Message, Ministry and Millennials

Servant Leaders,

I was doing some work in one of my many “offices,” this one otherwise known as Barnes and Noble. A young couple (Let’s call them “John” and “June”) came into the same aisle. They seemed to me trendy without the whole trying to be trendy part. They were talking about Bible apps and about some girl who “pretended” to be a Christian. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to glean some perspective from these two concerning ministry to their generation. So, I begged their pardon and asked… “What is your generation looking for in a church?”

John began by saying, “Well, if I did attend church…” Interesting because they seemed to freely speak of things spiritual, even Christian, yet did not necessarily equate regular corporate worship with spirituality. It seemed he wanted me to know this. He continued, “…I wouldn’t want a show. It’s geared more and more to a teenage audience.” June chimed in, “Yeah, I want it to be real. You know, more about the Bible and less, kind of, social club. People in those churches can be so hypocritical.” Again, interesting, if not telling. I then asked, “What about the message? How could it be shared in a way that would seem “real” or authentic to you?” John said, “I guess more traditional?” a little unsure about how to frame his response. “I just want someone to explain the verses themselves instead of telling us what they think it means.” June agreed and added, “Yeah, it seems like a pretty hard book to understand so just, you know, read it and then leave it up for people to decide what it is saying to them.” I let them know I was a pastor trying to stay in touch with how to best relate the God’s Word to their generation. I believe June said, “Nice.” John said, “No problem.” and off they went, immediately picking up on their previous conversation.

While I was at it, I asked another couple also in their early twenties about what they looked for in a church. He was quiet and obviously shy and she was “bubbly” and busy. Still, she took the time to respond, “Something informal, I think.” I asked if they would be comfortable with someone preaching in what I was wearing (jeans, Nikes, black sweater), or would it come across “less authoritative?” “Not at all. Our pastor pretty much wears that each Sunday.”, she said. They attended a Christian church nearby. They were knee-deep in their taxes, spread out interestingly enough across a table in the middle of the cafe. I let them get back to work. Another couple sat nearby. They seemed a little more “edgy” with multiple piercings in rather painful looking places…

She seemed eager to share while he just kept typing on his Mac… “Well, I’m Catholic and I just love my church. St. Mary’s…” of something immaculate sounding. I followed up, “What do you like about it?” She didn’t miss a beat, “Are you familiar with the Catholic Missal?” “Only vaguely”, I said. “Well, our Priest reads and shares from the same readings as others are using around the world for Mass. It feels like we are part of something bigger rather than just doing our own thing.” I probed, “So, would it be fair to say you like being part of something relational but with a greater group?” “Yeah, I attended Asbury Seminary and they have a knack for turning good Methodists into Catholics with their teaching (not sure what that really meant and would have liked to follow-up). She continued, “I was Assembly of God and loved the music. My boyfriend at the time was Assembly of God. It seemed more like a social experiment than anything.” Again, they seemed busy and ready to get back to what they were doing. I had already taken up more than the 30 seconds I had promised. I thanked them and started writing while the exchanges were fresh.

Here are a few initial thoughts… Do John, June and the others speak for a generation? Did I just catch a sampling of Millennials who may not represent the norm for their demographic? Something in the spirit of their responses… unrehearsed, unscripted said otherwise. The question for me is, what does it say about how I represent and present God’s Word? Could pastors of my generation (Busters in their mid 30’s-50’s) be trying too hard to keep up and stay in methodological touch with a younger crowd? If so, will this continue as we try to reach Generation Z (those born 2000-present). Perhaps the majority of the previous generation (Boomers) didn’t try hard enough to connect? Still, could a constant over-reaching in methodology by Busters leave the younger generation just as wanting for the authentic conviction and compassion of the Gospel? What does it mean to lead a church that is relational, open and engaging to the lost, yet not be perceived as a “social club?” Should I be concerned about this at all?

My take-a-way for now is to continue striving to share God’s Word in deeper, yet, simpler ways. I am sure I fail on both of these points much of the time. My prayer is to be kept by the Spirit away from the extremes that distract and be more faithful to the changeless Truth that each generation is starving for.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear what you think about all things message, method and Millennials!

Learning to lead,

Tom

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