David Brooks on American College Mindset

“Human nature hasn’t changed much. The surveys still reveal generations driven by curiosity, a desire to have a good family, a good community and good values. But people clearly feel besieged. There is the perception that life is harder. Certainly their parents think it is harder. The result is that you get a group hardened for battle, more focused on the hard utilitarian things and less focused on spiritual or philosophic things; feeling emotionally vulnerable, but also filled with résumé assertiveness. The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.” David Brooks, “The Streamlined Life”

In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks writes about the mindset of college students in America. You can read the whole article here.

As a pastor, I want to understand the mindset of people in my community. What questions are people asking? What are the concerns keeping people awake at night? What motives drive people day-by-day? Brooks give us some helpful insights to consider. Along with the above quote, he adds,

“It is more acceptable to present yourself as utilitarian, streamlined and success-oriented.”

Sadly, most worthy pursuits, including spiritual ones, do not fit into the tidy categories of utilitarian, streamlined and success-oreinted. I appreciate Brooks’ recognition of the shortfalls of such a mentality. “The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.” This mindset among college students poses a real, tangible challenge to meaningful ministry and gospel proclamation. How to engage the mindset without forfeiting the gospel’s power? I am not seeking an easy answer, but I do embrace the tension.

Also, I see an opportunity for ministry here. The feeling of “emotional vulnerability” mentioned above will not be quieted by utilitarian pursuits. The vulnerability will win in the quiet moments. It will always be there. The opportunity is to pursue  true relationships where inner-vulnerabilities can be shared, addressed and helped.

I will spend my day contemplating what else Brooks’ post means for ministry and interaction in my community.

Do you agree with the article? What would you add? How else do these realities affect the Church and gospel-ministry?

Don’t Be So Self-Centered!

As the pastor of a local church, I am often left to ponder the disconnection of a person from our congregation. Why has he not been to worship in three weeks? Why is he visiting another church? Why did he stop participating with his small group? These are constant questions for pastors, and I imagine there is a parallel set for the leader of any small to medium-sized business.

My standard series of responses to these questions is overwhelmingly disappointing. My answers either center around people’s view of me or people’s view of our church. My answers tend be in this general realm:

  • He must have not liked my preaching.
  • He must have not liked our convictions or values.
  • He must have believed the grass was greener elsewhere.
  • There are more sinful and hurtful answers that I think but refuse to type or speak.

All of these responses are about me and our church. On a few occasions, these answers are accurate. Most of the time, I am wrong. I am learning the depth of how wrong I am.

How wrong am I? People often disconnect from our church because of something going on with themselves. The cliche, “It is not you, it is me,” is actually true. People disconnect because of unbelief, doubt, sinful patterns, depression, loneliness, accusations, family strife, loss of a job, addictions and much more. Notice a theme here? People disconnect from the church when they have spiritual needs. People disconnect when they need Christians to pursue them, love them, challenge them, teach them and pray for them. People disconnect from the church at the times they most need the church. As a pastor, my task is to lead my church by example in pursuing these folks.

When I make the people’s disconnection about me, I miss the opportunity to be a pastor to them. I miss the opportunity to lead them. I miss the opportunity to love them. I miss the opportunity to speak the gospel of Jesus into their need. My self-centered thought patterns are distracting me and in some cases preventing me from ministerial opportunities.

Here are few leadership adjustments I am attempting:

  • Don’t be so self-centered. Look up, look out and see the real issues. There are gospel opportunities in reality.
  • Don’t assume I know the reason. Take the time and risk to ask. Send an email. Make a phone call. Knock on a door. The risk likely will bear fruit.
  • Let the disappointment of disconnection drive me to prayer. I don’t heal people or fix people. God does. Perhaps, my contribution is praying God’s blessing into a situation.

What do you think? What other adjustments would you recommend? How does this apply to other business settings?