People have a lot to say about the rising generation of young adults, often called Millennials. Many articles addressed to those in their 20’s and 30’s either lament our spiritual, moral, and social state, or they present some ‘tough love’ that Millennials need to hear in order to get back on the straight and narrow.
I understand the commotion. It’s pretty easy to be tough on the young and inexperienced. We’re loud. We’re addicted to our phones. And because we have more access to information than any other generation, we probably seem super stuck up. Many people even say my generation is “soft on sin” – that we’re lazy, buying into moral relativism, and worshiping our own made-up version of God (Although I suspect our generation isn’t the first to have those accusations laid at its feet).
But for everything that the Church doesn’t like about Millennials, there are some really awesome lessons to be learned from this blossoming generation of young people.
1. Millennials admit that our opinions are influenced (in part) by outside factors.
If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that there are many forces influencing my beliefs and opinions. The more I listen, watch, and read, the more I realize that social, biological, and environmental factors play a huge part in shaping a person. Whether it’s the food I like, the denomination of church I attend, or my opinions about dating, I’m willing to acknowledge that I didn’t arrive there only because of some impartial examination of all variables. (Maybe I like barbecue because I was raised in North Carolina – and not because it’s objectively the best food in the world!)
"For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned"
2. Millennials work hard to promote awareness of consent and boundaries in relationships.
Does that mean we’re good at it? Not necessarily. I think all humans are pretty prone to steamroll over each other when we want something. However, never in literature, history books, or previous generations have I seen a group of people so willing to ask before doing or check in before making an assumption.
Millennials are also shedding a lot of needless, inherited guilt over things like saying “no” and creating personal boundaries. They are standing up for themselves and not allowing themselves to be walked on, taken advantage of, or be put in unfair, unsafe spaces. And from an inside perspective, relationships sure look a lot healthier when these two ideals are fought for!
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”
3. Millennials believe that every person matters.
The up-and-coming generation has a deep, loud commitment to social justice, rights for children, ending global slavery, and giving platforms to women and ethnic minorities. Even controversial political opinions that many Millennials hold (such as the movement to raise minimum wage to a living wage) show that –whether or not you believe it’s politically misguided– Millennials value personhood over any individual’s specific skill set or contribution to society.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world”
"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'”
4. Millennials show us it’s OK to just listen sometimes.
As I previously stated, we currently have more access to anything and everything than any previous generation or civilization. This allows us to share stories around the world, and quickly. Perhaps because of how many stories there are to be told, Millennials have caught onto the fact that not everyone can be an expert about everything. If a person or a people group is going through an experience, it’s crucial for outsiders to first listen.
Don’t react. Don’t correct. Don’t share your own differing experience. At least not yet. Without listening, how can real empathy or understanding ever really take place?
“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”
5. Millennials acknowledge that history (and truth) is complicated.
As much as we hate it, very little of life is black-and-white. Some folks tend to swoop into difficult conversations and act like they always know the right answer – or even more gravely, act like the Church has "always" agreed about XYZ issue up until this very moment, when suddenly Millennials thought it was a good idea to start questioning it.
The reality is a lot more complicated! Church leaders have been arguing for millennia about matters such as the authority of Scripture, baptism
, race relations, Christology, and even, yes, sexuality and marriage! Prominent figures like St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin all engaged in fierce debate about (and sometimes even killed each other over
) a host of “core” issues, and introduced new (at the time) theological ideas – many of which have since become accepted as traditional.
Let’s not pretend Millennials are a uniquely theologically or scripturally wayward generation. They can actually teach the Church a lot about ideological humility, and owning up to the rich and varied history in our past.
“The Church is not a gallery for the exhibition of eminent Christians, but a school for the education of imperfect ones” (Henry Ward Beecher).
6. Millennials recognize that hating an Evil isn’t enough. You have to create a Good to take its place.
A good example of this is the abortion issue. Many pro-life Millennials have come to realize that simply passing legislation will never cure the root problem: women seek out abortions for certain specific reasons.
So, the Millennials ask, what can we be doing to help reduce the desire for abortion, regardless of its legality? And they’ve found a few solutions. Educate children comprehensively about how bodies work. Provide couples with access to birth control. Make sure community systems are in place to help women who find themselves pregnant and without resources. Stop heaping shame upon teen- and unmarried-pregnancy (if teens and unmarried women felt less shame over appearing pregnant, wouldn’t they be a lot less likely to abort to save face?) – and instead tell our daughters that we will always love and support them through any ordeal.
Millennials recognize that once a bad thing has been removed, a good thing must enter to fill the vacuum. And fighting for a bad thing might not be worth much if we aren’t also fighting for good things to take its place!
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”
7. Millennials know that humans need to be vulnerable with each other.
Maybe it’s just because I was raised in the south, but it seems like people have a rough time being open and honest. If there’s one thing I appreciate the most about my generation, it might be that they have the guts to blow past shame and be real with each other. Is it tacky sometimes? Oh, yes. Do we tend to overshare? Most definitely. But relationships require it. And what are we, anyway, if we don’t live in real relationship with one another?
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices”
Every generation, like every person, has strengths and weaknesses. Let’s not forget to emulate goodness and righteousness, no matter where we find it!
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity”
(1 Timothy 4:12
Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor at Crosswalk.com.
Publication date: May 12, 2015