When I wrote about depth in the second post of this series, I first issued a disclaimer about how diverse the Millennial generation is in terms of age. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials “are the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in the nation’s history.” This has paralleled a rise in political and cultural diversity, along with religious diversity. We no longer think of other denominations, or even other religions, as “those people,” far away from “us.” In fact, the “us” versus “them” mindset is a sure way to lose Millennials as “those people” are likely our friends, family or co-workers.
As a Church that strives to be one Body, we have to reevaluate how we define words like unity, acceptance, endorsement and outreach if we are to minister to the Millennial generation. We can turn to Romans 12 as an example of how we can approach this.
While not compromising on our non-negotiable foundations of faith, we can listen to and love others. From that place of confidence in what we believe, we are secure enough to “go unto all the world” in a society that doesn’t resemble us or agree with us (Romans 12:14). Engaging and interacting with those different than us doesn’t mean we endorse what they do/say/believe. It does mean that we love them enough to humble ourselves, listen and serve them as Jesus did (v. 13).
A word of caution: former norms of family structure, politics, church background, culture, etc., may still apply to leaders, but not to the whole congregation or even the rest of a youth ministry. If your leadership team is predominantly from one clique, cultural background or side of town, it may be easy to overlook those who don’t fit the “norm” (v. 6). For an easy example, look at how “marriage” is often used as a spiritual illustration. We know marriage is a wonderful symbol of Christ’s relationship with the Church. But to a generation that, as a whole, has few examples of marriage ending in anything but divorce or disillusionment, these descriptions aren’t self-explanatory. I can’t begin to describe the immense impact of sermons that simply explain the permanence implied with a marriage metaphor to a congregation of Millennials. We can’t take quick comprehension of old illustrations for granted. Instead, we can use this change in societal norms as an opportunity to explain the Gospel more clearly and seize this opportunity to reach out in a new way.
Millennial diversity also extends into views on faith. No longer can we assume that students who self-identify as Christians believe Christ is the only Truth. An overall shift toward relativism has forced even those of us with a firm grasp on absolute Truth to re-learn how we share Christ with others. In a world that rejects anyone who claims to “have a corner on Truth,” our insistence upon “Jesus’ way is the only way” is heard as ignorant, narrow-minded, offensive or bigoted. If we can show Romans 12 style love to them, even when they sling words that wound or falsely accuse us, then we can “overcome evil with good” (v. 21).
A tense point for Millennials, of course, is when our characteristic inclusiveness clashes with the Church’s rigid list of the excluded and unwelcome (however unintentional or subtle that list is). Neither all-permissive tolerance nor elitist, entitled “country club church” (to borrow Thom Rainier’s term) can accurately reflect Christ. We are most like Him when we love others for who they are while not watering down who our God is. It is the Holy Spirit, after all, that transforms hearts and minds, not our list of behavioral rules. Our part is to “not conform to the pattern of this world” ourselves as we are reaching out to serve it (v. 2).
As David Kinnaman says in “You Lost Me:”
“At the heart of the Christian story, however, is the Triune God’s rejection of both exclusion and tolerance. The Creator was not content to exclude those who had rejected Him, but neither was He prepared to tolerate our hatefulness and sin. So what did He do? He became one of us, one of the ‘other,’ identifying with us to embrace us in solidarity, empathy and selfless agape love – all the way to the cross.”
If we can walk as Jesus walked – between boldly standing for God’s Truth and humbly loving the marginalized – we can be His hands and feet to the most diverse generation.
Other posts in our Millennial Exodus series: