Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, is putting on a seminar this June. It addresses millenials and their relationship to the Church (capital “C” to refer to the worldwide communion of people and places that comprise the Christian faith). They were accepting essay applications and had spots for 30 finalists. I was honored with entry into their roster along with folks from Nigeria, the Philippines, Canada, and around the United States. Here was my submission:
Dr. Stephen Ray, a professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, remarked “Millenials are the most faithful generation I’ve run across. They’re faithful to the idea that the world isn’t as it should be.” This truth resonates with the relationships I’ve built as a youth pastor. As a young adult myself, I hope this seminar addresses mutual dialogue about our generations’ unique position to speak to today’s culture around faith (or no faith, for some). We live in divided times. People struggle to define the future- I want to contribute to this seminar so that we breach intergenerational gaps that affect our relationships, our future, and the flame we call faith.
It’s clear that the millennial generation is hard to define, yet we are well-known as those missing in church buildings. Perhaps we are “missing”, or rather, others “miss” us, because we are out making meaning elsewhere, or maybe because we envision the church beyond the rote traditions, moral justifications, and judgments that are the church’s metaphorical brick and mortar. I’ve seen my own students graduate from high school and fade from our worship services. And yet one is pursuing the trade of being a mechanic and asks me poignant theology questions and another is interning with the Federal Bureau of Investigations while she studies forensics and minors in Arabic; these individuals might not sit in worship services, but they are absolutely expressing their faithfulness by impacting the world. I never guilt them into attending worship; instead I ask them “Tell me where you’re bringing God’s kingdom to earth.” This is what they’re doing. Millennials are catalysts for change outside the confines of walls that were built by humans. How can we, professionals in ministry, listen to their voices? And more importantly, how do we listen in a manner that invites them as they are, not because mainstream Protestantism repeatedly gripes “Where are the young people?” We’re right here. Come with us.
As a fellow millennial, my voice stems from my faith. I protested the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota with 500-some clergy because I believe that our Dakota brothers and sisters are made in God’s image and deserve clean water. Millennials are hungry for authenticity, so some of us don’t sit in church pews because we’ve called the church out on its bullshit. Jesus repeatedly called out religious hypocrites throughout the gospel. It was in this same spirit of honesty that Jesus reiterated “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear…” (Mark 4:23, NIV). Perhaps us millennials are prophets for these divided times, where our ears hear Christ in our neighbor and where our voices shine light for the voiceless. All of us humans are God’s children, and we do not belong here. Like Hebrews 11: 16 said about our ancestors who carried faith, we are not home yet- we are citizens “longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (NIV). We believe that there is more to the world than what we see, so we act on it. What does this imply about us? Like Dr. Ray observed about us: yes, we are faithful.