The Millennial Generation: a Rock in the Path
In 1 Corinthians 1:23 St Paul refers to Jesus as a 'stumbling block.' A stone that is in the way. Something to trip over. Something to prevent you from your headlong pursuit of your own way. Something to impede your progress.
Not exactly flattering terms for our Savior.
The American Church is facing an interesting problem. It's dying. In short, the younger generation wants nothing to do with it. This is true of those raised in church, and its true of those raised outside of it. The church is growing largely irrelevant to the culture of America. Some of us are seeing this trend and growing morose and resigned to our impending doom, others are growing more shrill and frenzied in an attempt to forestall it. I suggest the radical middle; a different way of doing and being church that actually makes sense to the next generation. In short, I suggest that we listen to those people who have rejected us, and we learn from them. I think they have a lot to teach us about how to live in the Kingdom of God.
In fact, what I would say about the 'Millennial Generation,' (specifically those raised in the church) is that it would be most helpful to think of them as 'third culture' people. For example, Ara was raised in a home that was culturally and linguistically Greek, but went out into a world that was culturally and linguistically American. This led her to become increasingly adept at navigating both cultures, while becoming increasingly uncomfortable in both, and ultimately led to a crisis of identity. Not knowing who she was, hating one or both cultures, and even rejecting one or both cultures. Eventually, instead of trying to be Greek, or American, Ara figured out how to be Ara.
I observe that there is a group of people in the church (but probably not in fellowship) going through the same kind of struggle. The difference being, they don't have the convenient cultural markers of language, food, etc. to distinguish between the two cultures they are navigating. In short, very few people understand that this is a cross-cultural situation, including the people going through it.
Many are familiar with the conversations around the 'emerging church' and 'post-modern cultural shifts.' This is, essentially, all I am describing. The church and the christian home are one culture, the rest of society is another. The Millennials are learning to navigate both cultures, but have a hard time articulating the disconnect between the two worlds.
Indeed the church doesn't see it either. It is too simple to dismiss as 'worldliness.' After all, the church isn't supposed to live the way the world does! But that isn't what I am describing here. If American culture truly is shifting into postmodernity right before our very eyes, then this situation is fundamentally not about rejecting worldliness in the church, but rather it is about learning how to be missionally sensitive to our culture. We would find it strange if Congolese missionaries came to America and refused to worship in English because they didn't want to let the world into their church.
So, what are we talking about here? What is this difference in culture?
There are many, but one of the key cultural markers of the Millennial Generation is the priority that is placed on the perception of authenticity. (Emphasis on perception!) The more slick the production, the more off-putting it is. (Of course, advertisers are aware of this, and have long since learned to take advantage of this by simply changing their production techniques… but that is another story.) When someone approaches a Millennial in an over-priced suit, with well-groomed mannerisms, a gleaming smile, and a perfect sales pitch, it doesn't matter if the product is a cheap gym membership, a great financial opportunity, or spiritual bliss, the Millennial feels for his/her wallet and slowly backs away...
"You can't trust a man with perfect teeth." This is something that makes great sense to Millennials who prefer a matte finish to a high gloss (metaphorically speaking).
But who can blame them, they are inundated with sales-pitches and advertising slogans and they can smell an ulterior motive coming a mile away. This means that many of the tools the church learned in the last 50 years are actually repulsive to people in their 20's not because of their content, but simply because of the glossy sheen.
It would be easy to discount the Millennials. They won't just 'get on board' and 'get with the program.' Indeed, they have become for us 'something to trip over, something to impede our progress.'
I would suggest, however, that they actually have quite a lot to offer us in our mission to reach the culture around us with the Good News that Jesus is King.