“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” —Psalm 139:16
Today, abortion is legal nationwide, shootings are everyday news, and assisted suicide has found acceptance in nine US states. Society has lost sight of the preciousness of life. The sacredness of humanity has vanished in the tumultuous rhythm of current events.
Today, life is far too often carelessly taken for granted and written off as a mundane right. Humankind has established a sense of entitlement toward life, as if we own and deserve to do with it as we please.
And the generation coming of age is not exhibiting much progress toward an increased value and respect for life.
Generation Z longs for more than online videos
Those who belong to Generation Z (born in the late 1990s and early 2000s) have been marked by attributes such as self-reliance, a distrust for political and religious institutions, and an aptitude for entrepreneurship and technological savvy.
Adam Wright, President of Dallas Baptist University, points to Gen Z’ers as “independent, resourceful, entrepreneurial . . . accused of having an ‘8-second filter’ honed and crafted to curate their attention on the things that matter and resonate most to them.” Dr. Wright believes the generation “craves authenticity, transparency, and is seemingly skeptical most of the time towards authority, institutions, and those in positions of leadership.”
In “Christianity isn’t catching on with Generation Z,” Brendan Pringle speaks to Gen Z’ers lack of church attendance and religious distrust, pointing to a deficiency of moral guidance as the largest culprit in their absence of religion. Where once they may have asked a pastor about life’s toughest questions, many now turn to their most-trusted source for “expert” opinions: the internet.
A recent New York Times article discusses how Prager University, a growing hub of an online right-wing media machine, is capturing the attention of Generation Z. First imagined to be a physical academic location, the organization came to fruition in the form of five-minute YouTube videos. In 2019, the company reported over one billion views of their content.
Prager’s success emphasizes Gen Z’er’s reliance on the internet and the great impact of media on their cohort. The generation has been found to rely less on their parents and more on what can be discovered in the confines of cyberspace.
But is it possible that Generation Z is crying out for something different than a blog post or YouTube video?
What is Generation Z searching for?
Kevin Boyd, Lead Pastor at Legacy Church, identifies a shift from the assumed moralism of previous generations, when children were more naïve to the bioethical complexities of their era, to a greater exposure to sexuality, life, and politics through various media platforms. His approach includes families engaging their children with conversations: “We must come into the stream of information they are already taking in and become the closest and most caring voice in complicated issues . . . . We have to get better at engaging and embracing the messy conversations, and not avoid them.”
In other words, maybe we are called to reach beyond the internet. Maybe we are called to true, intentional encounters and quality time with a generation who so often hides behind electronic devices. This self-reliant age group is crying out for authentic, compassionate guidance. They are seeking real relationships and genuine leadership.
To lead future generations toward rediscovering—or perhaps discovering for the first time—a passion for and reverence toward life, it is critical that we turn our attention toward truthful guidance, relational leading, and honest introspection of the way we live our lives, ensuring we are guiding the nation’s youth by acting on what we believe.
Cristie Penn, author of Keys of Truth: Unlocking God’s Design for the Sexes, said it best: “The next generation can only understand the sanctity of life by knowing the one who gives life, the Lord God Almighty.”
Michael Carlson, Lead Pastor at Park Church in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, agrees: “Give them Jesus and give them yourselves. . . . The most effective way to reach Generation Z is to relentlessly focus on Jesus. There are so many other questions, issues, problems, [and] approaches that could be focused on. And yet, ultimately, it will be the grace and truth of Jesus himself that compels people (including Generation Z) to follow him.”
To give Jesus to Generation Z, we must give ourselves.
How can we model the sanctity of life?
Born in 1990, I am not far behind Generation Z. In fact, I turn thirty this year!
I can understand and empathize with many of Gen Z’s attributes. I grew up on the brinks of the cyberspace age. In high school, I owned a smartphone the size of a brick, but I could send emails, type messages, snap photos, and search the internet.
Today, in motherhood, I find myself looking up self-help articles, taking online courses, absorbing all of the podcasts, and reading endless parenting blogs. I am guilty of looking to the internet for answers.
But I am learning the gift of relational guidance and leadership. I am learning the value of sitting with grandmothers and great-grandmothers and listening to their experiences, their wins, their failures.
There is something holy about the sharing of life experiences between two individuals. It seems as if God is present. He is sitting there staring at me through the eyes of another woman who has been in my shoes. His wisdom is poured out through genuine stories and experiences, offered through love and friendship.
The internet can never grant us what true relationships can give. The internet does not have Jesus; it does not bear his image; it is not inhabited by the Holy Spirit. People are—mothers, fathers, grandparents, educators, pastors, ministers, politicians, mentors, leaders, and friends.
Through people—through us—we can change the course of Generation Z.
‘Compassionate modeling is contagious’
I value the wealth of information available on the internet. I am grateful for the endless material obtainable at my fingertips. At a moment’s notice, I can learn how to do the Heimlich Maneuver on my infants. When I am worried about a runny nose, I can search for what symptoms might indicate RSV in a baby. When I am at my wit’s end, I can find articles on how to navigate drama with my toddler.
But a part of me longs to speak directly with someone certified in the Heimlich Maneuver so I can make certain I am doing it the right way. Part of me is drawn toward the phone, hoping to speak to an after-hours nurse to affirm I am searching for the right symptoms, begging to receive confirmation that my little girl will be just fine. What I really want is to talk to another parent who has been in my shoes, who has navigated the toddler years, and who can provide me with what worked best for them.
And when I am too weary to carry on, a big part of me wants to pick up the phone and call my mom. I want to hear her voice and the encouragement she is sure to provide.
I firmly believe that if the individuals who comprise Generation Z are honest with themselves, they too crave such interaction.
They look to the internet for answers, but their souls are unsatisfied with the void created by a lack of human interaction. Relational leading seems to be the point at which each of my interviewees’ answers converged. Authentic, personal relationships are where we can find and spark change.
Dr. Nick Pitts, fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement, said, “I think you have to show as much as tell. You have to use your words, expressing the value and dignity of every life—explicitly through teaching but also implicitly through your actions. . . . Such compassionate modeling is contagious.”
It is through relational teaching that we can meet Generation Z where they are and lead them into the arms of Christ. By listening, collaborating, teaching, questioning, and encouraging the generation to look outside of themselves, toward a power and purpose much larger than themselves, we can impact the core of Generation Z’s needs: to be seen, to be understood, and to trust someone (other than the internet).
Today, let us rejoice in life.
Today, let us sit humbly at the feet of Christ, living to glorify him, raising children who seek to serve him.
May we educate and nurture a generation who knows and appreciates the value of life and respects the sacredness of it in action and principle.
And may we impact the culture by equipping the generation coming of age.
About the author: Claire Avidon is a wife, mother and friend who seeks to enjoy the richness of life to the absolute fullest. As a mother of three under three, Claire strives to be still and absorb the sweet moments of parenting littles. Her husband (Michael) and children Asher (2), Liam (3 months) and Harper (3 months) reside at Possum Kingdom Lake.
“My heart is for writing. I am delighted in the sharing of stories and experiences with others, in hopes that my offerings grant another comfort, encouragement, and wisdom. I strive to author with a focus on intellect, through the lessons I learned during my pursuit of a master’s in leadership at Dallas Baptist University, and relational sharing.”