Chapter 1: The Minds of the Bridgers

Highlights

We're supposed to be stressed-out, pessimistic, lonely, and frustrated. At least that's what the media tells us. Actually, I'm basically a happy guy, and I think most of my friends are too. I sure hope my generation doesn't buy into everything we're told.

Todd,

a seventeen-year-old bridger from Mississippi

In the next chapter you will read some gloomy statistics about the bridgers and their families. The breakdown of the family is no doubt a major concern for the second largest generation in America's history. Yet recent studies show that the bridgers are not nearly as pessimistic about themselves as older generations are about them.

In a study of older bridgers, the research found some encouraging self-portraits among the 723 bridgers interviewed:

Still other data indicate, however, that when pressed about specific issues, the bridgers are not as optimistic as the brief descriptive surveys indicate. Indeed, the bridgers are a generation of paradox. On the surface, they will tell you that life is fine and that their future is bright. But dig a little deeper and they will confess some deep concerns.

What is on the minds of the bridgers? What are their attitudes and outlooks? In this chapter we will attempt to hear this generation describe their feelings and perspectives. Their concerns of today will profoundly impact the nation they will lead in the twenty-first century.

What Is on Their Minds?

When we look at the major fears of the bridgers in chapter 7, we will see some of the expected topics: AIDS, crime, drugs, environmental problems, and the like. Interestingly, however, the number one issue on the minds of the bridgers is none of the above, but perhaps a surprising revelation: a good education. We will examine that issue first, followed by other attitudinal profiles of the generation.

Reading, Writing, and a Whole Lot More!

Perhaps because virtually all of the bridgers are in school now, their education is the number one topic on their minds. Yet their concern for education is more than a reflection of the life phase through which they are passing. Indeed, the boomers were far less concerned about education when they were students. As we saw in the last chapter, bridger college freshmen take more seriously their academic ability, mathematical ability, and a desire for graduate education than the boomer freshmen did nearly thirty years ago.

Interestingly, it is the boomer parents of the bridgers who are at least somewhat responsible for the children's attitude about education. The boomers thought they could solve the world's problems just by their presence and demographic power. One boomer describes his journey from idealism to realism: "It wasn't until the 1980's that the Me Generation realized what it had been missing: a We Generation. We had spent so long defining ourselves as not our parents, trying on hairstyles and ideologies, being angry at them, that we had no identity of our own. Having children changed all that. Finally there was another generation, one that could be identified as not us. . . . They took our measure, and we were, as parents always are, found wanting. Our high divorce rate, our drug excesses, our preoccupation with material goods . . . we had all the fun, they got the hangover: the buster families, the shopping malls, the AIDS virus."

The boomers realized that their excesses had not produced the Utopia they initially believed was possible. Then they had children. Since their previous ways had failed, the new parents turned to the old-fashioned basics of success and achievement. They desired that their bridger children get the best education possible. Numerous researchers have discovered that boomer parents are often more concerned about their kids' school achievement than any other area of their lives.

Bridgers are being judged today by their classroom achievements more than any other measure. So when asked what is on their mind, the largest number of bridgers responded that they desire good grades and acceptance into a good college. Such concerns were expressed by bridgers in all parts of this nation and in all socioeconomic groups.

It is little wonder that bridgers who make "As" are more excited, trusting, and optimistic than "C" students, while the lower academic-performing bridgers are more stressed out, lonely, and discouraged. Education preoccupies the minds of the bridgers. Such an orientation will have significant implications for our nation in the twenty-first century.

While the bridgers have education on their mind, they are less inclined to do something about it. Over three-fourths of U.S. high school seniors spend fewer than five hours a week on homework. By comparison, only 35 percent of their Japanese peers spend so little time on homework.

A cursory glance at the state of American education reveals a disturbing predicament for the bridgers.

The tension is obvious. The bridgers have education as the foremost issue on their mind, but the system is failing them, and they are failing the system. The generation is yielding to the temptation to spend inordinate amounts of time in other pursuits—particularly television viewing—when they could be meeting their heartfelt desire to learn.

But the system is failing as well. Some blame lack of parental involvement (some boomer parents are still in a continuous mode of self-centeredness); others blame lack of discipline; and yet some point to inadequate funding and lack of local control in schools. The reasons for the problems with the educational system may not be clearly identified, but the results are. We are producing a generation that has learned less than any generation in this century. The greater tragedy is that the bridgers seem truly desirous of education, but what we are offering them is mediocre at best and irrelevant at worst.

Stressed-out Minds

Despite Todd's rosy scenario of the stress-free bridgers at the beginning of this chapter, his generation may be the generation that has experienced the most stress in our nation's history. Once you start asking probing questions about their state of mind, you quickly learn that their lives are tense and intense.

I learned this message in one of my own son's lives recently. I like to believe that my three bridger sons have a fairly good life: good school, economic security, intact family, Christian values, etc. I never really thought that any of my boys would be stressed.

But I learned differently. Since I travel frequently, I like to take my wife and/or my three boys with me on some of my trips. On one particular journey, I took Art (born 1982) with me to Alabama where I was speaking at a Christian retreat. The flight from Louisville to Birmingham was uneventful, and the retreat center offered little for Art except sleeping, hiking, and shooting basketball.

Fearful that he would tell me that the trip was one of the most boring events of his life, I did not inquire of him as we left the retreat. But as we were leaving, Art volunteered: "Dad, you know I had a good time just doing nothing. For three days, I didn't have to worry about being in a hundred different places to do a hundred different things."

Art was telling me that he was simply stressed because of his schedule. Christian leaders are recognizing that even Christian youth are too busy. Richard Ross has been a youth minister for more than two decades. Early in his ministry he rarely talked with teenagers about an upcoming event more than two weeks in advance. "If I did, they would just shrug their shoulders," Ross explained. "But today, even when I talk about trips and events months in advance, a lot of the older youth start pulling out their planning notebooks or calendars to make sure they don't already have something planned.

While adolescence has always been a time of surging hormones and growing independence, the bridgers have a plethora of other issues with which to deal. We seem to be expecting this young generation to skip childhood and youth and barge right into the responsibilities of adulthood.

Many of today's youth have home responsibilities that were not thrust upon previous generations until after high school. They are expected to take charge of the household while Mom and Dad are busy earning a living with multiple jobs and pursuing their own desires. It is no surprise that some have dubbed these young people "the latchkey generation." Never have so many expectations been placed on such a young group. Barna states the situation of the bridgers well: "They have not had the requisite time to explore the mysteries and snares of the world without external expectations. They have not had the opportunity to plumb the depths of their characters, to figure out who they really are, or to learn more about what is really important to them. They have been robbed of the incubation period necessary to allow their minds, bodies, and spirits to develop more fully and get in synch before dealing with the enormously complex realities of life in a civilized society at the close of the twentieth century."

The stress that the bridgers feel is related to a myriad of other factors, most of which we will explore later in this book. For now, let's look at some of the factors that add stress to their lives:

So what is on the minds of bridgers? Stress and a lot of it. At the end of this chapter we will look at some of the challenges this presents to the church.

Independence vs Dependence

A major shaping attitude of the bridgers is the issue of independence versus dependence. From the time a child learns to walk, he or she is always pushing his or her parents for more independence. With past generations (perhaps the boomers excluded), parents have granted increasing independence gradually and incrementally. Though children have outwardly cried out for greater freedom, inwardly they desire boundaries, standards, and even rules. The majority of the bridgers have known none of these.

Mike is a fourteen-year-old from Georgia. His peers envy him because his parents treat him as an adult. "They tell me that I can make my own decisions and live with them. They don't set a time when I have to be home at night. And I don't have my driver's license, so I hang out with kids a lot older than me."

The other teenage bridgers in the focus group are shaking their heads. One boy expresses the sentiments of some of the others: "Man, you're lucky. My parents are always on my case. 'Be home by ten!' they tell me. I wish I had your parents."

The group is quiet for a moment. With uncertainty Mike speaks softly. "You guys don't understand. I really want my parents to give me some rules. Sometimes I wonder if they really care about me at all."

Because adulthood has been forced upon the bridgers prematurely, they are far more independent than previous generations in several areas. For example, the latchkey generation appears better equipped to care for themselves and their siblings, but this same generation is less communicative. This greater independence "also fosters that aloofness and distancing that is a sign of stress [which] has become more common with children."

The bridgers' increased independence has meant that they have the freedom to acquire more information earlier through various media, particularly television. The free-flowing availability of information has certainly made them more savvy about the ways of the world, but it also has tended to make them more pessimistic and less idealistic.

Early indications tell us that the opening of the door to greater opportunities for independence may have negative consequences as the bridgers enter adulthood. The bridgers are more insecure about forming relationships or dealing with anyone outside the security of their own home. Arguably, factors other than early independence may have contributed to this attitude. But the most recent research indicates that missing out on childhood may have detrimental effects in adulthood.

Paradoxically, the generation that assumed household responsibilities at the earliest age may also be the generation that leaves that home at the latest age. Such was the trend for their predecessor generation, the busters, but the busters stayed at home longer primarily for economic reasons. The bridgers may remain at home even longer, but more for reasons of emotional insecurity than economic uncertainty.

A Very Serious Group of People!

Carefree childhoods are not the norm for the majority of the bridgers. While older generations had the opportunity to experience "the dreamy imagination [which] many think is a key to a satisfactory adulthood," the bridgers "face much more serious problems than the boomers did when they were children. AIDS, crime, violence, and divorce cast long shadows over their world. As the children of working parents, they often have to assume adult responsibilities at an early age."

Our data on the older bridgers indicate that they already are thinking about matters of seriousness more commonly identified with young adults in their mid and late twenties. They are focusing on the best way to get a better job, a better education, a better financial position, and better leadership skills. And remember, these are teenagers who are pondering such serious matters!

One does not have to speak with bridgers long to sense the deep and pensive attitudes of these young people. In one focus group in Georgia, the older bridgers spent approximately three-fourths of their conversation talking about matters that were once the domain of adulthood. I listened to thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds express fears about violence, the economy, and their families. And I heard them making plans for adulthood that I did not even consider until I entered college.

Some of the over-seriousness of the bridgers reflects the adult choices this group has made. But much of their solemnity stems from the expectations placed upon them by the adults in their worlds.

Parents want their children to adhere to a value system but give them no absolutes to which to turn. Schools are warned not to communicate values, and many churches also have failed to communicate a coherent value system. Today's adults cry in anguish because today's youth show little concern for matters of right and morality. But only a minority of the adults could point a bridger to a set of values and tell him or her where to find right and wrong.

Adults of today know that the rise of teenage pregnancies harms individuals and society at large. But why should we be surprised that kids are having kids? We allow the world of sex-without-boundaries to enter their minds through a barrage of media instruments. Indeed, the adults are the ones who are creating such messages.

We adults also are sending mixed messages on the matters of character and integrity. We tell the bridgers that character is important, but we no longer hold our nation's leadership accountable for character. We tell them that effective leadership is the key issue, regardless of character, as if the two can be separated.

Is it any wonder then that these young people born between 1977 and 1994 are perhaps the most serious children and adolescents in our nation's history? Childhood is to be a time of play and fun. Have we robbed our children of their laughter?

The Visual Generation

One way to know what is on the minds of the bridgers is to see what they are watching. More than any previous generation, theirs is characterized by the statement, "I saw, therefore I am." One demographer explains: "They can take in and sort through visual information to a remarkable degree. They appreciate the subtleties of media presentations—from a well-made special effect in a movie to an effective concept in a music video. They are comfortable with technology—really the first generation ever to be so. Don't underestimate the eventual impact of this characteristic."

In chapter 6 we will explore in-depth this "media generation." For now let us see how the visual world affects the minds and dispositions of the bridgers.

Visually Sophisticated. The bridgers "are able to take in information visually as never before, and they are adept at visual interrelationships of objects and images." If you are a buster, boomer, or a builder, I challenge you to a test case with a bridger. Rent a movie video and watch the movie together with a bridger. After the movie is over, immediately or days later, ask the bridger to name seven or eight points in the movie he or she liked best. The bridger likely will recall several elements of the movie that you missed in the first viewing. Bridgers simply are able to absorb more visual information than previous generations.

Captivated by the Tube. Why are the bridgers more adept than older generations at retaining visual information? The answer is simple: they received more training at a younger age. Look at the weekly television viewing times of bridgers:

Weekly Television Viewing for Bridgers

(Shown in hours: minutes per week)

Ages 12-17

Under Age 12

Total viewing time

21:50

23:01

Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. -10:00 a.m.

:52

2:07

Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

1:55

3:11

Monday-Friday, prime time

6:57

5:42

Saturday-Sunday, 7:00 a.m. -1:00 p.m.

:51

1:24

Sunday, 1:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.

1:23

1:13

Source: 1992-1993 Nielsen Report on Television

Surprisingly, bridgers are not the worst television junkies. Adult women spend nearly 40 percent more time at the television than teenage bridgers. And adult men spend almost 30 percent more time watching television than bridgers. The difference is that the bridgers' lives have been dominated by television since birth. They are the first generation to have thirty or more channels through which to surf. They are the first group of Americans to be able to watch twenty-four hours of news, sports, weather, or even cartoons with the push of a button.

To understand the bridgers well, we must understand the media which captivated them. That is why we will explore the topic in greater detail in a later chapter.

Shorter Attention Spans. The downside of visual acumen is a decreasing ability to focus on any one subject for a given length of time. Numerous studies have pointed to this phenomenon among the busters. But the bridgers' attention spans will be even shorter.

The media understand this characteristic of bridgers well. Indeed, we cannot be certain if the media created the situation or simply responded to it. Television shows move quickly from one scene to the next. Commercials interrupt the flow for even more manageable consumption.

Bored Silly. I am writing this chapter at a Christian retreat center where I am speaking. The retreat is lovely, and the "down time" has been good for my wife and me. We were glad to get off the fast track of life for a week.

Originally, we had planned to bring our three bridger sons with us, but their we-have-to-go-to-this-basketball-camp commitment interfered with their plans. So grandma is keeping the boys in Louisville.

When I called my boys from the retreat, one of them asked me what we had been doing. I responded that, outside of my speaking commitments, we had walked trails, read books, and, for me, written part of this book. That response was insufficient for him. "But what are you doing?" he asked again. I understood his question now. Reading, walking, and writing were not "doing" activities. My son implied that he was glad he had remained in Louisville.

The visual generation has from their births learned that they can be entertained. If they are not involved in some busy activity, they can turn on the television set and be entertained. Anything outside of busyness and watching television or movies is boring. The visual bridgers have not had many opportunities in their lives to do nothing, to relax, to read, or to reflect. They are either busy with an activity or they are watching television.

Read Less. Reading does not capture the attention of most bridgers. These young people may devote over twenty hours a week to television viewing, but they read on the average fewer than five hours per week. The implications for the church are staggering. How will Christians, a people whose lives are devoted to the written Word, reach a generation whose desire to read is less than any previous generation?

Slower Developmental Skills. While the bridgers as a generation can grasp visual images quickly, their verbal skills are weak. The visual generation has some strengths compared to previous eras, but those strengths have a downside to them. Not the least among these downside issues is that bridgers may mature more slowly in emotional, intellectual, and developmental skills.

Money on Their Minds

Bridgers have economic issues on their minds. Though they may not be well-informed about political candidates, if they know one thing about a candidate it is usually related to the economy. Is he or she a tax-and-spend liberal? Is the candidate a government-slashing conservative? How will this person affect my economic well-being if he or she is elected?

In chapter 5 we will examine in detail the economic issues which impact the bridgers. For now, let us see at least four reasons why this generation has money on their minds.

Reason #1: Materialistic Boomer Parents. The parents of bridgers are poor examples if materialistic preoccupation is considered a negative character trait. The generation that thought they could save the world in the sixties and early seventies became the generation that tried to own the world in the eighties. And the bridger children took note of their parents' priorities.

A key slogan of the 1980s was "You can have it all." The transformation of the boomers from idealists to materialists seemed complete when former hippie Jerry Rubin cut his hair and became a securities analyst. And though the stock market crash of 1987 may have tempered the boomers' zeal to have it all, they had already taught their bridger children a lesson: money is really what matters.

Reason #2: The Downsizing Environment. A Downsizing" has become a word of dread and fear for the bridgers. Though some question the validity of a downsizing crisis—sensing it to be more of a media creation than a new economic urgency—fear of job losses is very much a concern for many adults.

Many bridgers have parents or they know other adults who have been taken off the payrolls of companies in their communities. And if they do not have a close relationship with the casualties of downsizing, they have heard the media hype the issue. Whether or not their fears are justified, their angst is real. Bridgers are money-minded because they fear the money may soon be gone.

Reason #3: Family Deterioration. Single-parent families may be the configuration for a majority of the bridgers at some point in their youth. One demographer estimates that half of the bridgers will live with a single parent before they reach the age of eighteen.

The impact of single-parent families for bridgers is both emotional and financial. A strong correlation exists between single parenting and economic woes. In 1989, 55 percent of all children under six whose families had income below the poverty line were living with single mothers. As the number of bridgers living in one-parent homes increases, so do the concerns of these young persons about matters of money.

Reason #4: Their Own Materialistic Values. The materialistic values of the bridgers cannot be explained solely by greedy boomer parents. Indeed, the issue is much too complex to offer such a simplistic solution. Many bridgers also have been exposed to the ways of consumerism at an early age through the influences of the media, politicians, and a myriad of other forces.

For example, one study of younger bridgers, ages eight to twelve at the time of the study, found that they had $8 billion of their own money to spend annually. Virtually all of their money is discretionary, so the youngsters spent about $6 billion each year. By the time a bridger reaches age ten, he or she is making more than 250 visits to a store each year to make a purchase. The bridgers have more money than any generation in history, but, paradoxically, they have more money worries.

Skeptical Minds

The bridgers as a generation are not sure what to believe or whom to trust. Some researchers are already calling them the "uncommitted generation" and "the anti-institutional generation." Both labels are unfounded and premature.

If the bridgers appear anti-committal or if they seem to be anti-institutional, it is because they are dealing with mixed signals. They prefer to trust institutions and they are willing to make commitments, but they may not have found anything which they feel is worthy of commitment. Their skepticism is related to an overall public decline in expectations about the future.

A mistake many institutions made with the boomers and busters was to assume that their lack of willingness to commit was an attitude that could not be overcome. The church was foremost among those institutions with such a fatalistic perspective. "We can't expect them [boomers] to commit to anything in our church," one pastor lamented, "so we just take whatever they give us." This attitude is self-defeating and self-fulfilling.

We must not assume that the skeptical attitude of the bridgers is a terminal scenario. To the contrary, an anti-commitment attitude may be a thin veil covering a strong desire to find that person or institution worthy of their commitment. The church lost most boomers for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones was that the church assumed the boomers would not commit to the church's values. We must not make that same mistake with the bridgers.

Politically Confused

We probably never will classify the bridgers with any single political label. They are not (and probably will not be) Democrats or Republicans. They are not liberals, moderates, or conservatives. "There is no political pattern that fits with their system—that's why so few care about or participate in the political process."

The Perot phenomenon, first evident in the 1992 presidential election, may very well become a fixture as the bridgers reach voting age. Fewer and fewer young persons see their identity in a certain political party or ideology. Perhaps more than any other generation, the bridgers will call themselves "independent."

If any descriptive label fits the political reality of the bridgers, it might be "pragmatists." Their outlook focuses on "what works now." Their viewpoint is short-term. One straightforward sixteen-year-old bridger voiced her viewpoint: "If I were voting, I would vote for the candidate who could help me the most today. I'm so pessimistic about the future that I don't even worry about what will happen a few months from now, much less several years down the road."

Thoughts about God?

When we look in greater depth at the faith of the bridgers in chapter 9, we will discover a generation that very much has God on its minds. But perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the generation has some vague spirituality on its minds rather than the God of Scripture.

In a recent conversation with a group of bridgers ages twelve to sixteen, I was surprised to hear their understanding of God. Eric's conversation was somewhat representative of the view of this supposedly Christian group. "You know, to me God means the 'main guy.' And the 'main guy' means different things to different people. I got friends who find God in ways that are totally different from me. But ultimately it's the same—it's God." Even more surprising was the fact that this group was comprised mainly of young people from families with Christian identities.

For the older bridgers, the name of God can cover a variety of experiences and expressions. He may be the one and only God of Scripture, or he may be an undefined universal spirit. If teenage bridgers say that they believe in God, we have no idea what they mean today.

Exclusivism is a great offense spiritually to the majority of the bridgers. Thirteen-year-old Mary said it this way: "I get real angry at these Christians who tell me that Jesus is the only way to heaven. I mean, what kind of arrogance is that? Do they really believe all the rest of the world is going to hell?"

Again, other research confirms this anti-exclusivistic attitude among bridgers. "From a spiritual point of view, the all-roads-lead-to-heaven mindset is deeply ingrained. Half of all teenagers state unapologetically that is doesn't matter what faith you embrace since they all teach similar lessons."

Unlike the majority of previous generations, this seventy-two-million strong population group is not growing up in homes that even claim to be Christian. Parental influence to point these young people to the Savior is negligible at best.

But the bridgers do have some vague notion about God on their minds. The reason "God" is on their minds, however, is that all other avenues to fulfillment seem empty. Money may be on their minds, but it seems to be a matter of economic survival more than a desire for extravagant living. Achievement in the world may be a goal, but the bridgers tell us that, even if that goal is reached, it will bring only economic security, not deep, inner fulfillment. And as a generation, they have yet to see cause for hope in any institutional system, whether it be governmental, religious, educational, or economic.

The bridgers have "God" on their minds. The key question is: What kind of God will they find?

The Church Responds

At the end of each chapter of this book we will see possible ways the church can respond to the bridgers' scenario described within that chapter. Each section is brief, with the intention of the final chapter providing a more detailed examination of ways the church can reach the bridgers as we enter a new century.

The trend in generational issues for the church is to discover where each generation is economically, emotionally, socially, and religiously, and then "fit" the church to meet their needs. You will notice that I resist such accommodation throughout this book. I am not saying, however, that churches should be ignorant of generational issues and insist that the 1950s church paradigm is meant for everyone.

Cultural awareness and sensitivity have long been understood as a requisite to foreign missions. One cannot expect to reach a culture for Christ unless that culture is studied and understood. For many years, America in the majority was largely a monocultural Western Christian society. Such is no longer the case, particularly with the bridgers. Their values are not the values of Scripture. We must understand this generation if we are to reach them.

Understanding, however, is not synonymous with total accommodation. We must not bury our heads in the sand, but we must understand that true seekers are not coming to the church to find a world just like the one in which they live. Indeed, the church would have difficulty replicating the bridgers' world, even if it desired to do so.

While we certainly need the awareness that the bridgers are growing up in a culture different from our own (for example, they are certainly more visually oriented than previous generations), we should not try to be identical to their culture. One Christian researcher said it well: "But let's get some perspective. Attracting kids to church does require relevance in style, but it is not the performance itself that will cause them to embrace Christ and His Church. If kids want a show, better venues and more professional performers are available. If they want hot music, MTV and FM radio serve it up 24 hours a day. Having a separate stylized Sunday morning experience is very thoughtful and probably the most appropriate way of appealing to kids, but no matter how great a church service may be, sleeping in would be preferable. Kids respond to people who care about them."

Our research shows that the baby boomers returned to the church in large numbers in the 1980s, perhaps as many as twenty million. Sadly, that same research shows that the boomers exited the church by the same number or even greater in the 1990s. One boomer's comment is representative of those who returned only to leave again: "I came back to church looking for something to fill a void in my life. And I was impressed by the way the church had changed to have music and worship more relevant to the world I am familiar with." But his comments on why he left are noteworthy: "After two years I gradually attended less and less, until I left the church completely. You know, I came to the church seeking something different, but I left because it was not much different than the world I knew."

We must not make the same mistake with the bridgers. While we must be aware of their culture and make some adjustments accordingly, we must also challenge them with the claims of Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ. In light of the issues on the minds of the bridgers, how then can the church respond?

Teach Them/Challenge Them

Later in this book we will discuss the issue of getting bridgers into the church for the first time. For now, let us look at one issue once they have begun to attend our churches.

In a fascinating book about the decline of mainline churches, three authors conclude that the failure to challenge young people biblically was a major factor behind the denominations' woes. "Today Presbyterians should not bemoan the lack of faith and church commitment exhibited by their youth, since they have no one to blame but themselves. No outside power forcibly pulled their children away from the faith. No conquering army or hostile missionaries destroyed the tradition. The Presbyterians made the decisions themselves, on one specific [doctrinal] issue after another, over the decades."

In a recent study, we showed that the great majority of the strong evangelistic churches in our nation used strong Sunday Schools as a method for reaching and discipleship. Bridgers may require some new teaching approaches, particularly teaching that is more visually-oriented. But, above all, bridgers are hungry for challenges. They may want education for economic reasons, but such an explanation would be an oversimplification. They are hungry to learn, to be challenged, to be shown that biblical Christianity is different from anything else they may be seeking.

Now is not the time to dumb down our teachings and expectations. More than ever, our Sunday Schools need to increase expectations and challenge the bridgers with the cost of discipleship clearly taught in Scripture. The bridgers have minds that are eager to grasp these truths taught in our Sunday Schools and discipleship groups. Whether the bridgers are still preschool age or preparing for college, our churches must teach them the counsel of God in the Bible. The Holy Spirit will then do His role of teaching and convicting. Psalm 78 speaks clearly to our role.

O my people, hear my teaching;

listen to the words of my mouth.

I will open my mouth in parables,

I will utter hidden things, things from of old—

what we have heard and known,

what our fathers have told us.

We will not hide them from their children;

we will tell the next generation

the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,

his power, and the wonders he has done.

He decreed statutes for Jacob

and established the law in Israel,

which he commanded our forefathers

to teach their children,

so the next generation would know them,

even the children yet to be born,

and they in turn would tell their children.

Then they would put their trust in God

and would not forget his deeds

but would keep his commands.

Psalm 78:1-7 (emphasis added)

A Solution for Stressed-out Bridgers

Before I became a Christian, I worried about everything. Stress was common for me as a child for even the smallest of issues. Some time after I accepted Christ, I began to discover the truth of walking in the Spirit and His peace. One of my favorite passages was Philippians 4:4-7: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Bridgers will learn, as they listen to uncompromising biblical teaching, that the stressful world in which they live can be overcome by the One who has overcome the world. The simplistic solution that "Christ is the answer" is profoundly true. Only by accepting Him will people discover that peace which transcends all understanding, even in the midst of a stressful world and difficult problems. Rather than soft-pedaling the gospel message, we must present it clearly and without compromise. They must know that peace can never be found outside of Jesus Christ.

An Answer to the Independence/Dependence Struggle

Bridgers have more independence than any previous generation at such a young age. But, as we saw earlier, many would like more clearly defined boundaries. And many would like the opportunity just to be children dependent upon others.

Again we Christians have the answer to their needs, if only we would break the barriers to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ. We have a message that only in total dependence upon Christ can they find true rest and joy. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). God's yoke clearly defines our boundaries: we go where Christ goes.

Christ Is the Only Way

The research on bridger religious attitudes indicates that many will resist strongly the notion that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Indeed, the concept of exclusivism may be offensive to many of them. When Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6), He was not being "seeker-friendly" as we commonly use the term. The Savior, to the contrary, was issuing a clear call that any other person or religious system was false and a sure path to hell!

Bridgers may resist exclusivism. They will not be the first group to do so over the past two thousand years. But if we really love them and have a biblical theology of lostness, they will see our love and concern. And then we depend upon the work of conviction by the Holy Spirit. This is the way we will reach the minds and hearts of the bridgers.

—Bridger Generation, The