Across the nation just now there is a buzz about church revitalisation and church planting. And this is really exciting and encouraging to see as a young gospel worker. I really desire to see the church in Scotland grow and flourish; clearing the stones, breaking new ground and reaching the vast number of people around us who are unengaged with the the good news of Jesus. But one of the big challenges which faces the church is the integration of and interaction with the Millenial generation.
What is a Millenial?
We may read this term and ask “what is a Millenial?” In global marketing this has been an area of vast investment for years. There are various definitions but it tends to be a reference to people born between 1980-2000. This is not totally conclusive but does seem to hold a general consensus. I want to be clear I’m not arguing that we should treat the church as a capitalist corporation seeking out our next consumer market; that is not my point. However, it is foolish to think that we can’t learn anything from the vast quantities of research which has been done at great cost by these organisations which give an insight into the millennial milieu.
As a child of the late 80’s I exist in the category of millennial, but I want to be clear that I know I am not the voice of my generation, I am one of many. I accept right from the beginning that I am not fully able to articulate or deal with all the complexities of my own generational worldview. However I do want to be able to relate some of the strengths and weaknesses of millennials which exist and how these relate to the gospel, the church and christian growth in Scottish evangelicalism in particular.
So where do we begin? Let’s start with relationships. You see, millennials desire relationships of authenticity. We can remember the great soundtrack of the late Nineties telling us “things can only get better” which always came with a side dressing of polished media smiles. And what we have come to realise is that this is not reality. In one sense this is true of every generation; we all find out that life is not as perfect as it is portrayed to us. However, this is the first generation which has grown up in a fully digital world where instant communication is not only possible but normal. In other words hypocrisy is both easily seen and readily exposed.
What is wonderful for the church is that God gives us the blueprint in his word about what real, authentic relationships can look like with each other and above all with him. And this is where the challenge then hits the church. In previous generations the minister or pastor was often viewed as a step removed from normal life and an air of detached professionalism crept till it became one of the defining markers of the religious professional. But this is not the worldview of the millennial. There is an increased desire to experience real and authentic relationships in a safe environment. For so many millennial’s they have known broken relationships in their home or in their own romantic involvements. They seek leaders who display authenticity, living out the life of discipleship before their eyes with a humble, broken dependence on God. If this is a need within the millennial generation the wonderful thing is that this is also what God desires the leaders of his people to be like.
One of the cornerstones of my theology is the sovereignty of God in all things. This truth is so liberating in gospel work; God knows what God is doing and he will do everything for His glory and the good of his people. We see in the bible God the Father lovingly sending his Son to redeem us from sin bringing regeneration into our lives through the power of the the Spirit who unites us to the Lord Jesus. The God who is trinity displays quite clearly that knowing and doing are capable of being held together. I want to suggest that this is a key touching point with millennials; this God acts.
Knowing the truth is absolutely crucial, there is no denying that. However to use doctrinal accuracy as a smoke screen from practical action is very sad. Indeed it is entirely un-biblical. James acts as one of the chief protagonists in this thinking telling us not only to be hearers but people who do what the word says (James 1:22). Filling ourselves with preaching and praying is good but what do we then do with it? Does it spur us to increased holiness and purity? Does it fill us with a passion to love people who are lost? Does it awaken within us the deep joy of knowing Christ and wanting to introduce him to others? Action is highly attractive to millennials as we have greater connection through digital media to the global outworking of sins destructive capacities. To quote Hudson Taylor and his approach to action he said, “Let us, in everything not sinful, become like the Chinese that by all means we may save some.” Seeing believing people love people is such a great example of following the Lord Jesus. It is fulfilling the great commission in the spirit of the great commandment.
A key thing to think about is this; how well have the people of God transferred what they believe into to how they live? In Scotland, we have to confess that this has not always been the best.
Now, this may seem strange to some and it may be altogether wrong for others (I am happy to be proven wrong on both counts). Articles and reports appear frequently explaining how millennials and younger people don’t listen to authority etc…. But something that I have witnessed over the last few years is the way in which millennials respond positively to people who speak with authority. Let me be clear it is not the same as the headmaster/pupil relationship. This is not how we were socialised or educated and as such it is an alien environment for learning; opinions and free thinking were encouraged not suppressed. It therefore makes no sense to adopt the out of touch (dare we even say un-biblical) boss/worker model in ministry.
But I have said that millennials respond well to authority, how does that work? Further still what does that look like? Lets take on board that this is a time period without precedence in the history of human communication and interaction. It is not only possible to instantly digest information and sustain relationships on the other side of the world, it is normal. Bearing that in mind helps to provide a frame of reference for the wall of noise which the millennial interacts with through various digital platforms almost every moment of the day. A major issue exists; all of these voices are competing to attract attention and draw a response.
When a message is communicated by someone who graciously and winsomely leads and speaks without compromise that is the moment where the rupture happens. Normal engagement ceases (which usually is scrolling through the swathe of text and videos on the screen) and true interaction takes place. I can’t help but realise that this seems to be the same sort of authority that the Lord Jesus had as he was living amongst and speaking into the communities that he engaged with. “This man teaches, but with authority” was the observation.
I hope that you can see that this sort of authority draws together the first two points which have already been made; It is authenticity in action. My desire is to see a flourishing, multi-generational, cross-cultural church across Scotland. What we need to ask ourselves is this. How am I living out the life of discipleship in a way which grapples with the challenges and opportunities of a changed society, to the glory of God?