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BSSB leader urges ‘generativity’ in reaching preschoolers, children

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Christian adults serious about ministering to young people in the 21st century must recapture a sense of “generativity,” a preschool worker for the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board said.
Defining the term, Mary Ann Bradberry, preschool biblical studies designer in the board’s Bible teaching-reaching division, said: “It’s time for us to think beyond ourselves and do things for the next generation out of a genuine commitment to their future well-being.” Bradberry led the seminar, “Bridging Reality: Realities Facing Preschoolers and Their Families” attended by state preschool and children’s associates gathered Dec. 8-9 for annual planning meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
Many of today’s adults claim they are too busy with their own lives and problems to invest their lives in today’s preschoolers, children and youth, she said. As a result, many young people “feel they aren’t loved, aren’t important.”
“I think we need to reconnect ourselves to some of the things we may have consciously or unconsciously chosen to ignore” about the newest generation of youngsters, Bradberry said, referring to the “bridger” generation.
Born between 1977-1994 (ages 3-20), the 72-million strong “bridgers” are one of the largest generations in history, second in size only to the media-hyped baby boomers. The name “bridgers” refers to the fact that this generation will “bridge” two centuries and is expected to help move society from a “secular” to a more “sacred” focus.
Bridgers are growing up in a world far different from their parents, Bradberry said.
Drawing heavily from the book, “The Bridger Generation” by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, she said several negative influences are shaping their lives, such as disappearing moral boundaries, rising violence, rapid change and the devaluation of life.
Quoting from a list of disturbing statistics, she said “every day in America:”
— 87 infants die;
— three children die from abuse or neglect;
— 466 babies are born to mothers who had late or no prenatal care;
— 3,000 bridgers see their parents marriages end in divorce;
— 1,420 children are born to teenage mothers;
— 2,556 children are born into poverty;
— 100,000 children are homeless.
Family life for “bridgers” is far from the two-parent “traditional” family known by many of their parents, Bradberry said. One in two bridgers has a mother in the workforce, one in 25 lives with neither parent and, in 1995, 1.4 million children lived with grandparents with no parent present in the household, she said.
Not surprisingly, bridgers have been defined as a “worried” generation.
“They are worried about their education. They are worried about whether they will be able to make it financially. And they ask questions like, ‘Will something bad happen to my family? Will I or someone I know be a victim of violence?’ and ‘How do I tell right from wrong?'”
So, how do you reach this group?
Cultural sensitivity, setting “clear boundaries” and communicating “high expectations” are all important, but adults should start with “unconditional love,” Bradberry said.
“Children need to feel that they are significant and important. And we have the answers to their fears because we have the good news of Jesus Christ. We fail if we are not intentional in letting these children know about God’s love.”
That doesn’t mean accepting Christ will magically make all their problems disappear, Bradberry said, “but we can promise that God will be with them to see them through any situation.”
Unfortunately, Bradberry said many churches are no different than a society at large which has failed to provide the support and stability children need to thrive.
“In many cases, we’re no different; our churches have failed. … We can’t even find people to teach our children and preschoolers. We’re giving them the same message in our churches when we say, ‘You’re not worth me giving up my time in my adult Sunday school class to teach you.'”
Despite, or maybe because of, all the negative forces they’ve encountered, Bradberry said bridgers are expected to be a “religious” generation.
“But I think one thing we have to realize is that a ‘religious’ generation is not necessarily a ‘Christian’ generation. Many bridgers have rejected, or are on the road to rejecting, many of the absolute truths we hold as Christians. Many don’t believe that Christ is the only way to salvation.”
As a result, Christian mentors and role models are more important than ever before, Bradberry said.
“We need to show children Christ in us. They need to see that we are for real.”

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  • Chip Alford