Sayers argues that one of the ways the discussion about Christianity and the west has gotten off track is that it’s not really reckoning with actual church history in a real way. The history of Christianity and church growth is one of regular booms and busts. Jacobs had an old TAC post about this in England. So we’re in a bust time now. But America has had other bust periods too.
So then he argues that movements and cultures tend to have a kind of five-stage lifespan:
Preparer Generation: You look around and say “things are bad. Why are things bad? What can we do to make things stop being bad?” So you start building new institutions, asking new questions, proposing new models and strategies, retrieving some older ideas, and so on. Super entrepreneurial, lots of potential, but also extremely small and vulnerable.
Pioneer Generation: They build on the Preparers work and start to see a small crop. Still very energetic and entrepreneurial, a little more hopeful, also a little bit distant from all the bad things that the Preparers were provoked by.
Traditionalist Generation: Not “traditionalist” in the stodgy conservative sense. The idea here is codifying the movement the previous two generations built and started so that it can be institutionalized, as it were, and become more sustainable and less dependent on individual genius, uniquely high levels of energy, etc. This group also tends to be less entrepreneurial, a bit more comfortable, has more resources, and has virtually no lived experience with the crisis that the Preparers were facing.
Manager Generation: They maintain the traditions, but often without a real understanding of why they’re doing the things they do. There’s very little energy for new things, very little entrepreneurialism, but plenty of resources. But also basically no memory or lived experience with even the Pioneers, let alone the Preparers.
Deconstruction: This generation is frustrated by empty ritualism and the sense that the traditions they’ve been given are divorced from real problems. They feel frustrated and confined within the tradition, they have no knowledge of how the traditions developed or why, and they resent the managerial generation. So they start blowing everything up. “Previous generations tend to work with hammers and nails. The deconstruction generation works with dynamite.”
So he says we’ve been in a deconstruction phase for the past 20-30 years (he gave this talk in 2017) and now we need a new group of Preparers. Obviously these categories can sometimes feel forced and a little contrived. But I think he’s onto something with this.
Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).