More and more frequently, younger people who are visiting our churches come with a different set of values that we may be ignoring. I am talking about those identified as belonging to Generation Z. This group is labeled as those who were born after 1995 James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2017, 38.and that now make up 40 percent of all consumers. Ibid., 37. The main thing that distinguishes this generation from those previous is the fact that they grew up with a supercomputer in their pocket.David Pakman, “May I Have Your Attention, Please?,” Medium, last modified August 14, 2015, accessed April 16, 2020, https://pakman.com/may-i-have-your-attention-please-19ef6395b2c3. And Generation Z is influencing up. Koulopoulos and Keldsen note in their book: The Gen Z Effect, “the Gen Z Effect compresses and eliminates many of the generational boundaries that have separated us for so long.”Tom Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen, Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business, 1 edition. (Brookline, MA: Routledge, 2016), 1–2. The world is shifting and we as communicators must be aware.
One of the main values of Generation Z that I believe is becoming more important for preaching is sincerity. With the rise of global connectivity and instant access to information, people have become suspicious of authority in general. Everyone loves to fact check people on the spot—“Many children born into Gen Z have an annoying habit of constantly fact-checking their parents during conversations.” Ibid., 53. The problem with having so much information at hand is that now Gen Z doesn’t know who to trust—“They seek real relationships, and they seek transparency.” Sean McDowell, So the Next Generation Will Know (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook – TBG, 2019), 58. This makes the task for a communicator difficult. How can we engage our congregations who are being exposed more than ever to contrary worldviews and messages online? What changes do we need to make to this new generation of whom over half of them are spending four or more hours per day on a screen? Barna Group, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation, 1st edition. (USA: Barna Group, 2018), 14.
In order to convince people by means of our logos and pathos, it will become even more necessary to convince our congregants by means of a sincere ethos. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:17, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” Here Paul highlights the need to be sincere as we preach. The necessity for sincerity was apparently a need for the teachers at Corinth as well. In a context that was full of pagan religion, introducing a new way of living was quite the task. Yet Paul sees sincerity as the way forward. The Greek word is εἰλικρίνεια and is defined as “the quality of sincerity as an expression of pure or unadulterated motives.” Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 746). New York: United Bible Societies. Motives can be a tricky thing—are they ever fully pure? Anyone who has preached knows the temptation of ambition, public praise and the approval of others. There are times when we are so flooded by our own insecurities that it is hard to keep our main purpose in mind—that the message we declare has been entrusted to us by God and has power to raise dead souls. Yet in the midst of our insecurities, do our hearts ache for those who are lost? Can we say with Paul: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” (Rom 9:3)?
This word sincerity appeared in the previous chapter as well in 1:12, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.” Sincerity is needed not only in our preaching motives but also in our behavior. It validates our message. Yes, we live with moral integrity. But I also think this building sincerity is something we should be intentional about.
How do you build sincerity with a congregation? I would suggest considering some of the following practices.
- Emphasize relationships as the key to ministry. Someone once told me that in ministry one should never eat alone. That time is too valuable. Get time with your people and their reception of what you say will change because they will develop trust in who you are.
- Share personal stories. Be intentional about sharing personal stories while being cautious of making yourself the hero of those stories. People connect with vulnerability. While there are boundaries of what is appropriate to share, by opening your life to others from up-front it personalizes you as the speaker and builds trust as people find places they can relate and connect.
- Pray consistently. It is difficult to be apathetic and insincere about something or someone you pray for consistently.
- Stay put. Plant yourself, focus on your people, and you will outlast bad culture and unhelpful critics. The sincerest posture you can have towards people is simply to be a consistent presence in their lives over a long period of time.
There are many other ways that can be mentioned, but, hopefully, these are practical and helpful ones to consider. Let us, then, consider the sincerity of our hearts and motives. May we fight through our insecurities and fix our eyes on the mission of God. And may we live our lives with such sincerity that they disarm a skeptical world.
John MacTaggart is Student Pastor at Austin Ridge Bible Church in Lewisville, Texas, and a PhD student in Preaching at Southwestern.
|↑1||James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2017, 38.|
|↑3||David Pakman, “May I Have Your Attention, Please?,” Medium, last modified August 14, 2015, accessed April 16, 2020, https://pakman.com/may-i-have-your-attention-please-19ef6395b2c3.|
|↑4||Tom Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen, Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business, 1 edition. (Brookline, MA: Routledge, 2016), 1–2.|
|↑6||Sean McDowell, So the Next Generation Will Know (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook – TBG, 2019), 58.|
|↑7||Barna Group, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation, 1st edition. (USA: Barna Group, 2018), 14.|
|↑8||Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 746). New York: United Bible Societies.|