Things that Discourage Millennial Christian Leaders
BY CARY SCHMIDT
I believe in the millennial generation—perhaps because I worked with young adults for over two decades! Because of my age, I regularly find myself on the receiving end of “concerned” conversations from two generations. Those older than me are fearful of where the millennial’s will take the gospel and biblical Christianity. Those younger than me feel they aren’t being given a fair shot—they are discouraged by and often feel compelled to run from unbiblical attitudes and hostile dispositions of previous generations.
I’m not referring to doctrinal concerns—the millennial’s that I know are committed to gospel purity and biblical integrity. They are grounded doctrinally. They aren’t evolving their theology. But they ARE learning their culture and their ministry “style” just as every generation has. They are rediscovering how to actually and effectively DO gospel ministry in a world that is VERY DIFFERENT than it was just 25 years ago.
Over the last two thousand years, I don’t believe any generation had a “style” of ministry exactly like the generation that preceded them. Christianity is not a “culture” it’s a person—which is why it is so wonderfully integrated into every culture on earth! No other world religion can attest to the same. Yet we often fail to distinguish between style and substance—culture and content. And most of the questions or debates I see or hear are focused on “culture” or “context” rather than content—in other words, form not doctrine. (See 1 Corinthians 9:19-22)
That said, for this post, I’m referring to millennial Christian leaders who are well-grounded doctrinally, but who struggle with being ostracized by some (not all) older leaders—a “group” or “crowd” that EQUATES tradition with doctrine—style with substance. (See Mark 7:7) Those who do these things are often discouraging to millennial leaders. How?
Here’s a list of things that I see discourage millennial Christian leaders:
1. Being Marked, Cut-Off, or Ostracized over Non-Doctrinal Issues. To separate from a Christian brother over stylistic or cultural form is just not biblical—otherwise you would probably stop supporting most of your over-seas missionaries. Millennials know this, intuitively, and they know scripture must be twisted or ripped from context to support this type of behavior towards other Christians. Millennial leaders LONG for mentors and friends who will stop evaluating, judging, and measuring them on non-doctrinal issues. (See Romans 14)
2. Being Criticized for Their Vision or Innovation. Again, we’re not talking about doctrine. We’re talking about song selection, ministry decor, design elements, media usage, service schedule, small group structure, and other subjective cultural elements. They want the freedom to follow God and integrate and communicate the gospel into a culture that has changed dramatically in the last twenty or thirty years. (See Titus 3:9)
3. Being Accused of Narcissism. I have a theory—though I can’t prove it. Every generation is narcissistic. Mankind in general has a sin-nature bent on loving self. But narcissism is a new buzzword—or club—that is used to beat up the millennial generation. My theory is that social networking has provided a new cultural measuring stick for self-love.
The funny thing with those who cry “narcissism”—at least in my experience—is that they are blind to their own. We seem to be proficient at excusing behavior in ourselves that we criticize in others. (Some just don’t want millennials to have influence through media. That’s strange when considering we need all the Christian influence in America that we can get.)
Narcissism is a hard case to objectively build or prove—it’s usually a very subjective accusation that maliciously attempts to judge another’s heart. It’s impossible to evaluate the heart motives of someone who is attempting to influence others for the gospel. (Not to mention, we tend to “find” what we’re looking for in subjective arguments.) We usually PROJECT our own pride onto someone else’s heart. Judging someone else is more of a mirror into our own hearts than a magnifying glass into another’s. (See 1 Corinthians 4:4-5)
4. Being Misunderstood for Preferring Dialogue over Dogma. Millennials are coming up in a culture that is very different than even 25 or 30 years ago. Culture is changing, and the rate of change has accelerated dramatically. Morality is no longer mainstream in most parts of our country. The emphatic declaration of dogma is not nearly as effective today as it was fifty years ago when the whole room would shout a loud “amen” in answer to any moral dogmatic declaration. (In some places in America, this is still the case, but not most.)
Therefore, Millennials are hungry for substance—a deeper argument with stronger rationale, the ability to dialogue and intelligently lead a skeptic to biblical truth. They often feel ill-prepared or even “short-changed” academically or biblically. They often feel that they haven’t been equipped with the solid, rational logic that strongly supports Christian truth. They feel they were taught to preserve a “specific Christian culture” with more passion than they were equipped to substantively preach Christ in a pagan culture.
They still believe dogmatically in absolute Biblical truth, but they also realize that a secular culture responds better to intelligent, rational, substantive dialogue that validates Christianity, than it does to rabid declaration of dogma with no logic.
Simply put—every day they face a culture that incessantly shoots holes in their Christian “dogma.” And they realize how desperately they need depth and solid answers WHY in order to be effective in turning hearts to Christ. The good news is, Christianity provides substantive truth, and the millennials are committed to learning it, preaching it, and publishing it loudly into an increasingly secularized culture. (See Acts 17:2, 18:19, 1 Peter 3:15)
5. Being Rejected for Not Fighting Old Battles or Sharing Old Loyalties. Millennials appreciate the spiritual battles fought a hundred years ago or more, and they deeply respect those who fought them. But they have a hard time venerating them, and they just aren’t interested in re-fighting old battles over and over again unnecessarily. Oh, they will fight for doctrine and a pure gospel. They know what’s valuable. But they are facing a whole new set of their own cultural challenges. They are wrestling to wrap their brains around a rapidly, morally digressing, post-modern world. They really can’t get caught up in 75 year-old loyalties over denominational battles and internal Christian strife—not if they desire to be effective salt and light, gospel-spreading, fruit bearing leaders in the 21st century.
Often, the generation preceding them doesn’t understand this and reacts with cries of “compromise.” The “center-of-the-target battles” of previous generations aren’t the same for this generation. Culture has shifted epically, and gospel ministry has never been more vital and necessary. Yes, doctrinal compromise is rampant today. But often the cries of compromise aren’t about doctrine, they are about things far more meaningless, temporal, and cultural.
Another point on loyalties—millennials find it easier and more attractive to base their Christian identity in Jesus Christ alone over movements, groups, fellowships, and denominations. Camps are unattractive to them. In their experience, camps cannibalize themselves in the end, through eventual division and strife. Millennials have a deeper, stronger loyalty and strength in Jesus and are happy to be called Christians—followers of Jesus Christ. Personally, I love this about millennials, because after all—JESUS is the ultimate goal of any biblical movement or group! (See 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 3:1-7)
6. Being Rebuked for Not Being Contentious. Contending for the faith is one thing, while just being contentious is another. Millennials don’t understand why Christians don’t treat each other kindly, lovingly, and respectfully while simultaneously maintaining doctrinal purity and clarity. One thing that social networking reveals is the hot vitriol of professing Christians towards other professing Christians. Millennials want to run from this because they believe it kills the ministry of the gospel. They believe it hinders the work of preaching Christ in the last days.
Along this line, they also don’t have “know it all”—to be dogmatically right about areas where scripture is unclear. While some Christians wouldn’t even admit to biblical uncertainty, millennials generally don’t have a problem with “not knowing for sure” on areas of theological complexity. The main stuff is SO CLEAR that they are willing to keep “the main thing the main thing” and not get sidetracked on lesser points of contention. (See 1 Corinthians 11:16, Titus 3:9)
7. Being Misunderstood for Being Grace-Focused. Grace does not lead to sin, it leads to holiness. Behaviorism doesn’t lead to holiness, it leads to sin. (Behaviorism is the imposition of external behavior modification by others that supersedes the inner grace-driven true transformation and resulting behavior changes that only the Holy Spirit can genuinely produce.) Most Christians get this, but millennials especiallyget this—perhaps because they witnessed first-hand a great number of moral and ethical failures that began with a proud mindset of behaviorism.
Millennials desire a biblical Christianity in which a loving relationship with Jesus compels obedience empowered by grace. Behaviorism creates a Christianity in which obligation forces obedience driven by conformity, self-effort, and comparison. Millennials desire church communities where grace thrives and comparison dies—which is conducive to spiritual growth. Behaviorism develops church communities where comparison breeds pride and contention which stifles health and spiritual growth. (See Galatians 2:20-21, Romans 6-8)
8. Being Dismissed as Compromisers Rather than Mentored by Encouragers. Millennial leaders are absolutely looking for mentors. They are looking for gracious, biblical, Spirit-filled mentors who will compassionately believe in them, encourage them, influence them, and acknowledge them as leaders of the next generation. They run from those who caustically cut them off, but they run toward those who fuel their passion for Jesus and believe in their potential for the gospel. If you ever wondered why millennials are running from one personality toward another, read that last sentence again. (See Proverbs 22:24, 29:22)
Millennials have a keen sense of awareness that they may be the last spiritual leaders on earth who communicate the gospel before Jesus returns. This is a grave realization—it’s sobering. It calls them to a clearer, higher focus—to live above pettiness, divisiveness, and stylistic debates. They don’t really have time or emotional energy for illogical, subjective arguments that impose meaning upon scripture and fabricate battles that aren’t worth fighting, much less dying over. They see the world perishing while Christians are quibbling, and it frustrates them.
Simply put, millennials are facing a culture that may not be “Christian-friendly” much longer, and the guy across town that also preaches the gospel and loves Jesus doesn’t look so horrible anymore—especially when you consider we might be sitting in a prison-cell together someday for preaching Jesus. (See Luke 9:50) Truthfully, sudden oppression or persecution of Christianity in our culture would bring together a WHOLE LOT of Christians who, right now, just don’t even like each other!
All of this gives them a greater sense of urgency in gospel ministry, but a deeply Christ-dependent urgency rather than a self-dependent urgency. In other words, they want to live and serve in fervent balance—like it really is a work of God, rather than the work-a-hol-ism that has wrecked so many families over the decades.
I get very encouraged when I’m around millennials. They function with a clarity in biblical priorities that’s hard to find. They love Jesus and the gospel, and they want to see as many souls come to Christ as possible! They love the local church and the Word of God. They love doctrine and depth. They are committed to real faith, real Christianity, and real gospel ministry.
I’ve never met a millennial who did not deeply respect, honor, and love the older men that influenced them. Generally, their spirit is not to be disrespectful or dishonoring. One younger pastor shared this insight: “In truth, I don’t know of any young men who truly want to dishonor or leave behind the previous generation in any way. We love them and need them dearly.” But older men who desire control are NOT comfortable with these younger men. Millennials want to be influenced by godly men but they don’t want to be controlled by another man—they are too discerning for that. They desire their biblical liberty to seek the Lord and obey Him as LORD. (See Romans 14:4, James 4:11-12)
I will probably follow up this post with a post entitled, “Things that Discourage Older Spiritual Leaders.” In that we will talk about some of the doctrinal compromise, emergent church trends, and things that just scare the older generation. In truth, some of our millennial leaders are in fact being drawn away by false doctrine. Millennial friend, the concerns are often based in valid doctrinal depth, and they usually have your best interest at heart. Not all of them are gracious, but most of them are, and you will be wise to find those godly men and allow them influence in your life.
In closing, PLEASE don’t read or impose doctrinal compromise into my writing. I am clearly committed to pure doctrine. I absolutely reject ecumenism and emergent church trends of doctrinal compromise. And please don’t read a “tone” in this. I deeply respect and love godly friends in every generation. Personally, I’m more concerned about an attitude than an age bracket.
Won’t you join me in encouraging, strengthening, and cheering on the millennial generation of Christian leaders? Let’s face it, soon enough, if Jesus tarries, the gospel WILL BE in their hands entirely!
I, for one, believe that God is preparing them to be the most fruitful generation in Christian history!