Over the last few years, Millennials have gotten a lot of press. There are numerous articles written about why Millennials are the laziest, least motivated, and most narcissistic generation. These articles suggest that Millennials are over educated, but lack the necessary job skills needed to succeed in life. They paint Millennials as being addicted to social media and their phones, being socially inept – unable to have a conversation in real life, and being disinterested in spiritual and religious matters. They bemoan the fact that Millennials have given up on church and given up on God. That they simply don’t care about anything unless it will directly benefit them. They use statistics to illustrate that previous generations were more in-tune with daily life affairs, had a stronger work ethic, and were more drawn to starting their family earlier.
This is one side of the story, but then we also have the backlash of articles written by 20somethings stating otherwise. These young adults claim that we are the product of an older generation that refuses to retire, that we have master’s degrees and work at coffee shops, and that we are delaying marriage because we simply can’t afford a million dollar house.
I realize that we will likely never come to a conclusion on the matter. But I’d like to suggest that fighting about which generation is “better” is entirely missing the wonderful opportunities that could be had fostering inter-generational dialogue.
I understand that my generation is not perfect – neither was yours. I know we have an unhealthy preoccupation with the screen, we are facing the social pressures of trying to keep up with our friends who post a “picture perfect life”, and in many cases we are struggling to even get a half-time position in our field. Yet, I also believe that Millennials provide an incredibly dynamic worldview which could greatly inspire the older generation if they were willing enough to listen. I know that I am only one person, but as a Millennial, I do feel like I am able to represent my generation. Below, I’d like to share some of the ways the technological craze and Millennials in general are actually a great asset to our church, our culture, and our world.
#1: Is a nose stuck in a screen really a nose stuck in a screen?
Millennials like myself are often glued to a screen, held captive by our phones, and have conditioned our minds to respond the minute we hear a ding or buzz go off. There are many negative side effects to this such as decreased concentration during conversations. I have to admit that one of my greatest pet peeves is someone who tells me they are listening to my story while mindlessly scrolling their newsfeed. On the other hand, they probably are – we are a generation of multi-taskers. We have learned to pick up on the vital information, while playing Candy Crush or Snap Chatting.
However, there is another side to this story. Sometimes seniors think that all we are doing is Facebooking, but that’s actually not the case. As anyone under the age of 60 realizes, our phones are our mini-computers. We are using our phones to connect with friends, but we are also reading the news, finding recipes, and learning new languages.
There definitely are disconcerting things about the technological world. In “Overrated: Are We More In Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World” Eugene Cho states that the newsfeed barrage has dulled our sensitivities and compassionate response. I definitely believe there is much truth to this statement. Causes are valiantly fought on Facebook and forgotten the next day. Articles and photos circulate to raise awareness, but next week we don’t remember them. We somehow think that clicking the “like” button or even the new “sad face” option makes up for a personal phone call when someone is going through a difficult time.
However, there is also a positive side. The cool thing about social media is the way we now have access to people’s thoughts and opinions around the globe. I often engage in meaningful church discussions with friends in North America, Europe, and Australia when previously this would never have been an option. I am part of Facebook groups and blogging collectives (like the MennoNerds) where ideas are circulated and shared by people I never would have met in real life. The blogging world provides opportunities for many to add their voice to a continuing conversation when previously only a select handful of people would be published. Of course, there are individuals whose blogs probably are not worthy of publication, but for the most part, many blogs are helpful and provide unique outlooks and possibilities.
#2: The Generation that Doesn’t Grow Up, Might Actually Be the Most “Grown-Up” of All
Many people in my parents’ and grandparents’ generation are deeply concerned with the Millennial generation that refuses to grow up. It’s just a much different world now than it was then.
Back when my grandparents were kids, a Bachelor’s degree was your ticket to nearly every profession. A master’s degree showed you were some type of genius and a PhD meant you were practically on the Mensa list. People back then often started their profession in their early 20s. They worked in the same field for many years and then retired in Florida (unless, of course, they are still working and not opening up those jobs for my generation).
Not so today. Today’s world sees people changing professions at least 6 times over their lives. People seem unfocused and unwilling to put down roots. And what’s worse, people don’t seem concerned at all with the fact that they are approaching 30 (or even 40) and still don’t have tenure anywhere.
This can certainly seem disconcerting in the moment, but take a closer look.
When I was 24 and a recent graduate (holding a master’s degree – a higher degree than either my parents or grandparents attained) I spent a year in Scotland. Many people tried to discourage this. They said it was a waste of time, that I should just “settle down” and that I would later come to regret it. Their ideal for my life was something I considered “boring.” Being a globe trotter often seems like an irresponsible use of education, however, I believe it’s a great asset. Living abroad really broadens your understanding and scope of many things. You learn how it is possible to make friends in a country and culture where you didn’t know anyone. You wrestle through bumbling social conventions, you become more aware of global affairs, and your whole outlook on life changes.
Many people my age are also interested in intentional communities. The older generation often doesn’t understand this. I have often faced ridicule about my involvement in L’Arche, even being told it was a “cult.” But I think it’s actually this increasing sense of isolation and individualization that propels us towards life together. And I think our willingness to cook and share meals with one another, to give of our time and talents, and even to share in monetary resources is not a sign of immaturity, but actually a great witness towards the inter-dependency God ordained for us when He stated “it is not good for a man to be alone.”
#3: The generation that isn’t into church, has redefined what “church” actually means
Lastly, many older people are frustrated with the lack of young adults who not only skip church on a regular basis, but don’t seem to be interested in serving at all. Yet, I think what this generation is failing to consider is that we ARE part of church, we’re just living that differently.
Of course, there are increasingly more Millennials who ditch church entirely, who embrace a “relative truth” schema, and who clearly are not considered with spiritual matters. However, for those who are, we just want to see things done differently.
Millennials are perhaps the greatest proponents of social justice endeavours there are. We clearly care about the ills that befall humanity and we are out to change that. We need churches that will harness that creative energy and passion and allow it to fuel their ministries. We’re done with the talk, we want action.
Here’s another thing, people often confuse denominational affiliation with the Christian title. Here’s the thing, for many Millennials denominations are simply a buzz word, if not a distraction. I know many committed Christians in their 20s and 30s who don’t want to be affiliated with the Baptist, Mennonite, or Anglican movement, but who nevertheless love God. I, myself, do not like to stay tethered only to one denomination. I am a Free Methodist because they are the denomination that hired me on and as a result the one I am seeking ordination with. However, it could just as easily have been the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, the Pentecostals, or any other denomination which ordains women.
This can often be difficult for elderly people to compute. Many grandparents grew up in the same church, raised their children in that church, and are proud to be Catholics, Lutherans, or Episcopalians. To them, there is only one theology that can be correct. They may extend grace to other groups, but they proud to claim the title of only one.
But that’s just not the way things are anymore, and I think it’s for the better. I believe being trans-denominational is a wonderful asset that Millennials bring. It shows that we are not so caught up in “only one” option, but that we are willing to bring the best of all denominations into the picture. It shows that we are willing to communicate and discuss different theological topics without always having to be the ones who are right. I believe that ultimately this will be to our benefit as it will likely help patch up many of the church rifts that occurred in the past for what we deem to be “quite silly reasons.”
Millennials are not perfect. They have addictions like every other generation. They struggle with mental health issues like every other generation. They find it difficult to break into the job market, like many other people just starting out. They wonder how they will afford expensive housing let alone get married and raise a family. Yet even in the midst of all these trials, they are able to bring us multiple job skills (acquired through a variety of different jobs rather than simply being an expert at one), many different world views (acquired through living abroad and in intentional communities rather than starting their career in one country and never leaving), and the unity of a group who is more focused on Christ than on denominations. And because of this, I think we have a lot to thank the Millennial generation for.