By / Sep 30

In recent years, there’s been conversation about millennials and the Church. After reading various takes, it seems to me that there’s an inability or unwillingness of various generations to listen to each other well.

As a 40-something, I’m right at the edge of Generation X, looking behind me at millennials. I consider myself a millennial in many respects, though I disagree with some of the characterization of this generation and even the overuse of the term.

What worries me the most about this conversation, as a pastor, is the sense of tribalism—the idea of generations sticking together and fighting for their rights in church life—that goes against the ethos of the body of Christ. The Church should be multigenerational: Young listening to old, old listening to young, all followers of Christ working out their salvation in fear and trembling. So, here are five ways that generations (Gen Zers, millennials, Gen Xers, boomers, busters, and any other group not given a clever name) can listen to each other and grow in Christ together:

1. Younger leaders should find several older leaders as mentors

For youngish leaders like me, we should recognize our wisdom deficit. We have much to learn from wise, older leaders who have gone before us. I’m grateful to have in my life several older pastors who pour wisdom and knowledge into me and, at times, rebuke. Learning from their experiences is enriching. Not only do I come away with workable ideas for my ow leadership, I recognize the value of the ways a previous generation dealt with issues. 

The best way to set up a relationship like this is to simply ask. You’d be surprised how many seasoned pastors or lay leaders would love to sit down for coffee and chat. You don’t need a curriculum or a structure, just a couple hours of uninterrupted time together. If there is someone I’d love to learn from, I call or email and say something like, “Hey, I’d love to go out for coffee or lunch and pick your brain on some things.” Easy. You don’t even have to say the word “mentor.” I’ve found that the most valuable wisdom I’ve gleaned is through casual conversations like these. As you build relationships with older mentors, you’ll find you have a lot more in common than you think.

2. Younger leaders would benefit from some humility

This is hard to swallow for some younger generations, but it needs to be said. We need to dial down the hubris a bit. Part of the reason older generations don’t listen is because we’ve come out swinging, making demands and acting as if we’re the first generation to finally “nail it” when it comes to Christian ministry. And I’m saying that as a criticism of myself, too.

The truth is, like our parents, we are sinners. And in 20 years, some other rising generation will come and offer as substantive a critique of our methods as we do of our parents. What’s more, making demands puts people on the defensive, shuts down conversation, and is antithetical to the kind of full life Christ envisions for his Church.

Rather than building a platform by attacking one part of the Church from our own fortified positions, we should promote gospel unity.

I realize that this can be reversed. At times, older generations have led with a sort of top-down structure. Still, let’s not emulate what we don’t like by making the same demands of those who may not agree with us. As God puts us in greater positions of power and influence, let’s wear it well. Let’s be “clothed with humility” (Col. 3:12). Let’s offer respect and dignity to the leaders who have gone before us. Let’s offer the same forbearance of their (seemingly) out-of-date methods as we desire for our own blind spots. Sometimes, I think the Church chases relevance and youth so quickly that we make older generations feel useless, as if all their hard work and efforts were in vain. Instead, let’s respect the previous generation, even as we seek to improve or update the ministry model.

3. Older generations should realize how much they have to give

Most long-time, experienced Christian leaders I’ve met are extremely gracious, open, and willing to mentor the next generation. But there are some who have not aged well and whose attitude toward the younger set is one of disdain. Part of this might simply be fueled by the feeling of being put aside, or it may just be the hard reality of being passed by as the “next big thing.” If I could say something to every single gray-headed Christian leader, though, it would be this: We need you. Your wisdom, insight, and faithfulness needs to be imparted to us so that we might carry the baton of leadership in our generation.

It seems there are two ways to age as a Christian leader. You can age well, as most of the leaders I’ve seen do, or you can age poorly, getting more prickly, less teachable, more dismissive along the way. I had a conversation one time with a long-time ministry leader who shocked me by his arrogance. He dismissed, with a smirk, nearly everything I was doing at my church, in my writing ministry, and in my educational endeavors. I left feeling like a total failure. Thankfully, leaders like this are rare. I’d love to see older generations, including my own as we grow, age well so that they can pass down their wisdom to those of us who are eager to learn.

4. All generations should read to get a better grasp of history 

One of the things that plagues our conversations, I think, is a thin grasp of both world and church history. By this, I mean God’s sovereign hand over all of history in building his Church and establishing his Kingdom. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with young and older people, gripped by the alarmism of “this is as bad as it’s ever been” in the Church and in the world. This often happens because people have their view of the world shaped by Twitter and the flashing neon signs of “breaking news” all over. 

But settling down and reading, appreciating, and absorbing history reminds us that we are not the first generation to face significant challenges. Our challenges may not be as severe as those faced by previous peoples. What’s more, church history connects our generation to a rich, 2,000-year history of God’s work among his people. We’re reminded that we’re not the first generation to wrestle with faith and politics, in the world and yet not of it, etc. We’ll also be humbled to know that perhaps we are not the best, brightest, and most innovative like we think we are.

Here’s the other thing history gives us: hope. Read the biographies of men like Moody, Luther, Tozer, Augustine, Graham, and Mueller. Read about leaders like Eisenhower, Washington, Lincoln, and King. You’ll see how God works through flawed people to bring about his purposes. Every time I finish a biography of a great leader, I come away with hope and humility. The same God who was active in previous generations is alive and active today. He isn’t depressed by what depresses us and isn’t waiting for our clever new machinations.

5. All generations can work on building unity

I wish I could declare a moratorium on attacks against the Church, by the Church. The market is rich for evangelicals to write a book, pen a blog post, or preach a sermon on the latest problem with the Church. There’s a place for self-criticism, but we forget that, for all of her flaws, the Church is the bride of Christ. Jesus loves the Church. You cannot separate the groom from his bride. He won’t let you.

Rather than building a platform by attacking one part of the Church from our own fortified positions, we should promote gospel unity. That means seeking a Church that is intergenerational, multiethnic, and diverse. Yes, we need to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), but that’s not the same as standing up for preferences in a way that alienates those who think differently. Unity begins by respecting other generations, by listening, by avoiding the sort of over-heated tweets that drive traffic, but also drive unnecessary wedges. Yes, you will go to Church on Sunday and worship with someone who probably thinks differently than you do about politics, music, and the precise meaning of all the bowl judgements in Revelation, but that’s okay. That’s even good. This is how you practice love, forbearance, and grace in community.

We shouldn’t want to build a Church that looks just like us or our “tribes,” even if it’s the easiest and most comfortable thing to do. Instead, we should labor, side by side, to build a Church that’s like Jesus, that values every age and stage. After all, “our” way of doing church isn’t helpful unless each part of the body, from eight to 85, is represented and respected. 

By / May 16

There’s a lot of talk about those in their 20’s and 30’s, more commonly known as “Millennials.” Stereotypes often pit these young adults as lazy and incompetent. But at the ERLC’s National Conference, a panel of trusted leaders speaks to the strengths of Millennials, while not overlooking their weaknesses. We hope you find this conversation helpful.

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By / Feb 6

I first stepped into the high school classroom 20 years ago. Fresh out of college, I was only a few years older than my students, and while I was eager to teach, I soon realized that I had just as much to learn. One lesson I learned early on is the profound influence that I could have on the hearts and minds of my students. It excited and humbled me at the same time.

There’s a certain amount of hand-wringing that adults often do over teenagers. We want to guide and influence them for good, but there's this nagging sense that at any point they will rebel and find everything that we try to instill in them to be either irrelevant or uncool. These concerns can be exacerbated by a growing sense of distress over the negative impact that an increasingly secular American culture has on our youth. It leaves parents and teachers feeling that they are losing their teens to the “culture wars.”

The middle matters

Yet, this sense that our youth will ultimately succumb to the temptations of a secularized culture is born from the false impression that culture is shaped by the people at the top.  On the contrary, people’s hearts and minds are more likely to be influenced and shaped by the organizations that often occupy the middle of society, such as the family, schools and the church. These institutions can have an equally profound impact on our youth.   

A Barna study in 2014 compared millennials who were active in the church to millennials who were no longer active in the church. Fifty-nine percent of those that remained active attributed their steadfast faith to a well-developed Christian worldview that was fostered by a mentor within the church. This speaks volumes to the importance of healthy families, churches and schools in the development of a youth’s worldview and is further proof that these institutions in the middle of society can have the upper hand in the so-called culture wars. Consequently, teens that are well-versed in a strong gospel-saturated worldview have the potential to hold the center of culture for future generations as well.

Fostering a biblical worldview

With this in mind, families, schools and churches should be proactively intentional about impacting their teens’ hearts for the sake of the gospel. Here are some practical ways to foster a biblical worldview in your teen in light of a increasingly secularized culture:

1. Encourage your teen to think critically about the culture around them.

Critical thinking is one vital aspect of education that is neglected in the school systems today. Nonetheless, it is something that can be fostered and encouraged at home and in the church.

Critical thinking is vital to cultural engagement. The Apostle Paul exemplified the power of critical thinking and cultural discernment while preaching the gospel to the Athenians as recounted in Acts 17. Paul devoted time to studying the culture of the Athenians upon his arrival in the city. He found much that was admirable about their culture and praised them for it, but at the same time, he discerned that other aspects of Athenian culture had departed from the truth of the gospel. We can teach our teenagers to do the same.

Noted theologian Abraham Kuyper was correct when he said, ”There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”  Music, art, science and the humanities all reflect the infinite worth of God. Encourage your youth to to seek out the good in these aspects of culture while thoughtfully critiquing the aspects of culture that fail to reflect the infinite worth of God.

2. Give your youth a safe place to work out their ideas.

Critical thinking and big ideas take time to foster and grow. You may find that your teen needs to wrestle with some really big ideas regarding scripture, truth and future plans.  There may even be a need for some real soul-searching to take place in a youth’s heart.  Think about youth mentoring in terms of a marathon, not a sprint. You may find yourself having to forbear through some awkward stages of thought with your teen.  

A good friend of mine who successfully raised four teenagers, all of whom are now devout Christians in their 20’s, amusingly recalled to me that when his oldest son was 17, he informed the family that he planned to live as a homeless person in Japan for a year—just for the experience. Rather than dismiss the idea as foolish (though it was a challenge not to), my friend respectfully dialogued with his son over the course of several weeks. He is happy to report that he convinced his son to avoid homelessness.  

Over and over again, I have found that teens whose family and church “stuck it out” with their youth and patiently mentored them beyond these awkward stages were far more successful than parents who insisted, and even worse bullied, their youth into ascribing to their values.  

3. Always remember that the relationship is the most important thing.

Surveys of Americans under the age of 30 have proven time and time again that they value authentic relations above all else. There are some pitfalls to this value system, as younger people have a tendency to idolize human relationships to an unhealthy degree.  Yet, such a longing for relationships and authenticity provides parents and churches with outstanding opportunities.

It can be tempting to allow your relationship with your teenager to lax, especially when they push back against you, so try to avoid unnecessary arguments and always keep Proverbs 15:1 in mind: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Faith and hope are necessary for your youth to grow in godliness, but it must be nurtured in an environment of love. Do all you can to preserve a healthy and loving relationship with your teens so that faith can grow.

Parents, teachers and church families, you are far more vital to the lives of youth than you realize. The life-giving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is decidedly more powerful than anything our secularized culture has to offer. Share it with them enthusiastically, and remember God’s promise in Isaiah 55:1: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

By / Aug 27

Russell Moore’s words that concluded the second day at the third annual ERLC National Conference were heavy, but also hopeful, a theme consistent across all speakers that day.

“The shaking of American culture is no sign that God has given up on his church,” he said. “The shaking of American culture could very well be a sign that God is rescuing his church from a captivity that we didn’t even know we were in.”

Control and Christian culture

During his keynote session, Christianity Today executive editor Andy Crouch challenged attendees to ask whether they – and the American church as a whole – are “on a quest for control,” specifically of culture.

According to Crouch, a perfect balance of order and abundance are the key ingredients that lead to human flourishing. “The work of culture is to add new dimensions of order that uncover new possibilities of abundance,” he said.

As humans, Crouch added, we are uniquely given authority – the capacity for meaningful action – and vulnerability – exposure to meaningful risk. But control itself is a testament to true motivations.

“You know someone is addicted to control when their control begins to slip they become violent,” Crouch said. “What our culture has perceived of us Christians, is they see us losing control of culture and they see the rage with which we react to that loss of control.”

Dialogue: a way forward

Crouch offered another way forward: true leadership and leaders who “just show up and are honest about their limits, honest about our limits and call us to live a life of risk.”

He added that “true leadership is the stewardship of vulnerability.”

An afternoon breakout session panel between five women also offered practical ways to engage with people who think differently than us.

While author Trillia Newbell suggested that women can be faithful in building them relationships around them and engaging the culture thoughtfully, writer and hip hop artist Jackie Hill Perry shared her story of working with inner city youth and the often affluent, Caucasian women who mentored them.

“A lot of times the mentors had this ‘savior mentality’ that I had to kill,” she said. For the mentoring women, “saving these kids was a means of assimilating them to their culture. When what needed to happen was, no, we want to assimilate them to Christ.”

Millennials and the church

Dialoguing between millennials, that generation born between 1980 and 2000, is also important for the church, as they offer the church their own unique benefits and challenges. How can pastors engage with the next generation to cultivate culture?

Village Church pastor Matt Chandler said that he fears that some churches in the Bible belt are “filled with ungenerate Christians” – individuals raised in the church and immersed in Christian culture. They know to live a good life, but actually may never have heard the Gospel preached.

Reading from Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son, Chandler shared his own former frustration with nominal Christians, and his following conviction from being challenged by the father’s acceptance of not only the younger son, but the older son.

“The mission of God is to seek and save the lost, not moral betterment,” Chandler preached. “The basic Gospel message of why Christ has come has been completely lost on an entire generation.”

And some, unable to live up to what they have been taught is “the good life,” have trouble sharing their failings.

“We will often have to help, here in the Bible Belt, really moral church folk understand that they are not Christians. There are few things more offensive to people who grew up in church and have no relationship with Jesus Christ have no interest in following him. … You’re going to have to give the older brother an opportunity to repent.”

During a breakout session, a panel of pastors talked about other challenges presented by and to the younger generation. The pastors were encouraged, they said, about the determination and strength of millennials who choose to walk in the Christian faith in an increasingly antagonistic culture.

Jackie Hill Perry, the millennial represented on the panel, said that while millennials will find Scriptural truth on social issues offensive, “the gospel is offensive.”

“Millennials need to learn the authority of Scripture,” she added. Part of being a Christian, is being an exile.

Ben Stuart added that he reframes church to his younger attendees as a place of inter-age and inter-socio-economic interaction, and not as, “what can this church do for me.”

Conserving a “gospel authority”

Toward the end of the conference, Russell Moore’s keynote charged listeners to conserve truth with discernment. He shared his story of being a teenager attempting to decipher Christ from the cultural Christianity that surrounded him.

“Darkness is terrible. But darkness is even more terrible still when one is told that it is Jesus,” he said.

What, though, is worth conserving? According to Moore, it is a gospel authority.

“If what we are conserving is not defined by the gospel, defined by a righteousness found in the lived life and the shed blood of the resurrected Jesus Christ … than we have nothing worth conserving at all,” he said.

By / Aug 26
By / Jan 27

Briana Stensrud, Mollie Hemingway, Trillia Newbell, Alison Howard, and Andrew Walker address how the millennial generation can carry the pro-life movement forward.

By / Nov 11

It seems that everywhere we look in the pop Christian blogosphere, someone is talking about Millennials. The conversation is usually focused on what these Millennials want and how the local church can reach them.

For example, in a September article on their website, Barna Research Group offered new survey findings to produce “5 Ways to Connect with Millennials.” As a pastor of a church that reaches over 1,000 Millennials each Sunday, I personally believe the vast conversation focused on Millennials is a little overblown. It has become more of a content-generating selling point than actually helping us come any closer to reaching Millennials.

Two issues we’re facing

My suggestion is that we not make this generation so complicated. There are some simple truths we need to understand about the Church and Millennials, but once we know them, we should not overcomplicate how Millennials are reached and connected to the local Church.

There are two glaring issues the Church is facing with Millennials:

1. We need to keep those Millennials who are in the Church.

2. We need to reach the ones who are not.

Worldview is key to keeping Millennials

The Great Commission calls us to both of these important aspects of Christian mission: evangelism and discipleship. Figuring out how to answer this call for Millennials should not be any different, and I do not think we need yet another study, book, or conference. Starting with Sundays, the simple fact is that many churches have services and programs that people don't want to attend, especially a generation with ever-decreasing loyalties. It isn't worth people’s time or energy to come to a Sunday morning service that is, in their eyes, lame, cheesy and awkward. Millennials are also obsessed with an “experience,” and they aren't getting that at most churches. While I'm not suggesting we create consumer cultures or even more “attractional” models, I am claiming we need to make Sundays worth the drive and time.

There is another reason why many churches are not able to keep Millennials in their gatherings, and it has everything to do with worldview. The Barna article states,

“Millennials need help learning how to apply their hearts and minds to today's cultural realities. Millennials need guidance on engaging culture meaningfully, and from a distinctly Christian perspective.”

Barna concludes from research that Millennial Christians are more than twice as likely to say their church helped them learn “about how Christians can positively contribute to society” compared to those who drop out of church (46 percent versus 20 percent). The conclusion of that research is obviously important, but that is far from the biggest issue. As this generation grows increasingly progressive, we are seeing a decline in their confidence in the Scriptures, beginning with the exclusive belief that Jesus Christ alone is the way to salvation, along with other essential Biblical truths. The Church must teach convictional confidence in the Scriptures in order to keep Millennial Christians and help them develop a Biblical worldview.

So while many want to point to steps and essentials to recapture this generation, I'm not sure we ever had them in the first place. For many Millennials, views on faith and church were shaped by or inherited from their parents and grandparents. When you’ve been part of a church for years out of family obligation, image, or tradition, that shelf life will eventually expire. Keeping Millennials in the Church might begin with actually helping them move from a cultural faith of heritage to a convictional belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must create environments, reason from the Scriptures, and help this generation see why the local church matters.

Reaching Millennials requires non-Christian relationships

We must also understand the different challenges between keeping Millennials in the Church, and reaching those who have yet to come. Changing your service style and increasing confidence in the Scriptures can help you keep Millennials, but it won't help you reach them.

  • You have a band? So does the local bar in town.
  • You serve coffee? So does the place they frequent with their Mac laptop and their friends.
  • Your pastor wears jeans? You might think that's cool. They don't care.
  • Your church uses Facebook? Okay, so do their grandmothers now.

The truth is that people of all generations come to church on the arm of a trusted friend. So why isn’t the Church reaching Millennials? I think the answer is actually simple, but rarely discussed. Christian Millennials largely do not have relationships with non-believers.

If one asked what the greatest hindrance to the Great Commission in America is today, likely answers would be militant secularism, religious liberty, rapidly vanishing Christian influence in the public square, and the rise of the “nones.” These would all qualify as urgent matters the Church is facing and must be addressing. However, I believe the biggest hindrance to the advancement of the Church, especially within this Millennial generation, is the bubble of the Christian subculture.

The hindrance of two Christian subcultures

Today, the subculture is represented by two types of Millennial Christians. One group I am going to call the “Savvy Millennials” (SMs). They use buzzwords, such as “authentic” and “transparent,” while modeling what it looks like to be a hip and cool Christian. They dress in the latest trends, love bands that haven't been discovered by the mainstream and have no problem spending their Friday evening sipping wine at the local hot spot. “Cultural engagement” is the name of their game, and this generation of Christians plays it with pride. Putting on the latest threads from Urban Outfitters, these SMs head out to a concert or a bar for the night, posting pictures later that display newfound freedom from their separatist forefathers. To SMs, this lifestyle is sometimes even considered being on mission as they take part in the culture around them.

Yet, I continue to find myself asking this perplexing question: If a generation of Christians is so missional, authentic, and culturally engaged, then why do we face the dilemma of a missing generation in the Church? While only God can open the eyes of one’s heart to the gospel, something still doesn't add up. Yes, there is a major absence of Christians who simply are not sharing the gospel, in all circles. But, I believe there is a larger issue in this missing generation being unreached. Many Christians who profess to be culturally engaged and missional are really not either of those.

The Savvy Millennials love a good social justice cause but are often indifferent to the Great Commission. They love to be as cool as the world and join in on some the fun, but the dirty little secret is that they are doing this with their Christian friends and not the lost. Without even realizing it or admitting it, the SMs are in the center of Christian bubble they love to hate. In reality this cool crew has no more interaction with non-Christians than their culturally removed ancestors they are trying so hard to distance themselves from.

There is another group within the Christian subculture bubble that isn't as hip or trendy, but they are very engaged . . . online . . . with each other. We will call these folks the “Gospel Centered Millennials” (GCMs). They critique books, listen to sermon podcasts, debate theology and work at refining the definitions of “missional” and “cultural engagement.” Social media is big within this camp. It allows them to link articles and quote the gospel definitions of their heroes. They talk and write about evangelism and will share their faith as a cold call next to the person on an airplane. While any evangelism is better than no evangelism, you won't find this group actually building relationships with non-Christians. In other words, you won’t find them being missional, you’ll just find them talking about it.

Theologically, this camp is orthodox and, thankfully, unashamed of the gospel. Unfortunately, the gospel message they possess does not reach being on mission frequently enough in the day-to-day of their lives. They will go preach to hundreds in unreached countries but have never engaged with the lost through relationships in their own city. They are separatists without even realizing it because they aren’t aware that the conversations they are having about gospel and mission are actually not linking gospel with mission. GCMs are very aware of every church controversy taking place in the Christian sub-culture and seem to know more about their favorite blogger than their own neighbor. It seems this group never gets questioned, due to appreciation for their gospel convictions. While I do affirm those convictions strongly, any conversation about effectively reaching Millennials has to critique this tribe and their practice of commenting on culture without engaging in relationships.

The solution is in merging subcultures

What is the solution for Christians to move beyond the subculture bubble and reach lost people? I believe it is a full blending of the best practices of each of these types of Millennial Christians. If the culturally aware practices of the Savvy Millennials could be merged with the theological convictions of the Gospel Centered Millennials, I believe it would inevitably lead to a localized fulfillment of the Great Commission. If an everlasting truth was taken to an ever-changing culture, if cultural engagement accompanied a proper gospel proclamation, then Millennials would be reached for Christ and connected to local churches.

Eating with tax collectors and sinners still works. Those coffee shop conversations must lead to truth telling. Cultural engagement only works if the culture is actually, well, engaged. This is difficult to accomplish when the SM thinks the mission of the Church is to make it “cooler” and uphold social justice, while the GCM makes theological dialogue and gospel policing the mission.

Christianity will never be made cool in a society that thinks we are nuts. We need theological vigor that leads to relational urgency with those who do not know Christ. We must be able to explain, reason, apply and model the message of Christ. I've never met someone who came to Christ because they thought a Christian had great taste in skinny jeans and obscure folk rock bands. I've also never met someone who came to Christ because a friend can make the case for elder rule in Church government. I am not trying to set up false dichotomies but rather stating that if a generation is going be reached, we must actually try to reach them and actually reach them to something. The SM must be challenged to ask whether they truly are engaging or just trying to be like the culture. The GCM must put feet to their tweets and blog posts about being gospel centered and on mission.

I've learned that people who are actually gospel centered and “on mission” don't really talk and tweet about it. They just do it. It is an intentional and purposeful lifestyle. They are unashamed of the message of Christ and live life along those who need Christ. It’s that simple: have friends, and open your mouth about the gospel—that's how you reach Millennials.  

By / Oct 22

Reaching the world with the gospel requires us to understand the world around us, doesn’t it? We study statistics, chat with our colleagues and watch the world work. Understanding the cultural makeup and behavioral tendencies of those around us helps us better live on mission and share the love of Christ with others.

One of the most popular people groups to study today in Christian and non-Christian circles is “Generation Y,” more commonly known as “the millennials.” All sorts of studies are published on millennials regularly. As less and less Millennials (or maybe just white millennials) attend a local church with regularity, pastors frantically read books and blogs about how to keep young people in the pews (or chairs, perhaps).

The organization blazing the trail on millennial analysis is Pew Research Center. Over the last few years, they have published a significant amount of data on generational analysis in general, but they’ve given special attention to millennials. In March of this year, they released a significant study on millennials titled, “Millennials in Adulthood,” which has served as a sort of gold standard of millennial data since. While Pew is leading the charge on millennial research overall, Barna Group has done the most significant amount of research as it relates to millennials and the church.

Turns out it’s a bunch of bunk.

At least that’s what Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard says. And he just might be right.

The problem with studying millennials

In his appropriately-snarky article on the crackpot social science of generational analysis, Ferguson explains how, basically, millennials can be whoever you want them to be to fit your situation. He writes of millennials,

They are nature’s gift to “generational analysts,” those big thinkers who are able to grasp entire national cohorts in their meaty arms, lift them up, turn them upside down, and shake them till every last cultural insight falls from their pockets. Generational analysts can make any assertion they want about the 80 million people they identify as millennials and then dare somebody to disprove it, though hardly anyone ever tries.

He’s right.

This summer I started a blog called Millennial Evangelical in an effort to help the church better understand, reach and serve millennials. As I’ve studied and written about millennials somewhat consistently for about three months now, I’ve realized exactly what Ferguson is saying: pick a stat and make it dance however you’d like.

Pastors and church leaders are desperate for more data, more stats, more analysis on the millennial generation and how they can get them in the church. There seems to be a sort of insatiable hunger for millennial resources.

In addition to my own blog, I help manage a couple blogs of other leaders in the evangelical community, and just about any blog post about millennials is guaranteed to draw more traffic than other run-of-the-mill blog posts.

Millennials are a hot topic in the blogosphere and in our churches, and in some respects, deservedly so.

But pastors and church leaders, we’ve got to be careful, and we’ve got to use discernment. Here’s why:

The “millennials” are made up of 80 million of the most diverse people this country has ever seen.

If you aren’t careful, millennial statistics can become missiological tea leaves from which you can read whatever conclusions you’d like.

Millennial data can be a Magic 8 Ball—it can really mean whatever you’d like it to mean—because if there’s one thing we are sure about when it comes to Millennials, it’s that they’re so diverse, we can’t be sure about much at all.

Perhaps we need to spend less time traipsing down the path of “crackpot social science,” as Andrew Ferguson writes, and more time doing our best shepherding Millennials like they’re any other people group: in Christ-like humility and love.

The way to reach millennials

Spending too much time wading through the muck and the weeds of generational analysis can leave one weary, discouraged and none-the-smarter. Sure, without a doubt, certain steps can be taken to better minister to millennials, boomers and everyone in between. But, when it really comes down to it, the way you reach the unbelieving millennial and the way you serve the believing millennial is the same: love them as unconditionally as Christ has loved you.

Praise God that his love transcends racial, cultural and generational boundaries. The sacrificial love of Jesus, though able to be expressed in a myriad of generation-specific ways, is the love of Christ regardless.

As I said before, we can be sure of only one thing when it comes to millennials—they’re diverse in almost every way. Thankfully, the way we reach millennials is no different than how Christ reached those around him: with unconditional, sacrificial love which can only be found in him.

By / Jul 1

Everybody has one. The friend who listens too fast. The friend who nods too often and finishes your sentences before you have time to complete them. The friend who hijacks your train of thought, leaving you wondering what you meant to say in the first place.

With every interaction, you want to say, “No, that’s not where I was going. Not even close.”

Search engines are like that friend. Smart technology attempts to guess at what you’re searching for before you finish typing. Google likes to finish our sentences, but the top results are often very telling about what a society thinks about a subject. For example, I recently plugged in the phrase “Millennials are” only to have Google interrupt me with some thoughts about what might fit with that expression:

No, Google. Not even close.

We, like any other generation or group, are subject to unjust stereotypes based on minority representation. This is unfair to the majority of Millennials who are not lazy, stupid, or narcissistic.

But what worries me most about my generation is something Google doesn’t bring up: the belief in truth.

Millennials are lauded for openness to change, but are we too apt to shift our feet from solid ground? Do we believe that an absolute foundation on which we should build our lives exists? Or is truth simply a disposable accessory that can be exchanged on a whim?  

Recently, I relocated to Nashville, Tenn., for a summer internship with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The greatest culture shock I have experienced in moving to the big city is the traffic. It is faster, more crowded and significantly harder to navigate than my small town of Florence, Ala. In keeping with my millennial penchant for impatience, I am often frustrated when stuck in a never-ending line of traffic. The irritation only escalates when I see the free-flowing traffic moving the opposite direction. Several times, I have considered pulling out of the gridlock and going the other way. But each time I face this decision, I remember that the less-trafficked way will not get me where I am going.  

I wonder if my generation is too eager to choose the less-trafficked way. The way of truth is rarely easy. It would be comfortable to pull out of the social and political gridlock and choose the free-flowing freeway of neutral relativism. The only problem with sacrificing your biblical beliefs is the sacrifice of your original destination that always comes along for the ride.  

Jesus reminded us that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). It is a promise, not a possibility. In an increasingly post-Christian age, believers will be forced to make a choice: Will we hold fast to the gospel or accommodate the culture? At some point or another, we will be asked to pay the price through job loss, relationship damage or social isolation. Someday, it may even cost us our lives or the lives of the ones we love.  

This is the question we, as Millennials, have to ask ourselves: What are we willing to risk for the sake of the gospel?  

Thankfully, Google’s description about Millennials isn’t the final say. God is still writing this chapter of our lives. We have the opportunity to selflessly commit to inch toward truth even when it seems easier to put a lead foot down in the other direction.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.

By / May 16

Did you ever imagine a hashtag could help spread the word about Christian persecution in a matter of hours? Neither did I.

The #BringBackOurGirls Twitter trend has garnered global media and government outcries after Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, kidnapped over 276 mostly Christian girls ages 14-18 in Nigeria. Unfortunately, young evangelicals (and the broader world) did not take notice of this tragedy because the girls were Christians, but because their captors intend to sell them into human trafficking. Something is very wrong with this “social justice” scenario.

We thank God for the attention this egregious offense has gained worldwide. And so the problem is not that young evangelicals focus heavily on injustices like human trafficking. The problem is that too many only focus on issues like human trafficking, because they are deemed politically correct.

Constantly, young evangelicals, influenced largely by the Religious Left, speak out against the “marginalized,” making the poor, women, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community top priorities. But if we want to talk about the marginalized, then let's remember that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world.

Among Millennials, the term “persecution” is a dirty word when applied to Christians. Society continues to paint Christians as “clamoring and crying” over nothing when we decry discrimination targeted our way.

Let's face it, if media outlets were calling the Boko Haram travesty what it is, a matter of severe Christian persecution by Islamists terrorists, then many of us Millennial would shy away from voicing our outcry, all for fear of being called Islamophobic. Why do I suspect this? Because kidnapping Christian girls is not the first attack by Boko Haram. Far from it. Yet the evangelical world has remained largely silent.

Hanging on her office wall, Faith McDonnell, the Institute on Religion and Democracy's Director of Religious Liberty programs, has a calendar documenting all of Boko Haram's attacks on Nigerian Christians during 2012. It was put together by the Nigeria Working Group Washington, Justice for Jos+ Project, and Jubilee Campaign. To list just a few of a myriad of Christian-targeted assaults, the calendar included:

  • January 20, 2012 -Boko Haram attacked and killed more than 200, including Christians
  • March 11, 2012 -a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked a Catholic Church, killing 13
  • July 7-9, 2012 – 50 Christians were killed, 187 homes were burned and 200 families were displaced. Boko Haram took responsibility.

This is what injustice looks like.

Millennial evangelicals have big hearts. We know that social justice is an important facet of Christianity. So why are we ignoring the voices of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being harassed, kidnapped, arrested, beaten, beheaded, and burned alive for their faith?

“Our biggest problem is we feel forgotten by the church,” were the chilling words of the Rev. Dr. Canon Andrew White, chaplain of St. George Anglican Church in Baghdad, Iraq. Speaking at a Congressional press conference on American Christian Leaders' “Pledge” to Stand in Solidarity with Imperiled Christian Communities in the Middle East, Canon White explained that Iraqi Christians are under immense persecution, and yet, he said, “Our problem is not there in Iraq.” It is here.

Christian persecution happens every day. Your local news channel probably didn't report this, but just Wednesday night, Muslims attacked a Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem during their annual St. George's Day services. Lela Gilbert, journalist and adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute reported that Muslims “stabbed a Christian man who was outside the church serving as a guard. He was hospitalized.” Gilbert continued, “Several then started throwing stones at the church. Seven or eight Christians were injured and some physical damage was done…the police didn't show up for an hour.”

“This is a multi-generational issue,” said 30-year-old Jonnie Moore, the Senior Vice President of Liberty University back at the press conference on Christian persecution. “We live in a young world. 50 percent is under 25 years old. And 85 percent of that 50 percent lives in a country where severe religious persecution isn't an occasional occurrence.” Moore continued, “If they fit in a certain group, they live in fear of going to school, they fear professing their faith, they fear even praying silently in their bed at night that they might be the next victim.”

In America, young evangelicals take for granted how blessed we are to worship freely. We become fearful of the name-calling, including hateful, bigoted, narrow, and uncompassionate, for a start. But social justice is not always going to be politically correct.

It won't always be easy or popular to live our faith. It requires courage, boldness, Scripture reading and lots of prayer. Young evangelicals must refocus our commitment when it comes to social justice because there are marginalized people in this world, and most of them are called Christians.

This article originally ran at The Christian Post.