There are two principles that I have always abided by in my interactions with young people and youth:
- Never underestimate a young person’s desire and interest in God, the Bible and spiritual truths.
- Never underestimate a young person’s ability to grasp the things of God, the Bible and spiritual truths.
I have heard, too often, that millennials are the most self-entitled, self-absorbed, social media obsessed, unwilling-to-work-hard generation to date. Spiritually speaking, they are perceived as soft and weak, too open, too tolerant, too loose, too liberal and unwilling to read the Christian classics – which I must presume include the Holy Bible.
During my more than 12 years of working with youth and serving as a pastor for young people, I have met some of the most dedicated, intellectually curious, Bible-focused, and compassionate young people around. They are not as superficial as you think. Nor are they as lazy. They may not have the same 9-to-5-work ethic of the generations before them, but why should they? They are born in a world that is always on the move, on schedules that disregard time zones, and digitally connected in a way that previous generations have never been. And they know how to use it all to their advantage.
For the millennials who know and love God, what a truly exciting time this is! They are the Daniel and Esther Generation of the 21st century – growing up in a world that may be increasingly secular but with the unparalleled and unprecedented opportunity to be used by God for such a time as this. (Tweet this)
We expect our young people to excel in academics, sports, music and extracurricular activities that look good on their university applications and/or resumes, and be successful and influential in the world. Clearly, we believe they have potential to succeed.
So, why should that expectation be lowered when it comes to spiritual matters – especially when we consider that God is the ultimate Revealer of Truth? Simply put, the human ability to grasp spiritual truths does not rest on the genius of humankind but rather on the revelation of God. Thus, perhaps the “failure” of millennials to know biblical truths and practice the spiritual disciplines isn’t because they are unable, but because we haven’t faithfully taught them, on the assumption that they are. Young people are able. What is odd is the comparatively low expectation of them in spiritual areas which is inconsistent with our high expectations in practically every other field.
A second matter, addressing my first principle, is whether we have assumed that our young people are more interested in social media than they are with spiritual matters. Consider this: just because they are not searching for spiritual truths in the same way, it does not necessarily follow that they are disinterested altogether.
Just as we – the older generation – are instructed to “start children off on the way they should go” (Proverbs 22.6), let us involve ourselves in their search for spiritual truths. Here are some suggestions:
- First, have a spiritual conversation with a millennial. I daresay that we are more afraid to approach spiritual subjects than they are, and we presume their disinterest, almost with relief, when perhaps it is our own hesitation and fear of being asked tough questions. This betrays a spiritual weakness in us, not in them. It is unfair to suggest that our young people are not interested in learning when we have not taken seriously their thoughts and questions about God, Bible and Church. So, let us engage our young people in systematics, apologetics and biblical studies.
- Second, and more fundamentally, acknowledge that they, too, have longings that only God can fill. If we are made to be in a relationship with Him, if God has put eternity into every human heart, then there is — in the spiritual fibre of all human beings — a longing for the Living God. There is also a concern for eternal purpose: what is this all for? Millennial or not, this is a human question, not a generational one, and the Eternal God is relevant to all generations. Millennials are very interested in spiritual things. Institutionalized religion? Maybe not so much, but spiritual? Yes, definitely! This is a good place to start.
In short, we must recognize the intrinsic potential of young people and the unique contribution of millennials to God’s kingdom work, not only in Canada, but throughout the world. This is an exciting time to be alive and young!
Finally, to all the young people out there: pray, read the Bible, never give up and set for the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity!