Intro: They may be called the next generation, but they’re the church of today. Reach, disciple and mobilize students to share the hope of the Gospel. This is Next Gen on Mission with Shane Pruitt.
Shane Pruitt: Hi friends. Thanks for hanging out with us on the Next Gen on Mission podcast. I am Shane Pruitt, the National Next Gen Evangelism director for the North American Mission Board, and today I have a good friend with me, Jeff Wallace. Jeff currently serves on the student leadership university team as the executive director of the LIFT Tour and Youth Pastor Summit. Jeff is nationally known as an urban ministry pioneer, communicator, innovator and mentor, author of some credible resources and books, husband and father. Jeff, welcome to the Next Gen on Mission podcast.
Jeff Wallace: What’s up? What’s up man? Thanks so much. Thanks for having me brother. It is an honor to be with you guys today, man.
Shane Pruitt: No doubt, man, is such a joy to have you on because you and I have talked about this for years. You and I both have known each other, respect each other’s ministry and just here recently, we’ve been able to connect and become friends, and I’m just looking forward to reaching a generation with the gospel and partnership with you man.
Jeff Wallace: Absolutely man. I’m just so proud of what God is doing in and through you brother. You are out there killing the game. I got to give a shout out to all of the people there in North American Mission Board, man, I love those guys. They’re doing some great things for the kingdom.
Shane Pruitt: Amen. Well, we’re just trying to keep up with you and Brent and students’ leadership university, man. We just trying to keep up with you guys. Well, today man, we’re talking about I think a very timely, high, high importance topic on this podcast and it’s Next Gen and Diversity. But hey, before we jump in deep, get too spiritual, hey, what’s one fact about Jeff Wallace that we should know about you but we probably don’t?
Jeff Wallace: Oh my God dude. Okay, so don’t laugh. This is a hashtag no judgment, don’t laugh. I am a sports nut and I love sports. So if I was not in ministry or from not at SLU, I would want to either be a head football coach at a college or a university or an ESPN sports announcer. I love to take on people like Stephen A. Smith or Max Kellerman. That’s like my secret life or my secret love there.
Shane Pruitt: I love it, man. Well, personally I’m a huge Miami dolphins fan. Huge Mavericks fan-
Jeff Wallace: I’m also a fan.
Shane Pruitt: … Luca fan, Texas Rangers, and anyone who plays the Dallas Cowboys.
Jeff Wallace: Well, it’s funny the same because I’m not a bandwagon person. I was born in Buffalo, New York. So I am still a diehard Bills fan. I am, yeah.
Shane Pruitt: Oh, I thought we were, I just thought we were friends.
Jeff Wallace: No, no, no. We are. But yeah, my growing up, my dad would take me and my brothers to the game on the second half of the season when it was just brutally cold and that was his way of really taking us through the gauntlet to make sure that we were legit Bills’ fan. So you go through all of that when you’re a little kid strapped up like an eskimo and some of the most coldest environments on the planet, you got to stay true to your team. So it was in my blood as little boy.
Shane Pruitt: No doubt. Well that’s awesome man. That’s awesome. Well, that was my question is who is your favorite and says the Buffalo Bills. You got it, man.
Jeff Wallace: It is Buffalo Bills and my basketball team is, I’m a Lakers fan. So I had been morning with all of Sports America, Sports World, not just in America but just in the world man. Koby for me was my hero and I was a big, big fan and so it’s tragic, but also a reminder that man, every moment of our lives, it counts and tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us and so we need to own our today, for the glory of God.
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, that’s a good word, no doubt.
Shane Pruitt: Hey, we always open this podcast with the exact same question and then we’ll close with the exact same question every podcast that we’ll do at the end. So tell the Jeff, what do we need to know about the next generation and particularly what do we need to know about Generation Z?
Jeff Wallace: Well, man, it is crazy because Gen Z, as broadly defined as the 72 million people that are born between 1996 and 2010 but interestingly enough, the Pew Research they defined, they said, hey, Gen Z is anyone who’s born after 1997 and this generation is a generation that was and has been raised exclusively on the Internet and social media, but they also have this love for social justice. They’re one of honestly saying, they’re one of the most ethnically diverse generations and we’ll talk more about that a little bit later.
Jeff Wallace: But they’re there just as an incredible generation who have a lot of characteristics, attributes, and traits that have come from what they’ve seen from their parents who are, for the most part, millennials, older millennials and some Gen X is, but mostly millennials and they remember Shane, they remember what happened when one, the economy crashed and they also remember what happened when things changed after 9/11 and so just a fascinating generation that has a lot of interesting characteristics and traits about them.
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, and I think you’re spot on. They are ethnically diverse as a generation. So what are some exciting things about next generation and diversity?
Jeff Wallace: Well, I think because this generation, Gen Z is their true digital natives, they have an opportunity to see the world through the lens of their cell phones, through the lens of their computers and so they see the world in a very diverse and and an eclectic lens. So what we know about this generation is that they don’t necessarily see color. When I say color from my ethnicity, so they don’t see black, white, Latino, native American, Hispanic, they see social eels, they see common cause. For example, they view fatherlessness, that’s one big one, as something that has nothing to do with ethnicity but has everything to do with impact on lifestyle. For example, I served for 23 years as a student pastor at a church called Peace Baptist church and Decatur, Georgia and I had a friend who served at a very affluent church in Atlanta and it is called Peachtree Corners, Perimeter Church, actually and his name’s Jeff as well.
Jeff Wallace: So we would sit and having dinner and I was telling him about the book that I was writing, Everybody’s Urban, and just talking about the whole idea of fatherlessness from what I’ve seen from my students and the impact of a father being absent from the home. He said to me, he said, “Jeff” he said, “that’s crazy because some of the things that you’re talking about, your students are dealing with, mine are dealing with as well.” I said, “What do you mean bro?” He said, dude, he said, “Jeff, I have homes that are six and seven figure income households, but the father either travels, he’d been remarried, he has another life, and so what he does is he substitute presents, gifts, for his presence, and that it has the same impact on the life of a student.” So what we’re seeing is that, that a lot of these students, man, this generation, they don’t really see color, they see common cause, they both… They all, excuse me, they all grappled around this idea of social justice and any equality for all. So their generation that is very much an inclusive generation.
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, no doubt. I think as adults, Millennials, Gen Xers, boomers, there’s really a lot that we can learn from the next generation when it comes to the diversity.
Jeff Wallace: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things that we can learn from them is to first and foremost to see the heart of a man before we see the face of a man. I think that’s number one because of the fact that this generation, this Gen Z generation, they do not, again, they do not see skin color. They see, “Hey, are we in the same place together?” They’re all saying they’re all very competitive. They’re very much desire independence, they love to multitask more than even Millennials. They’re more entrepreneurial. They like face to face.
Jeff Wallace: Even though it’s interesting that they are digital natives, research shows that they like face to face communication, which is why face time is so important for them and video chatting is so important because they love that face to face communication. So I think there’s so many things that we can learn from this generation, but when it comes to the topic of diversity, man, they just do not see color, they see common cause.
Shane Pruitt: Yeah. That’s such a good word, Jeff. Where’s the church succeeding today? Where are we better today than maybe we were in previous years with diversity and then where’s the church failing, and where do we need get better at?
Jeff Wallace: Well, I think that we’re better today from the standpoint that we’re being a lot more intentional about having the conversation. I think that we have been forced and some ways unfortunately because of some of the things that we’ve seen in media when it comes to black and brown individuals and particularly males and other interactions with the police, we’ve just unfortunately had to witness repeated issues that have forced us as the Church to address these certain conversations about race and diversity and equality.
Jeff Wallace: So I think where we’re succeeding is that we’re having more conversations like this. I think where we failing, is that we have to move more from conversation to action. I think that conversations and panel discussions and acknowledgement is awesome. But I think we as the Church, we have to decide, okay, when are we going to move to action and what does that look like? Because each church, depending upon what region they’re in and community that they’re based in that call to action is going to look very, very different. So I think we’d have to move from conversation to action.
Shane Pruitt: Jeff, I can think of 99.9% of the conversations I have with leaders is they really have a desire and a heart for their ministries to be more diverse, but yet are still predominantly one race or culture. So if you’re leading a church or a Next Gen ministry that’s predominantly made up of one race or culture, what are some practical next steps to becoming a church ministry that truly looks like heaven?
Jeff Wallace: I have a two part answer to that. The first is one, I think a healthy church saying is a church that really reflects its community, and so I think that if you live in a community that is predominantly African-American, predominantly White, Latino…I think that if you are being salt and light to that community and serving that group of people, being you by definition are being healthy and you’re also, by definition, you are being what the Church has called to be. So I think that that is one of the things that is important, and I want to just share with everybody is that those are the worst thing that you can do is to step over your Jerusalem to try to bring in or minister to the ends of the earth and have your congregation look like that exclusively at the expense of stepping over Jerusalem.
Shane Pruitt: That’s a good word .
Jeff Wallace: So I think that’s very, very important to do that. So I would say first and foremost to every church that’s listening to this podcast what’s a snapshot of the demographics of your church and a feeling of the community surrounding your church. Once you take a snapshot of the demographics around your church, then you need to assess the current programming, the type of staffing and the type of environment that you have within your local church.
Jeff Wallace: Then if I could give just three quick little practical bullet point, I think number one as a Church, once we’ve done what I’ve just shared as far as doing a snapshot of demographic number one, you got acknowledge what you don’t understand, admit what you do understand and then attempt to become bilingual because far too often, then we have what I call a single story perspective that cripples our ability and capacity to be compassionate for others. So I will never say know what it’s like to be white, Latino, native American, Hispanic. So I won’t, but I know I can definitely be black, real good.
Jeff Wallace: But I think as you and I are brothers in the faith, I’ll never understand what it’s like to be white and vice versa. So I admit that. But there are some things that I do understand and how we become brothers, healthy brothers of this faith. We have to learn how to become bilingual and learn from one another. So I think that’s number one. I think number two, the Church has to make a decision.
Jeff Wallace: The church has to make a decision to stand for both righteousness and justice because I believe for righteousness and justice, they’re synonymous, and when Jesus died on the cross, bro, He got the justice and we got the right, and justice is a biblical concept, not just a social one, but I do believe that righteousness is the route of justice and justice is the offspring of righteousness meaning that so often we live in a world, especially in a very tight and political tone and temperament that we have right now.
Jeff Wallace: We live in a world where it’s either all justice or all righteousness, and those single story perspective schools of thoughts are what’s separating the church and is prohibiting us from crossing over racial and racial line and is prohibiting us from having this sense of racial reconciliation and diversity because either we’re on the extreme justice side and if you’re not on the justice side, social justice side, then you’re not for our people. So I think that we have to again, understand that it’s not an either or, it’s a both. Then my third and final thing is I think we have to define as a church that, hey, if we’re going to approach diversity and we’re going to approach it from a healthy standpoint, that the goal for us is always unity and it’s never uniformity.
Jeff Wallace: It’s acceptance and it’s not sameness, and what makes our country great, what makes the gospel great, what makes us creating a healthy environment of diversity possible is we understand that our ultimate goal, that we want to be unified under the banner of the gospel. We don’t want to… It’s not about uniforming, it’s not about everybody looking like Shane or everybody looking like Jeff. It is about what are those things, those common threads that we can decide, “Hey, we all agree on this” and we’re going to let that be primary and then everything else is secondary.
Jeff Wallace: So what does that look like practically? Well, maybe if you’re in an all-white community and you want to have a picture of unity, you want to have something that shows a little bit of diversity, maybe you have moments from a program where you cross pollinate, you do programs and stuff together with a church down the street or around the corner that you’re not saying, Hey, this is my black friend…”and don’t do it just in February either. You know what I’m saying? Let’s have the times where we’re doing life together.
Jeff Wallace: If we’re brothers or sisters on the band on the gospel, man and the God is unity and not uniform me. Let’s have these moments where we’re like, “Hey, let’s get together and have worship. Let me come to your church and just be a part of your verse with experience” wants you to come to our church and be a part of our worship experience and let it happen naturally and organically, and let’s not trying to force diversity for diversity’s sake, but let’s onboard it to our churches and our congregation in a very organic and God honoring way.
Shane Pruitt: I love that.
Jeff Wallace: So that’s my story now, and I’m sticking to it.
Shane Pruitt: I love that man. I’m over here writing things down as fast as possible. If you’re listening to this podcast and you’re driving, don’t try to write down as you’re driving, but man, listen to this podcast again and write these things down. That was so rich. I echo what you were saying, Jeff. I’ve had several friends that are Christian leaders that don’t look like me and they’ve made that same point that as the Church we tend to only have joint worship services or joint prayer services after some sort of tragedy that gains media attention, and when that should be our DNA, that should be our lifestyle. That should be our culture constantly as we’re finding out ways to love and serve the Lord together. I love that. Hey, so Jeff Wallace goes back in time and visits teenager Jeff, what do you tell him?
Jeff Wallace: Oh my gosh, listen, if we don’t have enough time on this podcast for that. I think the first thing I’ll tell them is trust the process. Very quickly my mother made the decision when I started at eighth grade to bus me and my siblings to the North side of town so an all-white school and a lot of my heart for diversity really burst from that vision that my mom had for us as children growing up. But I went kicking and screaming, I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to like it. I was very closed off to us. So I would tell that teenage Jeff, “man, trust the process because this is going to be a part of your story in the future.”
Shane Pruitt: Love it. Well Jeff, man, this has been so rich. Listen, we always close with this. Same on mission charge. The heart behind this podcast is to see the next generation realize that they’re now generation, not necessarily the future of the Church, but the church right now, they might be the next generation, but they’re the Church right now. So give us one closing thought on that, one practical next step.
Jeff Wallace: Well one, I’ll just let… I want everybody to know that if God called you to it, He’s going to take you through it, and that you’re made for this moment right here. I would challenge and charge everybody to remember with Paul told young Timothy in 2nd Timothy four and two to preach the word in season, out of season to correct, rebuke and encourage him with great patience and careful instructions. Why? Because the time is going to come, and we’re living in that time where people are not going to want to hear truths, but whatever their itching ears want to hear.
Jeff Wallace: So I would tell everybody, you’re made for the moment, stay true to God’s word. Don’t ever compromise and know that, that is the thing that is sustainable and transferrable is not having the flashiest event or facility. It’s about standing on the uncompromising, unfailing word of the gospel. That will be my charge because I think that’s the thing that this generation, Gen Z, that they value. They value truth. They want truth and we have the greatest message of all mankind for let’s be unapologetic about giving it to them.
Shane Pruitt: Come on. Jeff, thank you so much my friend. This has been so rich, so encouraging. So educational. Hey, how can people connect with you? How can they find you?
Jeff Wallace: Yeah, man. Well, I am on Twitter and Instagram at @IamJeffWallace, a very easy, I am, I A-M, Jeff Wallace. Our website for leadership university is slulead.com, slulead.com and so between those two areas you can find me and you never know, I might be in a city near you someday.
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, that’s right. If you’re working with the next generation, do yourself a favor and find Jeff Wallace on social media and also you need to know what student leadership university is. It will enhance your ministry. Thank you so much for listening to the Next Gen on Mission podcast. If you have questions on reaching the next generation, please email us at email@example.com, N-A-M-B.net and we’ll try to address those on a future podcast. Have a great rest of the day and tell somebody about Jesus.