My “burning bush moment” came at the age of 38.
I was called from being a shepherd in corporate America (mid-level management) to shepherding God’s people (pastoral ministry).
With this calling, I realized I needed training, so I enrolled in seminary. There, I found myself the “old guy” in a sea of millennials. Because seminary is a learning experience, I figured I would listen to them and learn.
At the church in which I serve, I’m the young guy, so seminary was a refreshing change from being the one “that don’t know anything about life yet.”
I discovered that the millennial generation is far more idealistic than their predecessors – Generation X (fake it until you make it), baby boomers (eat, drink, be merry for tomorrow we … wait … what … retire? Nooo!), or the silent/great generation (I had to scale a mountain every morning in the snow to go to school).
Why shouldn’t they be? Their predecessors made it so great for them! Only we didn’t.
Millennials have a five-figure occupation with a six-figure education. They’re overworked, underpaid, have a higher rate of depression and suicide, higher cost of living, and many cannot afford the lifestyle given them while growing up.
Yet, when they look toward their predecessors for answers, all they receive is cynicism and stories about “How hard it was back in my day” and “Don’t be so impatient.”
I also noticed how much time they spend searching. They search the internet, their mobile apps, their streaming menus, music playlists, social media status, tweets and Facebook posts.
It can seem as if they give more face time to media devices than actual faces.
I don’t believe their generational status and media-device searching are unrelated.
While I don’t want to speak for an entire generation, from the outside looking in, it seems like they’re searching in technology for what they cannot get from their predecessors – hope and purpose.
I’m reminded of a passage of Scripture my pastor preached on recently in Ezra 3:11-13:
“And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy,
“so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping.”
The younger generation cheered when the foundation was complete, but the older generations lamented because it paled in comparison to the former edifice.
The older generations were too caught up in “what was” and “what could have been” to join the younger generations in praising the beauty of now.
The irony of this passage is that the younger generation were picking up the pieces from the failure of the older generation. Sound familiar?
So how does one minister cross the great generational chasm? How do we come together and bask in the beauty of now with all generations?
One avenue I would recommend to older generations is what I call “search parties.”
These can be as casual as sitting down over a latte or a sandwich. One or two people together sharing God’s grace in fellowship and casual communion.
Here’s what non-millennials should keep in mind during the search party:
- Stop lecturing about how they need to be more like the other generation.
- Empathize with their struggle, knowing you struggled too when you were their age, while acknowledging that your struggle doesn’t equate to theirs and it doesn’t have to. Understand what it feels like to get started in life with the deck stacked against you.
- Accept that while you’re talking to them, they’re still searching. They may have their faces in their phone at times, but this does not mean they are not interested.
- Care. It is a simple word but there isn’t enough of it present in our society. It’s an old saying but it’s true: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Caring takes courage because it requires a certain amount of vulnerability. Sometimes, vulnerability can be the gateway to gaining not only an ally but also a friend.
- Reach out, but not with hands filled with what you think they need. Remember, they are no longer kids. They have thoughts and ideas that you may find helpful in ministering to others.
- Hear what they have to say. Oftentimes, we only listen so we can find our opportunity to talk. It’s more helpful to listen because they just want to be heard.
I have found that the more time I spent listening, the less time they spent on their devices searching.
Tyrone Keels is Minister of Technology at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. He holds an M.Div. from George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas.