronological rift between the voters, the fissure among the vocal, and the split amid the vexed. The fault lines in all three sets appeared to me to softly run along generational contours. I began to wonder that if the different age groups perceived the election and candidates in such stark terms, it might well affect Christian ministry. Therefore I was intrigued when a friend of mine recommended I pick up the 304 page paperback “Effective Generational Ministry: Biblical and Practical Insights for Transforming Church Communities”. The volume was co-authored by Elisabeth A. Nesbit Sbanotto, assistant professor of counseling at Denver Seminary, and Craig L. Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. It is a fairly simple manuscript that presents observations and analysis in a way that is easy to comprehend and thought-provoking.
I knew immediately I was going to enjoy and benefit from the material when the authors stressed that the way forward was “to use what you learn about each generation as a starting point for conceptualization, as a single piece in the puzzle of that which contributes to who each person is…Let this information be informative and descriptive without being prescriptive” (xviii). To help the reader to find the data informative and descriptive without being prescriptive, “Effective Generational Ministry” follows a very simple format as it examines Baby Boomers, Xers, and Millennials. The authors dedicate the same three chapters to each cohort. “The first describes common distinctive generational traits. The second assesses those characteristics from a biblical perspective…The third chapter in each section makes suggestions for how to best minister among and with that cohort” (xvi).
As Sbanotto and Blomberg tease out each group, they take a very positive approach. They recognize that every generation not only has weaknesses, but also strengths and values that churches and congregations need. In the authors’ perspective, every group reflects a different “part of God’s heart and vision for the world and has the potential to draw us all closer in our understanding of who he is and who he has called his people to be” (xxi). Throughout the whole book this standpoint is clear. Though the authors are not shy in calling out weaknesses that are inappropriate or immoral, yet they will not allow themselves to be sucked into the vortex of demeaning or disparaging any age group.
There is a regular refrain that runs from cover to cover. Boomers, Xers and Millennials take for granted the good that has come from the previous generation, is reacting to the bad from the group before it, and also approaches life within its own historical context. In my experience this is true with many individuals I’ve ministered to, and it has been true of my own life. So it was not a surprise that as Sbanotto and Blomberg applied it to successive generations that it fit and made sense.
Further, as a Boomer born close to the arrival of the Xers, I found the authors’ analysis of both generations’ actions, ambitions, and inadequacies to fit my own experiences and assessments. It gave me confidence, then, when I moved on to what they wrote with regard to Millennials. I felt that both writers were fair and evenhanded in their descriptions, how they addressed their topics, and where they went with regard to ministry. Honestly, working my way through the entire book has not created any huge, phenomenal changes in how I minister. But it has helped me to ask questions (I’d say, better questions) of what I’m doing and how I can better serve folks in each generational category. And it has given me some solid information so that I know what I’m listening for. In the past I have been fairly effective in serving Boomers and Xers, but felt frustrated and inept in serving Millennials. Sbanotto and Blomberg have handed me tools and encouragement, and as a result I have taken up some new, subtle initiatives within my church that will complete the circle: Boomers, Xers and Millenials.
If the “Effective Generational Ministry” has a weakness, it comes from the way the material is broken down. By the time I was done working my way through all three generations, I couldn’t figure out how to pull the material all together. Over the years I have served as the pastor of three churches since I was ordained. My first was doomed to be a mono-generational congregation due to its rural location. The book’s applications to the Boomers would have been an enormous aid there. But my other two churches have had a multi-generational make-up. So the question that kept surfacing in my mind while reading about ministering to one generation was, “Okay; but how can I do that with them and still minister to my people who are in the other cohorts?” The volume would have been deeply strengthened with a section that pulls together how to minister multi-generationally.
I found “Effective Generational Ministry” a valuable use of my time: reading time, prayer time, and brain time! The material between its covers should be poured over by every minister, elder board, and Bible teacher serious about their vocation. It probably ought to be snatched up by seminaries and made essential reading for their professors as well as their students. I have no hesitation in giving this book high marks and strongly recommending it!
Thanks to Baker Academic for providing, upon my request, the free copy of the book used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).
(You can purchase the book at this link: Baker Academic)
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