BY STEVE, PIONEERS MISSIONARY IN ASIA
As a Gen Xer (just barely!), it has been my privilege to lead several amazing Millennials over the last several years in both short and long-term ministry. There is little doubt that there is a significant generation gap between those of us born in the late 70’s and those who are text-book Millennials. It was my first year of university, sitting in a “computer lab,” when a message popped up on my screen from someone across the room. Shocked, I looked frantically around for the sorcerer who conjured up such witchcraft! Electronic communication was just on the cusp, and I had barely missed being culturally shaped by it. What a different reality Millennials have grown up in!
God made all people, “and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” (Acts 17:26) God has graced each generation with unique contributions to gospel work at their appointed time in history. While we must recognise and value the way that God has shaped the next generation to impact Kingdom work, each generation must also be aware of the inherent liabilities that sometimes accompany their strengths.
As I consider the contributions that Millennials have made to gospel ministry in my own mission context, there are three clear strengths—among many—that rise to the surface.
- Millennials can effectively minister to Millennials.
Most young people in the world are fully “wired.” This means that a “wired” Western Millennial and a “wired” Asian Millennial actually have significant cultural common ground. They can easily “connect” with each other through texting. In fact, this is often the preferred way of communicating. For non-Millennials, it is difficult for us to feel that we have connected without real face-to-face time. However, Millennials can naturally interact cross-culturally with other Millennials through the medium of technology. In addition, even in a cross-cultural context they share similar values and can understand how the gospel impacts their peers in ways that Gen Xers simply do not see.
The potential weakness Milllennials need to be aware of is the inherent need in gospel ministry for “in person” gospel communication. Evangelism by texting is awesome, but the unreached need to hear the gospel in person from redeemed image bearers.
- Millennials catalyse authentic community on our teams.
The desire for authentic relationships is a real gift that Millennials can bring to the field. Many Gen X missionaries can minimise their own need for community and live superficially with other Christians while focusing on the “real” gospel work of missions. Millennials simply do not accept the status quo of flat, shallow team relationships. Adding Millennials to your team can create healthy cultural change on teams as they expect authentic and intentional—i.e. biblical—relationships.
The potential liability with this strength is that Millennials can seek more community than they really need. One of the sacrifices of missions to the unreached is the loss of robust community that one could get back in their home country. This is a cost that Millennials will feel, but it is a sacrifice that will not go unrewarded by our King.
- Millennials are bold and open to varied ministry approaches.
When a clear vision is put in front of Millennials, I have always seen them respond with enthusiasm and boldness. We ask our Millennial teammates to do very difficult things—approach Muslim students and talk to them about Jesus! Although they often acknowledge fear, they are willing to pray, trust God for strength and go do it! This is very encouraging to more pensive Gen Xers. This strong faith is vital if we are going to see the gospel penetrate the unreached. Gospel ministry among the unreached is simply hard work, and Millennials seem to have the faith and boldness to do it!
The danger here for Millennials is that they can be tempted to try too many things for the kingdom. Often they seem to be looking for that “perfect ministry fit.” What can often happen is, Millennials will do amazing ministry for a season, then they will go try another ministry in order to decide what they should do! This can really stunt gospel ministry, especially among Muslims, when the process of sharing the gospel is counted in terms of years not months. The “perfect ministry fit” may be an illusion. What is not an illusion is the commission of Christ to go to the ends of the earth and preach the gospel. If you find yourself doing that, don’t look for a better fit! You are in the center of the revealed will of Christ!
In conclusion, I am so thankful for the influence of Millennials on my own soul, the life of my family, our team, and the work of the gospel in our context. They have been sacrificial servants in the harvest field, and we pray that the LORD of the Harvest will send us many more!
Photo by Ali Yahya.
Mind the Gap
BY DR DAVID SMITH
The very last verse in the Old Testament predicts that when a prophet comes to announce the arrival of the ‘great and dreadful day of the Lord’, he will ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers’ (Malachi 4:6). Centuries later, the evangelist Luke began writing his gospel and recorded that an angel had appeared to the father of John the Baptist with the astounding message that his son would become a prophet, anointed with ‘the spirit and power of Elijah’ and would ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to their children’ (Luke 1:17).
We are used to thinking of the gospel as a message of reconciliation, overcoming the barriers and divisions of culture, race and class and creating a new community united through the healing power of the cross. In the first century the great division which concerned the disciples of Christ was that between Jews and Gentiles, and the letter to the Ephesians celebrates the power of the cross which is able to remove the dividing wall between these ethnic and religious identities and ‘in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross’ (Ephesians 2:16). However, there are other divisions within human society which may easily be overlooked, yet can be at least as significant as those which have ethnicity, class, or religion as their source. At the present time, perhaps the most pervasive and urgent of these tensions is what we have been used to call the generation gap.
The twenty first century is witnessing an explosion in the numbers of young people growing up with high expectations of change in the conditions of life which their parents and grand-parents took for granted and assumed were likely to be unchanging. An Indian writer, Snigdha Poonam, recently published a book with the title, Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing The World, in which he says that half the population of the sub-continent, more than 600 million people, are under the age of 25. Mind-blowing statistics like these can easily be paralleled elsewhere across the majority world and just walking the streets of cities like Lahore, Bangkok, Shanghai or Lagos, the youthfulness of the crowds encountered on the pavements is immediately striking.
Yet, what future is there for this generation? Millions of young people have access to education which comes with the promise of a different kind of future, only to discover that the reality of their situations is often bleak. In India in 2016 more than 1.5 million people applied for 1,500 jobs with a state-owned bank; more than 9 million took entrance exams for less than 1,000 vacancies on the railways; and 19,000 applied for 114 jobs as municipal street sweepers! Little wonder then that Pankaj Mishra has warned of a rising tide of frustration and anger among the young, making them vulnerable to political demagogues who prey upon their disappointments for their own ends.
What about the generation gap in the West? Here young and old seem increasingly to exist in different worlds, one of which is virtual, the other solid and time-bound. How do we cross that gap? Those promises in Malachi and Luke suddenly seem to be really significant, reminding us that the healing power of Christ relates to the tensions and alienation that can exist across the generations. Where the healing power of Jesus Christ is at work, old people will love and encourage the young, rejoicing in their zest for life and affirming their hopes and dreams, while the young will recognise and treasure the wisdom that comes with life-experience and be grateful for the knowledge left to them by parents and earlier generations stretching back into the mists of time.
A final point: sometimes the generation gap is also a faith gap; children turn away from the deeply held beliefs of their parents. Where this happens the promise of Malachi has to be read in the light of the extraordinary image of the ‘waiting father’ in Luke 15. If Christian parents need help in knowing how to relate to children who have rejected their faith, let them reflect on the example of God himself who granted freedom for the exploration of the far country, and whose love remained undimmed and was expressed in the uncritical embrace of the returning son.
Photo by Warren Wong.
What They Want: Ministering to Millennials
BY MARY, PIONEERS UK MISSIONARY TO THE US
I have always loved working with university students and young adults. Probably because after growing up in a Christian home and going to a Christian liberal arts uni, I began to question a lot of what Christians believed. Not finding adequate answers, I made very small and seemingly insignificant decisions to stop pursuing God, church and his plan for my life. These baby steps in the wrong direction put me miles away from Christ (figuratively speaking) and I felt I had very little hope of finding my way back. I was the prodigal daughter that nearly all parents fear raising and only by the grace of God did I eventually turn back to Jesus 16 years later,
This I believe is true for most Millenials. Once they reach their late teens and move away from home and their local church to attend college or university, they begin asking questions about the way they were raised, what they believed and why. They start asking tough questions and finding few answers. It was in part because of this experience in my own life that our family chose to settle in the university town of Heidelberg, Germany with Pioneers. We wanted to get to know students and young adults, evangelise those who were lost, disciple those who were seeking to follow Jesus and finally send them out on mission.
We used spiritual background surveys to start conversations on campus:
- What is your spiritual background and who in your opinion is Jesus Christ?
- On a scale of 1-10, how good are you?
- If Jesus were to ask you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?
Knowing that the backgrounds of most European college students was some form of Catholicism and works-based religion, we wanted to face that head on and talk about Jesus, God’s grace and our desperate need for the Holy Spirit in our lives every day. We believed if we could get them thinking and exploring the truth claims of Christianity – and if that led to them truly being born again – that they would then desire to be discipled and grow in a local church which would prepare them to take the gospel back home and eventually to the rest of the world.
We heard a lot of interesting answers. Most people we talked to were captivated by the tough questions and grateful to have someone listen to their answers. They told us that growing up with their parents’ religion left them uninterested in following the same path. Still their answers to our questions showed a deep interest in spirituality. We invited over fifty young people from around the world to work with us in Germany. We wanted them to experience the German culture, the language, serve the local church and help us do surveys with their peers as an opening to sharing the gospel. We held coffee house type socials focused only on answering tough questions about Christianity.
In time, we discovered an important fact: Millenials want to be reached. They want us to talk to them, make them think, disciple and pray for them. They want to be mentored by someone older. They want to discover the authentic Jesus and serve Him wholeheartedly. They want to change the world.
Go and talk to one about Jesus and see for yourself.
Photo by Isaiah Rustad.
On Being a Millennial in Mission
BY KIRSTY, PIONEERS UK MISSIONARY TO AUSTRIA
A typical Sunday in Austria. My colleague arrives 30 minutes late with the food for brunch. There’s a scurry to arrange the tables and scramble the eggs. Small children rush around while a last minute worship practice goes on in the background. Coffee is a necessity. People wander in and take their places around the table. We pray and eat. After worshipping in Spanish I slip out to the kids’ room. Trilingual children fight over lego and then settle down to listen to the story, placated with popcorn. When they excitedly respond to the story and exclaim over the craft idea I found on Pinterest, my mood soars. When they ignore everything I say and it seems like all they want is to pick a fight and annoy each other as much as possible, I feel like a failure.
We head across the street to join the Farsi community for lunch. I attempt to connect with those sitting beside me in broken German. Sometimes a ‘Wie geht’s dir?’ (How are you?) and shared enjoyment of the food is all that is possible. Outside, groups gather to chat and smoke before the service. After countless handshakes and greetings we begin Farsi worship. My phone buzzes in my pocket. Another WhatsApp message. Who’s responsible for set-up for the German service? We need more helpers over at Donauhof. I leave after the sermon, just as they’re calling up those who have asylum interviews that week to pray for them. On the train across the city I check emails and messages, arrange a Skype with a friend over in the US, scroll through Instagram. Another message, from one of the pastors who’s preaching elsewhere this Sunday. She left supplies for hot dogs in the fridge. Can we prepare them for after the German service?
Over at Donauhof, the old Danube hotel we’re in the slow process of renovating, I help with cleaning the toilets and the cafe area. A few people are already gathering, drinking coffee and chatting. The service won’t begin for another hour or so but this is as much a part of church as the sermon. The place slowly fills up. Caught up in conversation, we lose track of time. A little after 5pm we begin worship, this time in German and English. I do my best to follow along with the sermon, looking up unfamiliar words on my phone. Thank God for the Google Translate app. After the service the conversations continue over hot dogs and beer. Plans are made for a midweek dinner. One of our Iranian friends was recently granted asylum and is inviting everyone to a party on Friday night. More food, more community, more shared life. This is Church.
My initial reaction is to resist the label ‘Millennial’, to resist that kind of categorising and stereotyping of whole generations. But then I see how so many of the characteristics of Millennials map onto my experience, the way that I live and think, the way we do church in Vienna. We are a community of students, refugees, young families. Most of us fit into the ‘Millennial’ category. We’re sociable, often spontaneous, easily distracted. We crave newness, flexibility, affirmation. Family and community are a high priority. The church, for us, is about shared life. There are a lot of strengths to the way that we do things. And inevitably there are pitfalls. Inevitably, the way we do ministry looks different from the generations before us. But it seems to me that what we’re trying to do is just to live out life with God in the specific circumstances we find ourselves in. And that’s all any of us can do really.
Photo by Jacek Dylag.