By Blake Oliver
Millennials aren’t deaf to what society says about us. Generations of hardworking Americans call us lazy. Those we want to be close to don’t understand why we’re so connected to our phones. It’s hard to find a niche in the world, but for Christians it’s different right? After all, we have the shelter of other believers, don’t we? Not always.
While millennials might not hear it from the pulpit, the same disheartening disconnect, distance, and distrust can seep into the very walls where we seek sanctuary. As much as the singular belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior ought to unify our churches, it isn’t uncommon for someone of my generation to be cut off for a different view on a lesser topic. I personally have experienced this and have heard it echoed by others.
There is a belief that we’ve fallen from the generations before, that we’re letting them down. There are times I believe this myself. I feel like by embracing the generational aspects I appreciate, I am letting down people I care about, like my grandmother. Now my grandmother wouldn’t ever say that I am letting her down, but when she talks about my generation, it’s hard not to hear an indictment of myself.
There is a gap between our generations. Part of this is because we millennials don’t feel understood, and part of it is on our shoulders. There may be a gap, but there shouldn’t be a disconnect that prevents us from loving one another. After all, I love people in older generations, and they love me in return.
As a writer, I love words. I’ve always loved finding new words and examining them for a new understanding of the world I live in. So in the hopes of mending bridges and building understanding, here are three quite controversial words that need to be examined for a better understanding of millennials: profession, relationship, and acceptance.
Our first word takes us to a place where many millennials feel devalued: work. Generation X and the baby boomers have been willing to work their fingers to the bone. I’ve watched my grandmother and my mother work and work and still not be satisfied with the results. As my grandmother worked at a high-end shoe store, she seemed truly satisfied with what she was doing. Now retired, she misses the work that defined so much of her life. My mother saw this and bought into the same ideology but found less satisfaction in her job. It ended up only being the place she went to work for money; she looked forward to coming home each morning from working the night shift. Is it any wonder that I want something different? Is it a surprise that the rest of my generation also views work differently?
My generation wants to define ourselves less on our work than previous generations. We want to work hard when we’re at work and leave it at the door. We don’t want our profession to affect our private life at home any more than it has to. Millennials seem to be more likely than other generations to try to grow a beard or have tattoos because we want to preserve our sense of style for when we aren’t at work. My grandmother appreciates that I wore a suit jacket and tie almost every day to teach my students, but she couldn’t understand why I wanted to grow a beard with it. As long as there is professional behavior, in most situations the style of a person shouldn’t matter.
No millennial wants to feel devalued—yet many of us do. Much of the leadership that we experience is not the leadership we seek. We want and need to have a growth mindset, to improve and feel like we are supported doing so. We want the chance to try, fail, and try again.
Our churches can either cause more or less of this same feeling. How many young people don’t feel comfortable because of the way they choose to style themselves? How many don’t feel welcome because we’re crushed for having a difference of opinions?
Thanks to technology, millennials are increasingly connected to others. In one way, this is great because we are able to keep track of friends from throughout our lives easier than past generations, when it was so easy to lose each other through moves and marriages. Now we have social media that allow us to see major life events of friends from high school, college, and beyond. We can watch babies we’ve never met grow up.
The bigger problem is that most of these relationships are superficial. Millennials feel increasingly alone. I’ve never heard my mother or grandmother complain about this. They’ve kept a few close friends from throughout their lives and made sure that those relationships mattered in a more substantial way to their lives than online friends could. It’s less true that we have friends; it’s more true that we have followers. We have people who look at our pictures and thoughts and click that they like them. There is a hunger for some to gain more and more of a following, though I’ve yet to hear of this truly satisfying anyone.
And yet my generation is seeking a better
work/life balance. The baby boomers and Generation X have focused on work to the point that the term latchkey kids was popularized, myself being one of these. This has my generation scrambling to figure out what it is to balance work while also seeing our families and friends. It’s a desire that stems from a thirst for the relationships we have grown up seeing (or not seeing) in the adults around us.
Many churches are using this connectivity to their advantage. Right now my wife and I are living in Spain, far from everything and everyone we know, but we are able to keep in contact with people, including our church small group, with messenger apps. We can even listen to the sermon from our home church through a podcast.
This last word is probably the most important of the three, especially in our churches. A concern about my generation and the coming generation is how many are fleeing our churches. It shouldn’t be hard to see that we’re missing something vital: acceptance.
Many millennials are more accepting of those who believe differently than we do. We’re also more likely to explore different ideas from our own. While some almost treat this intermingling as dangerous, this is exactly what Christ did when he spent time with the sinners of this world. The Christian millennial wants and needs to explore ideas, to be challenged, hoping to grow closer to Christ. Acceptance will keep us coming back to the truth. This is, in fact, the best way to spread the news of the gospel and bolster existing believers.
We as millennials are not the hopeless generation that many try to peg on us. More than anything, many of us just want to build relationships with those around us, to love our neighbor. My hope is that the believers among my generation can build these relationships to point others to Jesus and serve alongside older generations to bring glory to our Lord.
Blake Oliver is a Christian millennial who is currently living as a writer in Lugo, Spain with his wife, Jazmin.