I am a millennial. I grew up in the church. I still have strong ties to the church I was raised in. Over the past two years I have also gotten involved in a church in the city where I go to college.
Many in my generation are leaving the church, or at least the kind of church they grew up in, abandoning the traditional local church for new ideas of what they think church should be. If they have stayed, the church likely does not feel like home to them anymore.
You are the elders, the pastors, the worship leaders, the parents, the Sunday school teachers, the members who have invested time and energy into your local church and made it what it is today. Maybe you specifically invested in the young people in your church. But still they are leaving.
My story and my experiences are not identical to others in my generation. My voice and thoughts do not reflect exactly what others my age are saying and feeling. But I am a piece of the story. While each of us has our own complicated experiences and emotions tied to our view of the local church and no individual story can clear away all the hurt and confusion caused by generational differences in the church, I hope that this starts a conversation; that what I have to say will cause you to ask other young people what they have to say; that reading my thoughts will motivate you to share yours with me, and that together we can pursue God’s heart for the Church.
I am a young person in your church and this is what I wish you knew.
As you know young people are often classified as ambitious, energetic, full of huge dreams, and idealistic. While these are generalizations, they’re often true. We love to imagine the endless possibilities of what could be, and we want to change the world. But I know I’m not ready to change the world yet.
I recognize that you have decades more life experience than I do. I see that you have experimented, been trained, and worked hard to be where you are now. I understand that you possess far more wisdom and insight than I could possibly have gained in my short twenty years. While I do have big ideas and I can often be arrogant, assuming I know a better way to do things than you, I do respect your wisdom and your experience. And I want to learn from you.
I want to learn not just about the way you do things or what your model for ministry is, but who you really are. I want to know what you think and how you interact with the world. I want to know why you do things the way you do and I want you to share the wisdom behind it with me. I want to learn what your lifetime of experience has taught you and see how your years of following Christ have transformed you.
I praise God that you are the leaders of today’s church. While I may not understand everything you do, I recognize your wisdom and am thankful for your leadership. Please remember that tomorrow, my generation will be leading. What you teach us is what we will know, and what you model for us is what we will, to an extent, imitate. We need you to engage with us, to show us, to love us, and to pour into us. As the future leaders of the church, to a large extent we determine what direction we’ll take. But, in a sense, so do you. So invest in us – it’s not just our future, it’s the future of the Church.
I will ask a million questions. If my endless questions become tiresome please tell me, but I am on a quest to learn more and each conversation I have with you is an opportunity to do just that. I want to know what you think because I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to think. I want to know your opinion because I’m shaping mine. I want to know how you pursue Christ because I am just learning how.
Under your guidance and supervision, I want to try everything. I’m still trying to figure out where my gifts are best utilized and how I can serve the church. Sometimes I need to try things before I know. If I’m setting myself up for failure, please tell me. Most of the time I’ll listen, but if I don’t you have my full permission to say, ‘I told you so.’ If you see something I’d be good at, ask me to help. If I don’t think I’ll succeed I may hesitate, but I trust your judgment and am willing to try.
I am interested in what you are doing and I want to help. I still have so much to learn, but being involved in the ministries you have a passion for can help me do that. As I discover my limits, develop my various gifts, and learn how to accomplish things with skill and grace, I want to be involved with what you are doing. Invite me to your Bible study; let me serve with you at a weekend event; ask me to help you with prep work. I want to experience every part of what you do in ministry so that I am well-equipped in the future.
Sometimes, I have no idea what I’m doing right. Just as I know you welcome my encouragement, I need yours too. Often I’m the last person to recognize that I have a good idea or that a certain area of ministry is a great fit for me. I may not know that I did something helpful or said something constructive. Just as often, I may not realize that one of my ideas is really dumb or that the way I carried out a task was extremely inefficient. So I also welcome your instruction. If there’s an easier, more graceful, or better way to handle something, show me. If my idea for something is stupid, don’t be afraid to tell me. It’s okay, because I know you’ve had dumb ideas too.
Although many my age have left, remember that doesn’t mean I’m going to. I know that it’s painful to watch as youth that you have invested in walk away from the church that you love. I know it is hard to pour into students when you don’t know how long they’ll be around or if you’ll have to say good-bye to them too. But it’s also difficult for us to stay when many are hesitant and cautious to extend us a welcome.
Most importantly, I want you to know that I desire your friendship. I want you to walk with me through life, share the things that you’ve learned, and teach me to live life with the same skill and grace that I see in you. Stop by campus sometime, let me make hot chocolate for you, and spend time just chatting with me. Have a cookie-baking afternoon with me. Text me. Tell me when your birthday is so I can send you a silly card. Give me hugs. Tell me about your kids, your in-laws, your washing machine, and your favorite music.
Know that I pray for you just as I ask that you would pray for me. I pray that you would pursue holiness in all things, that God would give you grace and wisdom as you lead and model Christ to others, that He would make you more like Christ every day, and that you would finish well the race you’ve started.
“Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus – the great Shepherd of the sheep – with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ. Glory belongs to Him forever and ever. Amen”
– Hebrews 13:20-21
– Hebrews 13:20-21
[Soli Deo Gloria]