Image Isn’t Everything 2: depth and transparency offer hope for GenX

In part 1 of his post, Andy Rowell lamented the preoccupation his generation has for image management, and the way GenX church leaders have adopted this vice. In part 2 Andy offers a few antidotes to younger church leaders seeking a more genuine spirituality.

I think there are three dangers we need to be vigilant about. First, we need to beware of the tendency to be image-strong and content-weak. GenX ministries need to be careful about distinguishing themselves solely by their name and website. We want to convey, "This is not your average church." But we want to be better than the average church in substantial ways. In the end, it is not these three that remain: websites, jargon, and coffee. Let us teach better, worship better, and love better than the "average" church.

Second, we need to beware of our attention-getting tendencies.

Right now, Generation Xers are between the ages of 23-38. Not many of us are senior pastors, denominational leaders, authors, magazine editors, spiritual directors, or seminary professors. But we are longing to be in those positions, to make a name for ourselves, to make an impact. There is nothing wrong in itself with those desires. But we have to remind ourselves that sometimes our desire to draw people to Christ can get mixed up with our motivation to draw people to our ministry and thus get attention for ourselves. That doesn't mean we stop doing evangelism or making ourselves attractive to outsiders in every way we can. But it does mean, we keep doing our "closet work"?prayer, study, and pursuing deep relationships to keep us honest.

Third, we need to beware of a lack of transparency. My earlier description of "event preparation" almost sounds like Screwtape's advice to a younger devil learning his trade?"Deceive! Don't tell the audience your secrets. Manipulate what they experience." We may be image-conscious, but we do not want to be working for the Deceiver.

Transparency is the antidote. We must not do anything we wouldn't want exposed to the light. In fact, we should be intentional about exposing our ideas to other respected Christians for their input. And though it is tempting to fudge the truth, we need to be prepared to candidly report what we have done and what is going on. If we are doing the following sort of things, we need to be able to admit them. Use the following as practice statements:

- "We hired that guitar player for $500."

- "That projection equipment cost $30,000."

- "I worked 35 hours on that message and didn't spend a lot of time with my family because I wanted to make it good."

April 30, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 14 comments


May 09, 2006  11:58am

I do not doubt that you know some people who need this but I think you are being very unfair to so many "X'ers". Many of us already know that image isn't everything. But some think that image is nothing (which is just as terrible). You have heard a thousand times and the question remains is what does a Christian look like? I can hear someone now explaining that they don't have tattoos, they wear pleated khaki's, drown themselves in Old Spice cologne, drink sweet tea, and only clap on 1 and 3 (because the beat is obviously more consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity). The crazy thing is even in spite of all that, many of these guys are being used by to reach their fellow peers. The same courtesy should be extended to the Next Gen'ers (X'ers, Emergents, whatever you want to call us). Also, I hope no one is confusing themselves assuming that they are not concerned with appearances when too many in the Boomer Generation are obsessed with not wearing jeans to church, where the carpets are always vacuumed, and the offering plates are always shiny (And there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, I'm merely pointing out that image-consciousness). Do I need to remind you which generation brought us televangelism? And to the posters that question the authenticity of the X'er, I hope you do not think that this is unique to this generation. Furthermore in my experience, it's the X'ers who are trying their hardest to show their transparency. Listen, to the loving admonition of insuring that all of us (all ages included) don't take our image too seriously, yeah, I agree but these two articles seemed to be much more than that – criticizing sharp-looking websites to church names. It is also unfair to see generalize with this statement: "Though you are seeking excellence, make sure no one knows how much work you have put in. This takes away from the impact. Make it look effortless and that it was just thrown together…." A generation raised on choreographed music videos and concert tours knows that very little with any quality is ever thrown together. Even further, a generation that buys their jeans already faded (distressed) and frayed knows that very well! "Maybe some of what I have described thus far bothers you. Aren't we as Christians supposed to be less focused on appearances and more concerned with the heart?" Yes! A hundred times yes! So why are you questioning others by their appearances and not their hearts?

Report Abuse


May 07, 2006  6:43pm

Andy, I do resonate with what you write. There is a danger of becoming a Pharisee... to use christianese. I don't know if the danger is particular to our generation. I do fully agree that being "image conscious" is a danger our generation needs to be deeply aware of, and humble enough to acknowledge. At least for me it is a struggle. Motive is so important to Jesus... thus "attention-getting tendencies" are something I have to watch my heart for all the time. Thanks for the reminder. Keep up the good work! Hank

Report Abuse


May 03, 2006  8:29am

Andy, I think the reality for many of Gen-Xers is Bono. I have talked to many Christians of this age who found more authenticity and spirituality in U2 than they did in their boomer churches. So let's blame it on Bono, or praise him as St. Bono.

Report Abuse


May 03, 2006  7:50am

Gen X is the group that came of age with TV and the Clinton era where 'spin' is a way of life. That is why Andy's focus on transparency is so important. We will never be able to shake the 'spin' culture completely, but we can be people who don't give into it. The 'spin' culture is ultimately 'dehumanizing' in that it reduces people to tools and potential customers. It also encourages the 'culture of cool' that breeds factionalism and favoritism. In this marketing culture, authenticity is what is most sought after, but it is the most elusive. Ultimately, the call to Christ is to count your 'image' your 'equity' as nothing and to leave it behind and follow Him. Thank you Andy, for the call to true authenticity.

Report Abuse

Jason Morris

May 02, 2006  8:54am

Andy, I really enjoyed your two part piece. I have seen the ill-effects of too many younger ministry leaders that do get caught up in image issues. So much time gets put into the way we look (personally, our buildings, our letterhead, our websites), that we fail to prioritize correctly. I've taken issue with much of the "image" stuff throughout my ministry ... going to conferences where people say, "Hey, did you see that guy's hair" really makes me disappointed in what a lot of us are doing. I'd rather hear about how this person is creatively communicating the Gospel than how much time he spends getting his haircut. I really enjoyed your thoughts on transparency and being image-strong and content-weak. I've grown tired of hearing about churches that "break the mold" who are "not your grandma's church" and so on. Anyway, thanks for writing this and calling out so many of us that spend too much time worrying about the exterior rather than the interior.

Report Abuse

Scott Ramsey

May 01, 2006  3:33pm

I agree with everyone here so far, but the concern about image is not at all unique to "Gen X" pastors. Every type of church I've ever been in has seen staff with their fair share of image consciousness. The only real difference is what image they want to convey and where that image has its origin. Younger pastors may be a bit more "trendy" these days, but pastors in all churches tend to be careful to portray an image that is desirable in their particular subculture. Image is definitely not everything, and substance is often sacrificed in a pursuit of appearance. Posts like this prompt us to think more deliberately about our own image and investment in maintaining or creating that image. We need that no matter our age or theological persuasion.

Report Abuse


May 01, 2006  1:08pm

Andy, you are nailing something with those practice statements. Our generation of leaders in the church boast authenticity and yet harbor a ton of anxiety and self-inflicted distance from others. I was watching Coldplay on television last night and noticing the crowd reacting to the spirituality in the music and thought to myself, "There is a longing for intimacy there, but those guys are going to go off the back of the stage and be separated from that throng of people. Somehow the separation of fame is accepted. People know they won't be having dinner and conversation with the band after the show. The distance is accepted, flaunted, deliberate... Keep them coming back. Keep it mysterious! They'll have to buy our music to ever be this close to us again." We do this in what appears to be "kingdom business" all the time - with look, feel, buzz, teaching, writing, music, even prayer ministry and prophecy. A lot of what I see in my generation, is people getting a lot of what they want from people who have no idea what they really need.

Report Abuse


May 01, 2006  12:12pm

I'd like to weigh in as a "boomer" pastor. I lead a staff (5) exclusively made up of Next Gen pastors. We have engaged in a good discussion of your two posts and have been blessed by a better understanding of the ministry issues, emphasis, and methodology of next-geners. As a boomer, I have chosen to use this as an opportunity to mentor my staff while at the same time learning from their insights. Much to my surprise, instead of defensiveness, they unanimously concurred with many if not most of your observations. Each generation of ministers has to undertake the unique challenges of their generation, but by and large the standards of ministry remain unchanged. Thanks Andy, I appreciated your two articles.

Report Abuse

Andy Rowell

May 01, 2006  11:17am

Thanks for the comments on my post above. I hope you can overlook my use of the term "Gen-X pastor." This term is rarely used anymore and very few people believe in the Generation X distinction. Willow Creek has a "Next Gen" Leadership Conference. I like that better. You can see my post on my blog about the Emerging Churches book by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger for the more discussion about the confusing terms "emerging" and "emergent." I also affirm that this image issue is not limited to pastors in their 20's and 30's. My post simply tries to identify some of the issues I noticed in myself and my friends and how we have tried to address them. Thanks again for your comments.

Report Abuse


May 01, 2006  10:50am

Hi Andy, I'm really confused because the pastors and churches you are describing don't sound at all like the churches of the group to which they are ascribed. They actually have a very strong resemblance to Boomers. I happen to be a Booomer and have seen my children's generation move away from the showy, image-conscious pretention of my generation and toward authentic desire to serve a world in need and hurt in the way Jesus did and does. The "Younger Evangelicals" that I have observed are following Christ by being more authentic imitators of Him than anything in my experience/generation.

Report Abuse
  • Seeing God on the Silver Screen
    An interview with Kevin Harvey on how engaging pop culture might be the best way to share the gospel.
  • Have Stethoscope, Will Travel
    Nurse Kelly Sites talks about her experience battling Ebola overseas
  • Actively Seeking Change
    Daniel Ryan Day talks to us about his attempt to live intentionally different
  • Digging For Truth
    Josh McDowell on the Bible's truthworthiness, the internet, and the future of the church