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(Re)vision leadership -part 2


The Importance of Worldview


As it relates to orthodox Christian beliefs, Barna states, “The percentage of people whose beliefs qualify them for a biblical worldview declines in each successively younger generation: 10 percent of Boomers, 7 percent of Gen X and 6 percent of Millennials have a biblical worldview, compared to only 4 percent of Gen Z.”[1] Generally speaking, worldview is defined as “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.”[2] The related German term is weltanschauung “(from welt ‘world’ …+ anschauung ‘perception’),”[3] which directly implies that one’s perception of the world determines how one interacts with others. It is therefore understandable that, when studied, “adults with a biblical worldview possessed radically different views on morality, held divergent religious beliefs, and demonstrated vastly different lifestyle choices.”[4]


One reason for the declining adherence to a biblical worldview is the rising emphasis on choice. Millennials, particularly the “Older Millennials,”[5] are now raising Gen Z. It is spiritually significant that among Millennials, researchers have documented the “rise of the nones,”[6] a growing segment of the demographic that claims no religious affiliations. Christel Manning, professor of religious studies at Sacred Heart University, ties the nones’ parenting style and their tendency to question everything to their view of choice, particularly “narrative choice.”[7] Manning sees this emphasis on narrative choice as being rooted in individualism and the general “commodification of American life.”[8] The resulting “choice first” worldview (my term) molds Gen Z’s open-mindedness toward others and frames both their spiritual culture and one of its dominant themes: the shift of moral authority from the Bible to the individual. Recent statistics document the shift:


One-quarter of Gen Z (24%) strongly agrees that what is morally right and wrong changes over time based on society. There is a wide generational divide on this point: Twice as many Gen Z than Boomers (12%) believe this. The centrality of the self as moral arbiter is also higher among the younger generations—21 percent of Gen Z and 23 percent of Millennials believe each individual is his or her own moral authority—though Gen X (18%) and Boomers (17%) aren’t too far behind on this one.[9]

Gen Z continues the generational shift away from a traditional biblical worldview. Not surprisingly, their engagement with the Bible is infrequent (on the high end) to nearly nonexistent (at the low end). Only “one in four teens say they read the Bible at least once a week (25%); this includes 3% who report daily Bible reading, 11% who report reading Scripture several times per week and 11% who read it once a week. One in 10 read the Bible once a month (9%), and an additional 1 in 10 report reading the Bible three or four times a year (10%).”[10]


While Gen Z poses unique challenges for church leaders, the opportunity to engage them remains. Barna found that many in Gen Z see church as “a place to find answers to live a meaningful life” (82 percent),[11] with a similar number reporting, “The church is relevant to my life.”[12] Seventy-seven percent told Barna, “I can ‘be myself’ in church,”[13] and 63 percent reported that churchgoers “are tolerant of those with different beliefs.”[14]


Both in life generally and spiritual culture particularly, the lens of choice is foundational rather than optional for Gen Z. Much like their Millennial parents, whose distrust of institutions underlies a tendency to question everything,[15] Gen Z’s spiritual choice may be connected to their increased levels of doubt concerning the existence of God. Among nonengaged, churchgoing members of Gen Z, 32 percent told Barna that “the church is not a safe place to express doubts.”[16]

Going forward, it behooves church leaders to learn ways of communicating with Gen Z in a language that both speaks to their current worldview and reorients them to a biblical perspective. For the church leader, I see this as the work of theology. Therefore, in order to be effective, pastors and all church leaders must keep spiritual transformation—the “ongoing process of moving from a self-centered worldview and self-serving functioning to a God-centered perspective and devotion to serving God’s purpose”[21]—at the forefront of ministry function. To accomplish this task and be effective, leaders can no longer set aside the work of theology or view it as being irrelevant or impractical. Instead, theologically centered leadership must anchor all ministry.



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Footnotes [1] Barna Group, Gen Z, 25. A biblical worldview, as defined by Barna, includes such traits as “a personal commitment to Jesus that is still important in their life today … believes they will go to heaven when they die … strongly agrees the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings … believes God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today.” Ibid., 113. [2] Lexico, s.v. “worldview,” accessed June 30, 2020, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/worldview. [3] Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “weltanschauung,” accessed August 25, 2020, https://www.etymonline.com/word/weltanschauung. [4] “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person’s Life,” Barna, Barna Group, December 3, 2003, https://www.barna.com/research/a-biblical-worldview-has-a-radical-effect-on-a-persons-life/. [5] “18–29 Year Olds Who Are Unaffiliated (Religious ‘Nones’),” Pew Research Center, accessed August 3, 2020, https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-tradition/unaffiliated-religious-nones/age-distribution/18-29/. Some researchers, including Pew, split the Millennial generation into two groups: “Older” and “Younger.” [6] “Nones on the Rise,” Pew Research Center, accessed August 3, 2020, https://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/#_ftn4. Pew may have popularized the term for the trend, but Mark Silk and Patricia O’Connell Killen labeled the Pacific Northwest “The None Zone” in 2004. They contend that the region’s topography, “open religious environment,” and “geographic mobility” overshadow the need for local community. Mark Silk and Patricia O’Connell Killen, Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2004), 10–11. Silk and Killen claim that these factors, coupled with a lack of dominant religious structures, produce a lack of religious affiliation. [7] Ibid., 139–140. [8] Ibid., 144. [9] “Gen Z and Morality: What Teens Believe (So Far),” Barna, Barna Group, October 9, 2018, accessed July 4, 2020, https://www.barna.com/research/gen-z-morality/. [10] American Bible Society and Barna Group, State of the Bible 2016: Teens (Philadelphia: American Bible Society, 2016), 14, https://www.americanbible.org/uploads/content/Teens_State_of_the_Bible_2016_Report.pdf. [11] Barna Group, Gen Z, 71. [12] Ibid. [13] Ibid. [14] Ibid. [15] Chris Cillizza, “Millennials Don’t Trust Anyone. That’s a Big Deal,” Washington Post, April 30, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/04/30/millennials-dont-trust-anyone-what-else-is-new/. [16] Barna Group, Gen Z, 61. [17] Barna Group, Gen Z, 71. [18] Ibid. [19] Ibid. [20] Ibid. [21] Timothy C. Geoffrion, The Spirit-Led Leader: Nine Leadership Practices and Soul Principles (Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2005), introduction. Kindle.