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.

Subscribe here

 iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | Tune in

By / Jan 9

Recently, I sat in my office with a young man considering moving in with his girlfriend. I’m finding myself in this situation a lot. It’s caused me to consider the reasoning behind the increased cohabitation among Millennials, which is the demographic I primarily work with. There are many, but here are a few that were obvious to me:

The attack upon marriage. The direct correlation between the attack on marriage and the increasing likelihood of cohabitation is undeniable. At one point in time, a man and woman living under the same roof meant they were married. The cultural attack upon marriage has caused many Millennials to deny the wisdom of getting married.

The delay of marriage. Fifty years ago, if a man met a woman he liked, he would pursue her, and they would marry shortly after. With the rise of undergraduate studies (and increasingly graduate), Millennials are waiting longer and longer to get married. In 1960, the median age of marriage was 20.3 (females) and 22.8 (males). In 2010, that number had grown to 26.5 (females) and 28.7 (males). Research also shows that in 1960, 72 percent of all adults 18 years and older were married. In 2010, that number dropped to 51 percent of adults. Marriage is no longer seen as a right of passage into adulthood. It’s now considered something that can or will happen once other “things” are in order.

The cultural normalization of cohabitation. According to Barna research, two-thirds of adults believe it is a good idea to live with someone before marriage. Millennials, compared to Elders, are twice as likely to believe cohabitation is a good idea (72 percent, compared to 36 percent). Millennial Christians are hearing advice from others commending them for their desire to live together.

The cultural normalization of sexual activity outside of marriage. One doesn’t have to look far to find explicitly sexual activity on television, within magazines, music and on the internet. Millennials have come to age in a time where sexual activity outside of marriage has become the norm. They’re being persuaded to explore all the boundaries of their relationships with one another.

Rite of passage into marriage. Many couples that I talk with state they want to live together so that they can be sure marriage is right for them. They believe cohabitation should be a prerequisite for marriage. How will you know if someone is clean? How will you know their sleeping habits? How will you know what they are “really” like? Of all the reasons for cohabitation, Barna reports that 84 percent stated “compatibility” as the main motivator. They would even say it’s wise to live together.

Prioritizing financial stability. When I press couples who are already living together, most state that it financially made sense. Usually, one of the partners didn’t have anyone else to live with. This is a poor excuse and more of an indication of their lack of healthy community. Money is a legitimate concern for Millennials, and many times it dictates their behavior (like it does all of us).  

In light of all the cultural norms and pressures, how should we be ministering to this demographic? Here are some things that I practice as I’m meeting with people about this topic:

1. Determine their spiritual condition. Whenever I’m meeting with someone, I want to know whether he identifies himself as a believer or not. His or her answer will help me determine what advice I give and how hard to press. In my most recent conversation, he identified himself as a Christ follower. I told him that he could either continue to make decisions based on what he wanted or he could follow God’s instructions.

In the case of a non-believer, I want to first explain the gospel and its importance. As my professor advised in seminary, the session changes from counseling to evangelizing if the counselee doesn’t profess to know Christ. However, I also try to show him or her the value of research (granted, science and research conclusions can quickly change). The correlation between divorce and cohabitation has been studied closely. In the National Marriage Project, it was concluded, “After 5 to 7 years, 39% of all cohabiting couples have broken their relationship, 40% have married (although the marriage might not have lasted), and only 21% are still cohabiting.” If someone truly loves a person, living together is not what is best for the long term health of their relationship.

According to the National Survey of Family Growth, unplanned pregnancy also rises with cohabitation. Women are 20 percent more likely to become pregnant when living with their dating mate (a male usually responds negatively to this stat).

In all of this, I’m seeking to help them understand that cohabitation is not a wise choice by any standard. It’s not a good “test drive” for marriage. It’s seeking to reap the benefits of marriage without the commitment. Honestly, in my experience, it’s rare to talk a non-believer out of cohabitation. Stats and research don’t change heart affections; only Jesus can.  

2. Speak truth, and use the Bible. Millennials want you to be upfront with them. Don’t dance around the issue. Speak directly about how God would view their cohabitation. Call cohabitation, and sex outside of marriage, what it is—a sin. Remember, we walk a balance between grace and truth. Help them understand you care for them and truly believe honoring God is what is best for them. If they (or he/she) identify themselves as believers, then present a good biblical case for why it’s wrong and dangerous. Many of them have heard it’s wrong (from their parents), but they haven’t heard why the Bible says it’s wrong.

Three verses I use regularly are: Colossians 3:17, where Paul writes, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (ESV). I explain that Paul is addressing what he would consider to be a mark of being a believer—that we should strive to do all things in the name of Jesus. I then ask whoever I’m counseling if they honestly believe living with their girlfriend/boyfriend is to the glory of Jesus or a choice based on what they want. I have yet to meet one Christian Millennial who believes it honors Christ.

I also point them to Philippians 4:8, where Paul writes, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Here, we see Paul addressing the inner thoughts of believers. If Paul set this as a standard for our inner thoughts, wouldn’t it be fair to assume our actions should also reflect what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable? I ask, “Does living together before being married seem true, honorable, just, pure, lovely or commendable?” Their answer is always, “No.”

Finally, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 addresses the priority of sex within the confines of marriage. Paul is highlighting the necessity for a husband and wife to have a healthy sex life. When reading this text, it becomes extremely clear that sex is limited to inside the marriage covenant. To have any type of sexual relationship with someone who isn't your spouse is sin. To counter this point, a Millennial may tell me they aren’t having sex. Most likely, this isn’t true, but if it is, then they’re either really self-controlled (not likely, considering our conversation) or not attracted to each other and have a whole different set of problems.

Many might think they are “OK” as long as they have set sexual intimacy boundaries. But, they’re drawing a line that God hasn’t. Intimacy goes deeper than just sex. They don’t realize they’re engaging each other in a type of emotional intimacy (by creating a household together) that is unwise and that I believe God finds displeasure in.

It’s important to avoid only giving “don’t’s,” though. I want the Millennials I’m counseling to know they have a wonderful opportunity to display real, God honoring relationships in a culture that discredits the Christian faith. We each have an opportunity and responsibility to be Christ’s ambassadors to the world (2 Cor. 5:20). What a wonderful time for believers to push back the darkness by setting a dating standard that is unlike the world!

3. Connect them with others. In some cases, we’ve talked couples into separating from living together. Now what? Does our help stop with advice and edification? If we’re going to lovingly present a case against it, we have to lovingly help them find somewhere to live. Find a older couple in your church that has a open room. This is what the local church does. We take care of one another and help meet each other’s needs.

If we want to see more millennials pursue a biblical sexual ethic, it will take thinking deeply about what motivates and influences them. We have a way forward in the gospel. They can both experience enriching dating relationships and honor Christ. We must be willing to step into difficult conversations and speak gospel truth. In my experience, Christian Millennials have a desire to honor Christ in their relationships, but they simply lack the courage, confidence or discernment to make countercultural decisions. Let’s refrain from generalized criticism and, instead, come alongside our Millennial friends and help them make choices that glorify the Lord and serve their good.

By / Sep 7

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the 2016 ERLC National Conference, which was focused on the timely and relevant topic of Christian cultural engagement. It proved to be informative and influential in my thinking.

As a young 18-year-old Christian who is interested in politics, this election season has been soul-crushing. I have felt betrayed. I have listened to demagoguery. I have watched leaders compromise conviction for political power. It’s been disillusioning, to say the least. How could this happen? The conference speakers provided some insight as to how we got here.

How did we get here?

I learned that this is a result of a church with distorted priorities. We have tolerated heretics in the pursuit of political power. We have been willing to call out the sins of others but refused to call out the sins of our own church body. We have allowed moralistic therapeutic deism to take to take root in our churches in the name of Christianity. We have refused to adopt the racial reconciliation of the apostle Paul, and instead adopted a policy of indifference, which is a problem that we can no longer blame on outside forces; it is a problem within the church itself.

The church has been complicit in allowing itself and its values to be tainted. For too long, the church has traded its gospel witness for temporary political power. Yet, the speakers at the conference did not merely stop at a diagnosis. They also provided solutions.

An opportunity for the church

For the Christian, this should not be a time of doom and gloom; it is an unbelievable opportunity to reshape our priorities. Instead of mourning, we can be thankful that “the shaking of American culture is causing a falling out of the almost-gospel that has plagued the church,” according to Russell Moore.

The church has an unbelievable opportunity. We can be biblically bold and honest in a culture that is confused about almost everything. The church can and must be the place that fights for racial unity while bigotry goes mainstream in the culture. We can fight for purity when immorality is celebrated. We can stand on principle when manipulation is the norm. We can stand for justice in a culture of injustice. We can stand for moral courage in a time of moral cowardice. We must be willing to call sin, sin, not only in the culture at large but especially in our own churches. Most importantly, we must stand for gospel truth in any and every circumstance. The church must be a place where the gospel is prioritized above all else.

I left the 2016 ERLC National Conference incredibly thankful for the leadership of Russell Moore and those within the ERLC on these vital cultural issues. I especially appreciate their apparent desire for gospel-centered racial reconciliation. For too long, the church has been silent on racial reconciliation as a gospel issue. As Bryan Loritts said in his talk, “The only thing worse than hate is indifference.” We must combat the racial segregation in our churches. The new heavens and new earth will be made up of every tribe, tongue and nation, and our churches should reflect that here and now whenever possible. “If all of your relationships are with people who look like, sound like, and dress like you; you are missing out on the beauty of the gospel,” exhorted Bryan Loritts. We must follow in the footsteps of the apostle Paul, who believed that any form of ethnic supremacy was out of step with the Christian gospel message, of which he was willing to lay down his own life.

My final thought is a powerful word of gospel courage I heard from Russell Moore’s keynote address: “Because the gospel is true, we must march into the culture, not with fear, but with the courage of people who are going onward and upward.” So I say to my fellow millennials, we must move onward in Jesus’ name.

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 5

Phillip Bethancourt sits down with Russell Moore to get some perspective on how we, as Christians, should engage in the public square.

By / Jan 9

It’s true.

Millennials aren’t streaming into churches like their parents and grandparents did years before them. Evangelicalism has lost its cultural chic and the cost of discipleship has increased, even if only slightly, for the American Evangelical. These cultural changes, plus a number of other tendencies among Millennials has caused 86 percent of Millennials to claim some level of faith in “God,” but only 36 percent of them to self-identify as “religious.”

Numerous methodologies, strategies, evangelism initiatives, and all other sorts of structures can be fashioned to reel young people into the church, that is for sure. Whether its smoke machines and plaid-clad guitar players or Starbucks coffee, churches have plenty of ideas when it comes to reaching the Millennial generation.

My hope is to help with some of those strategies and encourage local churches to look for ways to leverage Millennial values in order to minister the gospel. But first, I think we need to pray.

Before a church can hope to introduce people to Jesus, it must itself intimately know him and submit to him all matters of ministry, especially when it comes to evangelizing effectively. A posture of persistent prayer must motivate our ministry, even when it comes to reaching Millennials.

Here are five simple ways you can pray for the unchurched, perhaps unbelieving Millennials in your community:

1. Pray for the humbling of their hearts.

The most educated generation in American history is also the most public generation in American history. Not only are Millennials the most advanced intellectually (if that can be equated with “most educated”), but they’ve got all sorts of ways to show off via social media. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Millennials may be sneaky humble, but pride abounds to be sure.

Pray for the Millennials in your community, that the Lord would humble their hearts and show them their brokenness and need for a savior. The Holy Spirit works in mighty ways, but it is difficult for a sinner to accept the life preserver of unconditional grace if he cannot acknowledge that he is drowning in his sin. Pray for this humility.

2. Pray for the brokenness of their souls.

The Millennial generation has grown up in pretty difficult times: September 11, the Great Recession and a number of disheartening political periods. A lot of young people see the brokenness of the world, but not the brokenness of themselves. Pray not only for the humbling of their hearts, and I wrote above, but pray that the Lord would heal them of the distrust and potential anger in their hearts toward other peoples and ideologies that may be different than their own.

Ask the Lord not only to humble the hearts of Millennials in your community, but also to heal the brokenness of their own souls rooted in a disdain for others.

3. Pray for financial peace.

Millennials, particularly American Millennials, are by no means an impoverished people. However, they have more student loan debt than anyone before them, and some effects of the Great Recession continue to rage on depriving these young people of jobs to pay off their debts.

Pray that the Lord would give the Millennials in your community peace when it comes to finances, showing them that the source of their joy must be found it one who has paid debts far greater than those they owe to the bank.

4. Pray for curious minds.

Sure, Millennials may be the most educated folks in history, but that definitely doesn’t mean they’re all set in their ways. Often blown and tossed by the cultural wind, it’s safe to say that until the majority of them settle down and have kids, they’ll be more malleable when it comes to gray issues.

Pray that the Lord would keep the minds of the Millennials in your community curious and open to the possibility of a sovereign, saving God. Pray also for yourselves, that you would be willing and equipped to answer the questions borne out of the curious minds of contemplative Millennials.

5. Pray for faithful friendships.

Though they are a group of people that will tend to shy away from institutions such as government and marriage, Millennials love to be connected with friends. Relational evangelism has the potential to be as effective as it has ever been.

Pray that God would provide faithful, God-loving friends to the Millennials in your community so that they may be exposed to the wonders of resting in the gospel and trusting in the Lord for earthly provision and eternal peace.

Churches need to be intentionally engaging the Millennial generation, but before you begin banging on doors and offering free pizza, take a moment to pray.

Originially posted here