Yes, there are inherent problems with broad stroke generalizations of the generations, but I think we all can agree that there is a great deal of validity to the discussion. There are areas of life a generation might get more or less right and there are areas of life and maturity that a generation might completely miss. For instance, I think Generation X has had to exercise a degree of patience as a result of the most influential and largest generation in American history, the Boomers, being just ahead of it. I think this learned patience has manifested itself in a solid work ethic that has brought unprecedented creativity to the work place and leadership.
But we’ve also created or at least facilitated the phenomenon known as team sports. As great as team sports have been in providing a forum for families to “do life” together and instilling character, commitment, and goal-setting within our children, these commitments have perhaps been the greatest contributor to an eroding devotion to church attendance and the deeper practices of worship and prayer. As the first generation of latchkey kids, a large contingency of Generation X parents—to their credit—made a solid vow to the nuclear family as a corrective measure. For years as I’ve watched our kids grow up and I’ve thought to myself, “You know, we may not have it all figured out, but I think we’ve made great parents.”
That is, I thought that until just recently. In a doctor’s office waiting to be called into one of the smaller waiting rooms I picked up a magazine, flipped through it, and stopped at an article about inappropriate photos of women — non-celebrity, people-you-meet-on-the-street-everyday women —being uploaded and shared to the public by ex-boyfriends or even ex-husbands. The article addressed the emotional fall out, shame, and embarrassment of these victims. One of the women understandably changed her name. Another quit her job and moved to a different city to pursue a different career. I understand all of this and why it would be reported this way. What I didn’t understand, what what was clearly missing—and the reason I was interested in the article—is the rationale for the pictures in the first place. No where was it addressed why these pictures existed. Not growing up in a world of digital photography, the existence of these photos lies just beyond my understanding of what is “normal.”
Later that day I shared my question with my wife and 20-year-old daughter: Why were these photos allowed to be taken? While I had a hard time understanding, my daughter showed no surprise. “Dad,” she said, “that’s actually a fairly normal part of the dating routine.” My reaction must have urged her to expound. “At some point in the relationship, usually within the first 2-3 dates,” she continued, “the boy will ask for pictures like the ones you read about in the article.” What struck the deepest part of me, however, was the next part. “That’s why it’s so hard for [my sister and me] to find good guys.” Since then more information has come to light about adolescent use of pornography and a complete lack of modesty among those in this demographic. In short, our generation has fallen asleep at the wheel.
Friends, we have an epidemic on our hands. We are staring directly into the eyes of a crisis in men’s discipleship and, specifically, in our failure to be attentive to what’s going on in and around the lives of our children. In what feels like a very timely warning, Paul sounds a clarion in 2 Timothy 3:1-7 when he refers to lovers of pleasure as opposed to lovers of God.
To combat the trends I’m seeing I propose three initial steps for developing your own strategy for ministering to the families under your watch. While I hope this post surfaces these current challenges for Gen X parents, I understand that the threats inherent cannot be resolved here. That being said, I propose first doing your own research. Google is of course a good tool for this, but you can also learn more from Covenant Eyes, various medial journals, Life Health and Well Being, and even outlets like Medical News Today. You can begin with searching ADA (adolescent dating abuse) and PEID. Second, I recommend scheduling interviews with student leaders, parents, and leaders within your men’s discipleship ministry. Come to the interviews with your research and frank questions. As I’m sure you know, people tend to be more open and honest once they realize they’re not alone in their struggles. Third, after your research and interviews, take measures to put specific discipleship and support ministries in place.
I realize that many churches don’t have an organized men’s discipleship and if that’s the case you can email Chris Surratt or even me at LifeWay Christian Resources for recommendations or ways to institute a unique discipleship for men at your church. Student ministry is paramount, but if you’re not making disciples of your men it’s going to make disciple-making at the student level that much more difficult. Plus, I think the problem very often is that our fathers haven’t been equipped to deal with this sort of problem—a problem they’re often wrestling with themselves.
Something I’ve implemented at our church is what we’re calling Fight Clubs. The idea is not necessarily new, but the model I’m using comes right out of Jonathan Dodson’s Gospel-Centered Discipleship. I identify a key text to be read prior to the meeting, text this to them with a leading question, and we meet every other Saturday. We begin each meeting with the text and its historical context (text), then discuss who God is based on our discussion and interpretation (theology), then what we are compelled to do in light of this truth (application). The driving force is to fight for our hearts, our faith, and our families in a world that’s increasing hostile to a pursuit of holiness. I’ve been meeting with four other men and we’ve just recently multiplied. I would recommend the same thing for students.
In both my professional responsibilities at LifeWay as a publisher of men’s discipleship material and my role in the local church in men’s discipleship I remain more than a little amazed both at the lack of reaction from the feminist corners of our society as well as the response of greater evangelicalism to the growing sins of objectification in our kids. I realize that it could be just a lack of awareness. I also know that it’s not the most natural conversation to take up. In either case I urge you, as pastors, leaders, and parents to start asking questions—hard questions—about what our children are engaging. It’s time to be grown-ups.
Brian Daniel is the manager of Short-Term Discipleship Resources at LifeWay Christian Resources.