by Harry Banks, July 2, 2015: The other day a staff person from the Finance Department came charging down to my office and sternly announced, “You’re changing lives!”
Teaching technology on a small 2,000 student, two-year college campus has given me an unusual opportunity as an older-generation person to engage directly with teens and young adults. I love “my kids.” The subject I teach requires that they take fall, spring, fall, spring classes with me for two years. The maximum class size is about 16. Bottom line: we get really well acquainted by the end of two years.
My students say things like, “We know Dr. Banks cares about us.” I’m not always sure just what they have in mind when they say that. I do care about them, though, and I’m glad that comes through.
Coming from a generation that only had computer technology available later in life, I’ve had to do a little hustle to gain competencies that earn their respect. It helps that I spent 17 years in a local government Information Technology department, but I still have to actively take on new technologies. A couple semesters ago I had an expert instructor teach a security class and I took the class with my students. I really had to work hard but it seemed to gain me some credibility with my students.
I try to encourage what I call “a proper level of insubordination.” That way I know what they are thinking. They feel free to express their opinion, free to tease me, to challenge me, and on some occasions, to correct me if I misstate a fact. That dynamic allows us to mutually engage in an educational endeavor.
I have come up with what I call “conspiracies of success.” For example, if the whole class does 80% or better on a chapter exam, I treat the class to pizza.
We work hard, have a ton of fun, and students frequently gain employment even before they graduate.
So who cares? . . . Why bother to tell you all that? . . .
Well, I have a certain sadness when I read some of the reports about engaging young adults in congregational life. How do they know we care? Are they free to test? To try? To innovate? Are we their friend? Can they trust us? Can they respect us (not because we demand it but because we have enough integrity to earn their respect)?
One of the things that has been jumping out at me over this past year is that so many of our articles are “about” young people and not “with” young people. How come we are not engaging in conversations with them? Where is our collaborative conversation? How do we make it safe for them to suggest, to dream, to initiate?
An image which I have found helpful in thinking about generations is the idea of each generation needing to build its own spiritual campfire. We may supply a spark or two… but in the end they have to find their own kindling, their own fuel to warm their life.
Some questions I wonder about which I pose because I think they may be useful areas of study as we move forward in engaging the future: Where do values come from? How is faith developed? Do we understand the physical and cognitive developmental stages our young people are going through? Do they know we care? (Oh, did I mention that before?) Do they know we trust God enough to trust them?
The other day I picked up a book titled A Religion of One’s Own. It made me wonder, do we know enough about a broad spiritual landscape to be able to provide a contextual map to young people who need to be building their own faith?
I once heard Bernard Ramm, a well-known Southern Baptist theologian, make a self-deprecating reference to Southern Baptists. He said some of them were so narrow-minded that they could see through a keyhole with both eyes. (Of course, you had to be familiar with old-fashioned doors that had a hole for the key that went clear through the door so the key could be put in from both sides. The hole was about ¼” wide and about ¾” high.)
As part of my responsibilities in Information Technology I have supported GIS (Geographic Information Systems). These days we just go on line and fire up Google Maps and can get our bearings anywhere in the world. There is no narrow keyhole perspective in that global frame of reference. How do we hold ourselves accountable for developing a comprehensive spiritual map for our own reference and to facilitate others in their exploration of faith?
Which kind of brings me to asking, have we taken responsibility for building our own faith, so that we can actually encourage lively spiritual designs in the spiritual architecture of the future generation?
A well-known Adventist writer talks about “experimental” faith. How do we inspire the young people we have opportunity to engage with to experiment with their faith? How do we make it an adventure for them? With them?
Sometimes when I get a bit discouraged about the parts of the church I have no control over… I think about research someone quoted to me several years ago. I never tried to verify the source of the fact, but I seem to have collected some anecdotal evidence that it might be true.
One exemplary adult in a congregation can make all the difference in the world for a young person. So for me the challenge is… to be that person.