Dennis L. Johnson, Jr., Secretary for Laity, Family, and Life shares his take on the shifting cultural landscape in ministry.
Among the greatest challenges we face in ministry today is being able to analyze the cultural landscape. The world changes at an unrelenting pace. Some studies measure today’s younger “digital (technology) only” generation’s attention-span at mere seconds (i.e. less than one minute). Essentially, this relegates one’s focus to glimpses rather than gazes; it makes the concept of “journey” difficult to ponder. Even the more recent notion of “encounter” seems challenged by the limits of attentiveness found within our present culture.
I was giving a parish mission recently and was prompted to demonstrate how intimacy is changing among today’s young people. A generation ago, it was popular for young people to “date” in groups or as couples in order to develop and discern relationships. Today, the word “dating” has been replaced and young people refer to themselves as “talking” with someone if they are discerning a relationship together. In other words, if I unplug from texting and my devices, and I actually “speak/talk/converse” to you (in-person), that is evidence of a deeper intimacy. WOW! Times have changed; cultures have shifted.
Christians are called to be counter-cultural. We turn the other cheek. We demonstrate greatness by serving with humility. We leave the flock to chase after the one who is lost. We follow an all-powerful God who died a criminal’s death on a cross. There should be nothing fleeting about our gaze, limited about our attention span, or diminished about our focus.
Without a doubt, culture is important. It helps define the rules and patterns we live by; it helps us find meaning and attach significance or priority to how we live. However, it seems that today’s overarching culture is increasingly isolating people from one another. In this age of the smartphone, one has largely seen the use of the telephone replaced by the convenience of texting, app-ing, or face-timing (i.e. if you are Apple-savvy). In fact, it is rare that someone under the age of twenty would ever make a call. Instead, shorthand prevails (as long as your thumbs are functional) in the texting melee. Anthropologists have noted that in some ways we are returning to a graffiti/hieroglyphics/abbreviated method of communication. Consequently, it might be time to do a little culture-check.
Lent is a good time to ask ourselves:
- Do I take time to really “talk” to God?
- Do I take time to really “share” my faith with others?
- Am I, and/or is my parish, truly leading people to a deeper relationship with God?
- Is my parish providing a wellspring of hospitality that draws people in?
- Is my parish providing a sense of mission that is reaching the periphery?
There is a lot to think about in our shifting cultural-landscape.