Roy Allela, a 25-year-old from Kenya, recently invented a pair of gloves that convert physical sign language into audible speech in real time. The invention, called Sign-IO, uses sensors to read the wearer’s fingers and hand gestures and compares them to American Sign Language (“Smart Signs,” World Magazine, February 16, 2019, 55). The signs are then vocalized for the hearer.
This invention reminds me that we as Christians serve as communicators of the Word of God who may not fully understand it. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the signs and wonders written about in Holy Scripture are relayed through us in ways that listeners can hear about them and understand them more clearly. This can be realized most compellingly in preaching and in Bible study groups. Our interpretation that comes through the Holy Spirit can communicate Christ to many in ways they may not have been aware of before. What a gift we have been given.
We don’t often think about being persecuted for our faith in our modern times, but the truth is that 1 in 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution worldwide and that on average 11 Christians are killed every day for their faith (World Watch List 2019, 5). What can we do with this information? What can be our response? One response, of course, is to pray for those who are being persecuted. Ask that God keep them strong and firm in their faith. Another response is to treasure the freedom we have to worship our Lord and Savior in this country and to recognize that we are blessed to be faithful in our following of Christ unobstructed and unencumbered. Lastly, we can respond by recognizing that following Christ can be a dangerous venture, and one that is not to be taken lightly. We may not experience persecution for our faith right now or as overtly in other countries, but we need to be aware that suffering is part of the Christian walk to one degree or another. We need to stay strong, therefore, in the face of those we may ridicule us for our faith or may question why we follow Christ. This type of “mini-persecution” should never deter us or turn us away from our Lord. This should only make a stronger. Our faith is a matter of life and death. As the Bible says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). For his power is greater than any power that world can throw at us—even death!
Preaching to Generation Z (those born from 1999 on) means you can’t preach your Grandpa’s sermon anymore. Pastor Trygve Johnson has some tips for how to connect to Gen Z from the pulpit (“Next-Gen Preaching,” CT Pastors Special Issue, Spring 2019, 35-36).
I get inside my sermon. Preachers should not be afraid to share their stories from their own lives. They should not be afraid to laugh at themselves. Generation Z seeks a preacher that is relational, that tells it like it is, that it is personal.
I offer a sense of history and place. Preachers should put sermons in context both Scripturally and in terms of the space where they are worshiping. In this digital age, Gen Zers are not as fully aware of some of the stories of the Bible as perhaps generations before have been and they may not be as connected to the meaning and history behind the surroundings in their worship space and the community that formed there. These community stories need to be told as well.
I treat people like insiders. Preachers need to help those who are listening that they are loved, cared for, valued and accepted. Gen Zers are eager to be a part of something and learn new terms and new insights. Preachers should not shy away from sharing those new and perhaps more challenging concepts.
I preach for Gen Z, not at them. Preachers should not try to make their messages trendy, hip, or all about pop culture to impress Gen Z. Preaching for Gen Z means making God the subject of the sermon, and the salvation found in Christ alone. Keeping God at the center of all that is said in sermons is what will be of most value to Gen Z. The Word of God is what they came to hear.
In many ways these principles are actually what can make preaching better for all generations.
Referred to as post-millennials, iGen, or most commonly Generation Z, this group’s oldest members (born between 1999 and 2001) are now entering college, classically a time when the “rubber hits the road” for faith and ministry in a young person’s life. Christianity Today recently led a panel discussion of pastors to get a bead on where these shepherds see Gen Z Christians going as they “head out on their own” in their faith. (From “Bringing GEN Z Into Focus,” CT Pastors Special Issue, Spring 2019, 24-25).
• They want to see how their faith speaks to every aspect of their lives: where they work, where they play, where they worship.
• They want to know how their faith will engage the issues that are important to them.
• They want their faith represent the diversity they see present in the world.
• They want their faith to have a digital presence.
What can we as faith leaders learn from these insight? First, we must show application of our Christian faith, not just talk about it on Sunday mornings. We need to give practical suggestions on how our faith can be lived out Monday to Saturday.
We also need to need shy away from issues that are of interest to Gen Zers, even if that might be uncomfortable for us. Give Gen Zers the space to talk about these issues and then share how these issues relate to our beliefs of faith.
While our faith communities may not be as diverse as we would hope them to be, we can in our worship incorporate music from other cultures and integrate text in sermons and other spoken parts of the service that resonate with various ethnic origins that represent the Church as a whole.
Having a digital presence as a faith community is key and keeping it up-to-date is essential for Gen Z to stay engaged and interested in what is happening at church through websites, Facebook pages, twitter handles and Instagram posts. They too are sharing their faith digitally, so we as a church body need to be in those spaces as well with clear Christian messages.
We have a wonderful opportunity to grow as a community of all generations through the input and impact of Generation Z.