“The Millennial generation” is actually an incredibly broad name. Many studies refer to Millennials as anyone born between 1980 and 2000. This includes parents of young children, young professionals, college students, and of course, your teens. So to issue a disclaimer on this series before we get in too far: anything that refers to “Millennials” is a generalization that may or may not be specific for you or your students, but hopefully in this series we’re hitting on some struggles that this generation deals with as a whole.
This leads us to a collision between one Millennial need and a consistent worry of youth workers: growing deep spiritual roots. “Going deep” is one of our favorite catchphrases in young Christianese, but how does it happen? What do we mean when we vow to rid our homes, relationships and ministries of shallowness?
As the “going” part implies, depth is a journey. We don’t start there, but we can get there with intentional time and effort poured into our own spiritual formation and the discipleship of the Millennials we lead. Shallowness sneaks in when we “no longer try to understand” (Hebrews 5:11-13). We revert back to spiritual milk in our apathy while greater revelations of God’s Truth and love wait for us. This shallow faith lacks the assurance, trust and hope to last, getting swept away by the storms of life faster than your kids can sing “The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock.”
Building an inter-generational community can help guide Millennials to rock-solid faith. As we have stated, significant relationships with spiritually mature adults most accurately predict whether a teen will stick with their faith as they grow. (And weekly rounds of “How are you?” “Good! Busy!” do not count as a deep relationship with a Millennial.) We can no longer use busyness as an excuse for disconnection. Nor can we consider any in-person conversation to be mentorship, as rare as it is to talk “in real life” nowadays.
Speaking of face-to-face conversations, if we are calling for a deeper church and a deeper faith, it’s time to value the person in front of us more than whatever treasures our smart phone may hold. If we can ignore our inner timer that says “Hey! I haven’t checked Facebook/email/Instagram/Twitter in the last 30 minutes!” we will be better listeners, ministers and witnesses for the Gospel. If we can screen our calls and texts while spending quality time with others, we place honor and worth upon them.
This is not to say we should never take out our phones if another person is in the room. It actually shows how much we value the importance of their words if we are using our technology as a tool to make notes, set a reminder or look up information they need. If we’re just in a casual conversation with a friend in person and receive a time-sensitive call or text, we can gauge the situation depending on the context. We can gauge the situation and context to discern whether to respond to a time-sensitive call or text rather than always jumping when our phones chime.
If the person I’m in a conversation with is just browsing their phone or checks it without explaining why, I wind down the conversation and walk away thinking “well, apparently they have more important things to do.” Both my trust and openness with them are damaged. Not only have we missed an opportunity for a more meaningful connection, I’m going to think twice about going deep with them in the future because I know I’ll always rank lower on their priority list than the next notification to light up their screen.
Even if all of the smart phones are put away and we are spending time with each other, it can be difficult to know how deep a Millennial is willing to go spiritually. We Millennials have learned to filter our photos, craft our tweets and censor our Facebook statuses to present a message to our peers, so it may take a while to break through our external selves – our “personal branding” – to get us to share what’s really going on in our spiritual lives. We’ve grown up in the age of mean girls, cyberbullying, online predators, hoaxes, email viruses and phishing scams. Earning our deep trust may take some time.
Next time we’ll dive into authenticity, the bridge to and from depth. The more authentic we are with each other, the deeper the spiritual formation can go and vice versa, the deeper we go spiritually, the more authentic we are free to be with each other as layers of self-protection give way to Spirit-led transformation.
Other posts in our Millennial Exodus series: