By Eddie Schmidt
Every week after our church service, I talk to parents about all sorts of things such as upcoming events, local happenings, and their particular student. Occasionally a parent will get on a rant about how incredibly different their child’s upbringing is from their own childhood, and they usually end the conversation shaking their head and saying, “Kids these days.”
I am a 26-year-old millennial who works with young people from a wide range of backgrounds. I have heard concerns about young people today, yet there is more than meets the eye when it comes to millennials, especially those who follow Christ.
First, many millennials come from nontraditional homes: divorced, blended, or single parent. Second, we are digital natives, meaning we have grown up with technology and social media for the majority of our lives. Third, because of our nontraditional home environments and the fact that we are so media driven, we tend to be fame focused. We tend not to focus on what is happening around us but rather want to live in someone else’s shoes. One example of this is the popularity of YouTube, where viewers can watch someone video their daily life (vlogging). There is a greater degree of lifestyle change with millennials, such as the decline of marriages, living with parents longer, and almost 50 percent of all births coming from unmarried couples.
So is there any hope for this generation? Yes, and it involves the help of older generations.
One solution I keep hearing from older folks and various Christian leaders is leadership. I believe we need a particular type of leadership: coaching. We need more caring, older adults who want to invest in the younger generation. But it involves commitment. Giving leadership principles in a meeting or at a conference is easy to do, but walking through life with those who are different from you—that takes a larger investment.
Remember the nostalgic days of playing recreational sports? You had teammates with whom you would trust your life, a sport that you loved playing, and a coach who would be there until the last kid was picked up (even if it meant waiting long past the sun had gone down). I loved those days. Though I was never really good at any of those sports, it wasn’t the sport itself that makes me nostalgic. It’s the people.
I still remember my coach, Mr. Steach, who for nearly 10 years coached me in baseball, soccer, and basketball. Mr. Steach taught us hard work and teamwork and showed that he genuinely cared about each of us. Looking back, it is pretty amazing that he invested those 10 years with us and strived to develop us into the men that we are today. Mr. Steach taught me a lot about sports, but more so he taught me about life and developed in me the skills of leadership. Millennials today need more people like Mr. Steach.
There are five ways in which older generations can coach the millennial generation.
Show Us Your Craft
A coach develops those he or she is around. Older generations already have a set of skills that have been sharpened and experiences that have formed them into the people they are today. We as millennials need to hear about those experiences.
A Forbes article stated that 91 percent of millennials are expecting to stay at a job for three years or less. We do not have a sense of longevity that previous generations have lived out. We need to learn from coaches about the importance of working and sharpening our craft over decades of hardship. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23).
Lead in Character
Coaches lead first in character. Great coaches want to help players realize that character always trumps talent.
We as millennials can smell “fakeness” a mile away. We have been brought up by parents who say they love us and then leave our family for an affair. We have been brought up by Christian leaders whose moral failures are revealed. We have been brought up by people who say they follow Christ but do not live out characteristics of Jesus, such as loving the poor. We have a worldview that church is a bunch of white, middle-class folks who have a country-club mentality, giving lip service to God so they feel good about themselves.
Please prove us wrong. Show us that you care about becoming more like Jesus instead of promoting the person you want elected or getting involved in church drama. We need you to show us that every issue is not black and white. Invite us to a cup of coffee and tell us how amazing marriage is instead of criticizing your spouse to everyone around you. Give us a glimpse of Jesus and show us that your words and actions line up with what you say you believe.
In games where it is neck and neck, coaches have to think outside the box or step out of their comfort zone so the team will win. Coaches need to spark creative ways to reach the desired destination.
A recent survey stated that 35 percent of millennials are now religiously unaffiliated. This is what some people call the rise of “the nones.” The hard truth is that millennials are bored with the way church is run. We are tired of seeing people argue over things that seem pointless. What we need from older generations is to take initiative and step outside of your comfort zone. Help us learn the historical and foundational faith while also helping us reimagine some practices. Because the way we reached people in the past is probably not the same way we will reach people for Christ in the future.
Build Our Courage
One of the key aspects of a coach is to inspire and offer hope to the players. The coach gives courage by encouraging the players.
In older generations, men were 10 times more likely to be veterans than millennials today. Only 3 percent of all millennials are veterans. There is a level of toughness that comes from being in the military, and there is a toughness from going through life in general. One of the ways that the older generations can help coach the youngest generation is by putting courage into us—in other words, give encouragement. Tell us your hardships but also tell us your victories. Tell us where you went wrong and how we can avoid those mistakes. Tell us of God’s faithfulness in your life, and encourage us to keep following the ways of Jesus. We need to always be reminded of that.
Great coaches stay committed to the team until the task is done. One of the encouraging aspects of the millennial demographic is that we are very team focused. We believe that there is more value in a team than an individual. We love words like family, collaboration, and collective. Though we tend to love words, we don’t have great examples of these in our own lives. Show us what faithfulness and commitment looks like in your marriage, in your work, and in your values. We need you to lead the way on what Jesus meant saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).
We need more coaches. We need you to jump in and get involved. I promise you one thing if you do it: you will start to see your legacy realized in the young people around you.
Eddie Schmidt is the Student Ministries Pastor at Journey Christian Church in Apopka, Florida.