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Boosters, Boomers, And Busters
October 6, 1996

MATTHEW 21:23-32

We used to think the world began at our borders. Jesus told us, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel." John Wesley said, "The world is my parish." Today is World Communion Sunday. Not long ago, we thought the world was somewhere beyond our borders. And, when we left the borders of the United States, we encountered cultures, customs, values, life styles, philosophies different from our own.

But, now we realize we don't have to cross borders to encounter differing cultures, values, and life styles; they are right here in our community, in our families, and sometimes under our roofs. And, I'm not necessarily talking about Hmongs or Hispanics. I'm talking about the different cultures we encounter among the generations. Some of you may have found it difficult to communicate with your children or your parents, and have said, "They belong to another generation. They live in a different world!" Yes, they do, and the church has had difficulty ministering to all the different worlds.

Actually, it's not a new problem. In the lesson read today, the chief priests and elders could not understand or accept either John the Baptist or Jesus. They were not talking the same language. They were not sharing common values. The common people, the ordinary people, the people who were at the bottom of the ladder, accepted, admired and to a degree, followed Jesus.

In our day, the United Methodist Church also has difficulty relating to the worlds of differing values and life styles. Sociologists have given names to the generation gaps that exist today. Sociologists feel that World War II changed the world drastically for those born after the war. The Vietnam War again changed the world drastically for those born during that war. The technological revolution then changed the world even more, and the United Methodist Church in particular has difficulty relating to the changes. The United Methodist Church does a good job with those who were born before 1946, but most congregations are markedly missing those born later.

Sociologists have named the generations Booster, Boomer, Buster, and Millennial Kids or MKs. How many of you are boosters--born before 1946? Boomers--born between 1946 and 1964? Busters-- born between 1965 and 1983? Millenial Kids-- born after 1983? Our congregation is very healthy, compared to many United Methodist congregations, because we have all four groups represented. We are doing a good job. However, we do have a disproportion of boosters compared with boomers and busters. One reason is because we have not seriously understood or recognized that there are generational gaps, and that the world to whom Jesus calls us to preach the gospel includes boomers, busters, and MKs.

Let's look at a few generalizations about each group, realizing these are generalizations and may not always apply to everyone. Boosters (born before 1946) are heavily influenced by the Great Depression. They believe in hard work and saving for a rainy day. They have a hard time understanding boomers and busters, and have a difficult time giving up authority to the younger people, especially in church.

I witnessed a classic example of how this works while on vacation this summer. We needed an oil change, and stopped at a garage in a small town in Kansas. When I paid the bill, I gave my credit card to the clerk who was a booster of my age or even a little older. He apologized for the time he was taking to process my card, He said, "They put in this new system." It took him longer to process my card than it did to change the oil! Standing at his side, was a high school student, probably working in the garage for the summer, who, I'm sure, knew how the new system worked.

Do you get the picture? Do you think the old fogy would ask the kid how to do it? The kid offered suggestions, they were ignored. Every now and then, the young man couldn't contain himself and he would reach around the old guy and push a key, but the old man ignored him. Finally, the old geezer telephoned MasterCard and waited until he reached a real live person who talked him through the process, with the kid standing there! Why is it so difficult for us boosters to let the younger generation do it? I admit I don't readily grasp technology. I can't even program the VCR! My wife can! Our three-year-old granddaughter not only can operate the VCR, she plays learning games on the computer! And, haven't you asked an 8-year-old to open the child-proof prescription bottle because you can't do it!!

I hope I am not like that old fellow, but will readily turn responsibility over to whomever has the skill, ability and motivation. I hope I am able to realize when something we do in the church doesn't work anymore. Just because something works with boosters doesn't mean it works with boomers and busters. But, there are many churches dying because they think the ministry is only for boosters. In dying churches, younger people are welcome as long as they act like boosters, talk like boosters, and do what boosters let them do.

I don't know why I'm preaching this to you, because our congregation has learned this. Praise God, boomers and busters are welcome here. The boosters in our church do not dominate. We place a high priority on children and youth. We've purchased a van for older adults and youth. The world begins at the sidewalks where the CATCH signs invite neighborhood children. Our guest evangelist last Sunday praised our congregation. He said never has he seen older adults respond to the invitation and come forward in the numbers you did. Therefore, let's keep reminding each other that Jesus calls us to reach the world, and the world includes boomers and busters.

Boomers ( those born between 1946 and 1965) are now turning 50! Jody and Pastor Billy Buntz are boomers who turned 50! I imagine it was quite a shock, especially for those boomers who just a few years ago said, "Never trust anyone over 50!" Boomers are a little impatient with boosters because of the problems they inherited. Characteristically, boomers turned inward and became the "me" generation. They have always had TV in their lives and most had computers in their classrooms. They put off marrying and having children because they wanted to enjoy life first.

Busters (those born between 1966 and 1983) live in a world far different from the older generations-- a world of violence, intense competition for jobs, catastrophic greed especially on the corporate level, and an uncertain future. Busters are the first generation in history defined by divorce, day care, debt and diversity.

This is the world in which we live, a world of differing cultures, values and lifestyles. This is the world for which Jesus died. This is the world Jesus told us to reach. I have two challenges:

1) Make some friends who are of a different generation from yours. Busters, make a booster friend. Boosters, make a boomer friend. Don't relate only to people like you. Stretch, spread out, learn to respect and appreciate a person from another world.

2) The church must learn how to reach boomers and busters or the church will die. How we have always done it no longer works. We must be open to new methods, new styles. Don't be stuck in tradition. Free the gospel from the constraints of booster culture, so that everyone may see Jesus. Free Jesus from booster trappings. Jesus will overcome all generation gaps. Jesus will unite us in his love. Jesus promised, "When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself."

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris