Dear women of my generation,
How did there come to be such a divide between older and younger women in the church? How is it that today's generation of Christian women are more likely to list a celebrity like Angelina Jolie as their hero rather than a mentor, leader, or female friend in their own congregation? We, as Christian women over 40, have some work to do. The work I am referring to is about our call in building a close relationship with our younger sisters in Christ. We are being called to understand, learn, and listen to this next generation. Our authentic response will help more than we realize.
At a recent conference, I sat stone still as David Kinnaman, Barna Group president and author of You Lost Me, quoted one statistic after another about young people leaving the church and their low knowledge of Scripture. I prepared to hear the proverbial five steps to protect our children, students, and younger co-workers from the evils of today's Babylon, but Kinnaman said just the opposite.
"Let's take exiles more seriously. . .we're more like Mordechai than Esther; the younger generation needs a relationship to trust," he said, encouraging us to come alongside the young Christians so they can grow. The message to stop avoiding the fact that we live in Babylon was clear.
Honestly, I was relieved. I'd recently interviewed 20 women under 40, asking them about their spiritual lives, their faith, and their relationships with older Christian women. When I asked them to describe their spiritual lives, the majority said they pray constantly and want to be close to God, yet, they feel a distance. Then I asked, "Do you need to be in a relationship with an older Christian woman to grow spiritually?" Hands down, each one said, "Yes!" I listened with eagerness hoping to hear stories of older Christian women connecting with these young, dynamic women. I was not, however, prepared for what these young, educated and professional Christian women told me: There's a distance between us and them.
Like many women our age, we're living with the daily disconnect between the generations' spiritual lives. It's real. Barna found that two-thirds of evangelical women over 40 describe themselves as deeply spiritual compared to about half of those under 40.
We, as an older generation, have a depth of faith to offer this younger generation of women, who want to grow spiritually and want relationships with women in the church. It's complicated, the relationship part.
What I hear the younger generation asking for is us to admit to the suffering in our lives. Are we living transparently about the emotional pain we actually feel? Even to ourselves? What draws a younger woman closer to us is when she can connect her own doubts and struggles with our honest talk. Even though Christian women are blogging online with more authenticity, these younger women long for face-to-face contact, or as Kinnaman calls it, "skin time."
So what would it look like for us as women in the older generations to mentor or disciple a younger woman in the Christian faith?
Listen with Wonder
It helps us to not generalize the younger generation. We live in the same culture, evil as it may be, as the younger women. As we listen to them, it gives us a moment to reflect on how we live out our Christian faith as women living in this culture – the culture Kinnaman calls Babylon – the place where Daniel and Esther were famous and where many Jewish people enjoyed wild success as business owners. When the younger women listen to us, our transparency ignites a sense of wonder – a sense of astonishment at the lively inner life feelings matching their own. It's not a sense of "now I know your weakness," rather it's a sense of understanding.
Create a Safe Place
We can offer our time and create safe place for conversation with younger women. The idea of sharing in a small group is popular in church and Bible studies, but they are not always the best venues. Safe to us is not what is safe to them. It's not enough to see them in church and ask them how their family is doing. In a church setting, this age group tends to feel ignored. Meeting one-on-one with the intention of transparent talk feels like spiritual life to them, though it can take a lot of time and commitment for that to happen. We need to sacrifice our desire for the younger generation of women to be just like us. They are not like us. Their spiritual lives grow differently. One reason is they are more likely to see themselves as leaders than we do. There's a confidence about the younger generation of women in which we need preparation.
Live without Misleading
In the Barna survey, there's an interesting twist. Although 47 percent of young women do not see themselves as deeply spiritual, they still consider themselves leaders. They are more likely than us, their mothers and their grandmothers, to take on these leadership roles.
With great respect and honor for past ministries, what we know as mentoring should be rethought. If younger women are more likely to serve as leaders, we need to listen to them and not mislead them by the way we are living. Apparently, they are watching us and waiting for our initiative and pursuit.
Even though this conversation can sound familiar – the younger generation leaving the church, them loving Jesus but not the church – the actual skill of mentoring the next generation of Christian women requires practical knowledge
Today in Babylon, you and I are church. Living a "reverent life" (Titus 2:3) means we pay attention to the women younger than us in the faith. We boldly invite one or two into our lives to meet twice a month for a little more than an hour, and we ask good questions, reveal our pain, and refuse to shift our eyes when we hear something we cannot relate to… like being a vice president of a company at 24 or having multiple sexual partners because they were lonely. The honest and humbling truth is that as a relationship like this one grows in the protection of a safe place, we, the older generation, will grow exponentially in our faith as they are more likely to teach us about Jesus Christ and His Will for this world than the way we've been doing Church in America.
Let's continue this conversation for the long haul. I see myself loving the younger women by writing this to you and representing them well. Join me?
Pam Lau is a writer whose work has appeared in Fulfill magazine and The Christian Scholarly Review (co-written with her husband, Dr. Brad Lau). Her first book Soul Strength, was published by Random House. She has taught writing at George Fox University, two other colleges and private day schools, She speaks regularly at conferences and retreats. A graduate of Liberty University and Colorado State University's technical journalism department, Pam lives near Portland, Oregon with her husband and three daughters. She is currently writing her second book on the spiritual lives of women in the younger generation. Visit her website at pamelalau.com.