A lot has been written and said about the millennial generation in the church. Though the exact parameters are vague, millennials are generally thought to have been born somewhere between 1980-1999. Essentially we're talking about the new generation of Christian leaders, at or around 30 years old. I was born in 1978, so I may or may not be millennial :).
We are a generation characterized by action, by activism, by new resurgent interests in orthodoxy and theology. In many ways, it's a great time for the church. But with every movement comes pitfalls and cautions. And so as a young leader, I just wanted to offer six words leaders in my generation may want to consider:
Humility. As young leaders, are often infused with great confidence and conviction. "Let's go change the world." This is a good instinct, but we must guard against a sort of generational pride. This is the idea that we are God's answer to the world's problems. Young change agents tend to resist advice or rebuke. We tend to think we know more than previous generations. But I'm reminded of the Scripture that says, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." This verse is repeated three times (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) in the Scriptures -- for a reason. Pride must be put to death daily. I find it instructive that Peter repeats this instruction in his book. As a wise older man, he's likely reflecting on his younger days as a brash, young, disciple of Jesus. "Don't be like that," I sense him saying. We'd be wise to embrace humility in all of our boldness.
Dependence. I have a wise elder in my church who reminds me often of the increasing frailty of age. He's fond of telling me how much energy and how hard he worked in his younger years, but now that he's older, he realizes how dependent He is on God. When we are young, we don't often think we need God. We're healthy, we're gifted. We might even convince ourselves that God is really fortunate to have us on His team. But discipleship begins with a childlike dependence on God. And I think we lead God's people better when we acknowledge that it is His power, not ours, that sustains God's work.
Unity. As a young guy, I like to mix it up. I like to engage a good discussion on theology or politics or culture. This is good, but it can quickly descend into useless and unfruitful arguments. I see this tendency among the young Christian bloggers (including myself). We get a rise out of "calling out" some Christian leader or movement. We pride ourselves on the supposed "courage" of being disagreeable. But we have to ask ourselves a penetrating personal question. Are we writing that blog post to get more clicks or to genuinely edify the body of Christ? Are you trying to make a name for ourselves by opposing someone famous? Most importantly, is our contribution to the discussion building up or tearing down? We have to genuinely examine our hearts for motives. Sometimes I think many of the conservative bloggers -- guys I regularly read, whose ministries I admire -- feel they have to be in a constantly critical mode. There's always an angle to wedge in a disagreement. I'm all for thoughtful discussion and engagement, but let's make sure our efforts are always toward building up, loving, and promoting unity among God's people. Let's not be self-critical of the church just to be self-critical.
Truth. A word to counterbalance this would be truth. Do we realize the precious truth we carry as followers of Jesus? Do we realize the value of the gospel? Do we understand that the message of the cross is one that is controversial, a message of stumbling, a message the world needs, but doesn't want to hear. We should contextualize and adorn the gospel well with acts of service. We should rid ourselves of legalism that binds, of dead religion that alienates. But at the end of the day, we're still left with a cross over which many will stumble. News flash: you can be as relevant and sexy and contemporary in your approach to church and still Jesus message will offend. You can change your hairstyle, wear skinny jeans, grab a guitar -- and still the cross will be offensive. You can host art galleries, open a food bank, and even apologize for all the church's past abuses -- and still folks won't like hearing they like sinners in need of the Savior. I'm not saying we should abandon all of these attempts to speak to the culture, but let's not forget the message we carry, the truth, is both precious and divisive. Let's steward it well.
Faithful. Does our generation discuss faithfulness? It's not a buzz word. It won't headline any conferences. But what the world needs more than new ideas and new paradigms is the steady, faithful, obedience to Christ. By faithfulness I mean faithful attendance in your local church, faithful shepherding of your family, faithful adherence to the disciplines of Scripture and prayer and sacraments. Let's be faithful in the little, seemingly inconsequential areas of our lives. Let's not be so in search of new movements and ideas that we forget the unspectacular ordinary things God wants us to do every day. Let's be more concerned with actually evangelizing now than finding the latest and greatest tool or the most perfect definition of the gospel. Let's help stack chairs after the service rather than dream up the most clever blog post. Let's volunteer for VBS or the nursery at the church you think is lightly outdated rather than fire off a lengthy email to the pastor telling him why you wish things were different. Every generation needs faithful leaders -- ours is certainly no different.
Holiness. I love the rising emphasis in the evangelical church on grace as opposed to legalism, depravity as opposed to self-sufficiency. I like the emphasis among many to preach only the Word and not avoid raising preferential lists to the level of orthodoxy. Good, good, good. But, let's not be pendulum swingers and abandon the Bible's call to holiness. You can't read the New Testament without seeing the verbs that call us to work, strive, effort toward Christ-likeness. Yes, it's an effort soaked in grace and empowered by the Spirit. But there is still intentional human effort. Holiness matters to God. Let's call folks to "come as they are" but remind them that the intention of the gospel is for them to not "stay as they are." The gospel not only calls us out of something, it calls us to something. Israel wasn't just freed from Egypt, they were called to the Promised Land. The gospel not only gets us to Heaven, it gives us a brand new identity and restores us to God's original purpose-to glorify God by good works (Ephesians 2:10). Let's preach, teach, and model that. Let's pursue that. Let's realize that perhaps the previous generation was aiming for this, even if we think they may been legalistic in their approach (a criticism our own children will level at us one day.)
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). You can find more from Dan at his website DanielDarling.com.