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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
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Thursday, August 2, 2007

American Idol and the Trophy Generation

A new term has been coined for Generation Y, those currently college age and younger. They are now being called the Trophy Generation by some, a term that reflects the trend in competitive sports (as well as many other aspects of life) where "no one loses" and everyone gets a "Thanks for Participating" trophy. This generation, more than any before them, are characterized by a heightened sense of entitlement, of comfort, and of rights and privileges.

No longer do they have to deal with a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place trophy while everyone else loses. No longer do they have to worry about not making the team. In an effort to build self-esteem, the preceding generations have only fed into these tendencies. Just look at the number and nature of lawsuits in the news every year. Just look at the dumbing down of our public school's curriculum under the guise of "no child left behind". When compared with their peers from other countries, American students' scores continue to drop but their feedback on how well they think they did remains higher than any other country. It seems it's becoming "every child left behind and okay with it".

I was struck recently with how perfectly this explains the American Idol phenomenon (as all eligible contestants are part of the Trophy Generation). My favorite part of the show every year is the auditions where we see some of the most ridiculous attempts at singing, and every year I am shocked at the abundance of these awkward attempts. Yet they continue to come out of the woodwork: contestants who can see others fail (for six seasons now) and, with little or no sense of objective self-evaluation, think they are so much better. And instead of being honest with them, instead of encouraging on to excellence, we pander them with half-truths and flat-out lies.

However, the Trophy Generation remains unfazed by American Idol, many of them storming through life saying "I have to make it", "I don't need them, I'm going to be famous anyway", "They don't know anything, I've always known I was going to be a star someday". The reaction is defensive, accusing their judges of ignorance and ineptitude rather than considering the fact that they just might not be that good.

Here's why I bring all this up: this is the generation that many of us are attempting to reach with the Gospel. Yet the same approaches that worked yesterday may not always work ("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" may not have the same impact it did 200 years ago). This generation's sense of entitlement is often suppressing their sense of need, their need for a Savior, their need for forgiveness. People will always have need, but each generation is getting more skilled at masking it, covering it up, or escaping from it. We need to be aware of the fact that our language and communication of the Gospel will need to shift with the culture. We need to be ready to meet them where they are. Of course, this is not a new strategy as Paul was doing this in the days of the early church. Perhaps it means we appeal to truth. Perhaps it means being ready to dig a little bit to reveal the need (or a suppressed sense of guilt) in each life. Or perhaps it means simply loving them, being available, and being there when the mask comes off and their world comes down.

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