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In Their Own Language

To communicate God’s love effectively, it’s vital to know the language of the generation we are striving to reach. What questions do they need answered?

In June, we celebrate Pentecost, a day when we remember the public launch of the church. The church began in a way that signaled that all people were invited into the fellowship of believers.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. (Acts 2:1-6)

For the people who observed this miraculous event, they heard the good news in their own mother tongue, which sent the clear message that they were seen, valued, and included in this new thing that was happening. If only one language was spoken that day, the message would have been that Pentecost was only for certain people and not for everyone — not for those who did not speak the language.

Different generations speak different languages. I am not talking about languages like Mandarin, Haitian Creole, or Diné bizaad (Navaho). I am talking about the languages particular to the culture of the different generations. There is a significant body of work on what is called generational theory — the study of the characteristics, culture, and motivations of the various generations. For adults concerned with the discipleship of young people, it is imperative we pay attention to generational theory. If we are not aware of our own “cultural language,” we risk speaking to our children and youth in a way that they cannot understand.

Author and scholar James Choung provides insight on how generational theory can be used to inform Christian evangelistic efforts. For each of the four dominant generations, Choung articulates a core spiritual question. In other words, Choung explains the cultural language each generation speaks. The following table is based on the research Choung presented during a podcast interview for the National Association of Evangelicals (https://www.nae.org/choungpodcast/).

Boomers 1946-1964 What is true? Apologetics; evidence
Gen X 1965-1980 What is real? Authentic, vulnerable testimonies
Millennials 1981-1996 What is good? Relevance of the gospel; mission
Gen Z or iGen 1997-2015(ish) What is beautiful? Justice; how God is making everything new

All of these questions are important to all people, but Choung’s work shows us the question we should try to answer first for each generation. With regard to young people, iGens value artistic expression and excellence. If Millennials are the “doers,” iGens seek to be the experts. They live in pursuit of the ideal, and they look for beauty even in the mundane. To iGens, a beautiful society is a just society, so issues of equity and fairness are important to them. When trying to communicate the gospel to iGens, we should focus on Christ and how he is making all things new. We should emphasize how Jesus is the end of all injustice, suffering, and despair, and he will one day usher in his eternal kingdom. iGens often carry a lot of trauma, causing them to be risk averse. We should introduce them to a God who has everything under control and whose plan to redeem all things cannot be stopped. We should also provide spaces for them to creatively respond to what they hear in ways that fit their culture.

As we celebrate Pentecost, let us be reminded of the importance of language. Let the presence of the Holy Spirit in us empower us to speak a language our young people can understand.

Dishon Mills, US Generations Ministry Coordinator

One thought on “In Their Own Language”

  1. Dishon,

    Thanks much for sharing Choung’s generational study. It can serve serve as a valuable guideline when properly contextualized.


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