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?