So have you heard of Simon Sinek?
He’s an amazing speaker, entrepreneur and idealist who did what is in my opinion the best TED talk I have ever seen. (here) But I was watching another interview that he did a few years ago that went a little viral. Feel free to check it out (here).
In this video, he spends a LOT of time talking about the millennial generation, or Gen Y, and our responsibility to them. I find this interview especially fascinating for two reasons. First, I am a millennial, just. By one month in fact. So, born 1st of Feb 85′, I peruse the opinions on the internet of millennials (when I’m not helping others older than me with their computer issues) as a…let’s just say; ‘senior millennial’.
The second reason, is that it seems that there’s always someone in a church context, doing some training or writing some article on engaging with millennials. In fact, I’ve just come to the end of some on-line training on millennial ministry by Geoff Kullman from millennial consulting. Churches are dying to get massive uptake among millennials. It’s not just because they’re young either, but also because by now, they are entering their 30’s. They’re the culture shapers, entrepreneurs, the ones with both youthful energy but also likely to have some post-grad level of education and importantly; are the voters.
So, here goes yet another article on millennials.
Sinek who is not a Christian to my knowledge, pulls out something which amidst flooding memories of flashbacks, nearly knocked me off my seat. He talked about how essentially the millennial generation wants to have above all ‘Impact‘ whatever that is.
Some might argue it’s a type of neo-hippiedom.
But someone says; “Why then do hardly any millenials turn up to local political forums?” (We hosted a few months back at Waratah.) Here’s why; because millennials have grown to hate politics and politicians. But here’s why that: because in their view, politics doesn’t change anything, and politicians are obstacles rather than actuators of impact. By the way, given the last 20 years of Australian political history can you really blame them?
Yep, the worst thing you can do in many a millenial’s view…is get in the way of them….making an impact. Oh and before you complain about that, if you’re the generation who taught them it’s your fault. I remember in grade 3 being given a worksheet on ‘who is the most important person in the world?’ (By the way, the final answer after you solved the word-puzzle was ‘me‘.) Society taught a generation to put all faith in the power of one, and then gets annoyed at them for hitching their moral wagon to emotive, materialistic, idealism. Perhaps C.S. Lewis’ words are more pertinent than ever: “We laugh at honour and are then shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
That’s society though, now how did the mid 90’s to early 2000’s Church respond?
That’s easy, the Church Looooved the idea of ‘impact’.
Like this: The YWAM “Impact world tour,” yeah. they even named it impact, and it was a thing that came out here around 2005. Seriously, google it. Classic early 2000’s event youth ministry. But I never went to it. I did however go to this:
There I was, a newly committed Christian in 2005 with others from my church standing in the rear rows at the ‘planetshakers’ conference. I remember one preacher (who was years later publicly shamed for faking a cancer diagnosis in order to cover up a pornography addiction) in full flight of one of the most rousing sermon finales I had ever heard.
But I have no idea what his text was. Actually, come to think of it, I do. His text was the Australian culture of mate-ship. What biblical passage he was flavouring it with however, I still have no idea. Basically, he exegeted the ANZAC ideal to proclaim that we as a generation can and should go forward and make an (wait for it) impact for Jesus in our culture, whatever that was. It wasn’t a sermon. It was a speech and you know what? I loved it.
I loved it because I loved the idea of making an impact. But as as a late teen I just didn’t know myself well enough to know that I loved the idea of making an impact for Jesus a lot more than I actually loved Jesus.
This is how you can get a massive response and ‘convert’ a generation without mentioning the word repentance. Nonetheless, this is the atmosphere in which I chose to eventually go down a ministry path. One thing I’ll never forget my Dad saying to me a little further down the track is “it’s not simply about converting people, but about what we are converting them to.”
It’s only because I know the reason why I continue that I can admit why I started. I confess that I really loved the idea of power, influence and impact more than I actually loved Jesus. I’ll go on to say that it took Jesus to bring me to my knees in the midst of the darkest valley of my life, for this order to be flipped in my heart. A spiritual ‘desert’ tends to do that a lot more than a spiritual dessert.
I can say truthfully that as painful that it was, I am thankful to him because he saved me (and others) from myself. I realise that apart from a desire centred on God alone we are hazardous, dangerous people. Even more-so if we have even a thimble of theological training. You budding theologians out there….ponder that.
So with these memories in mind, as Sinek outlined the importance of the concept of ‘impact’ to the millennial generation, I realised how many times I had been the subject of a marketing strategy, while sitting in a church context.
Someone may say: “come on Peter, you’re being seriously negative here and making some huge accusations.” Well firstly; it’s a lot easier to complain later about everyone’s negativity afterwards than it is to think thru the consequences of your influence beforehand. Secondly, of course people wanted to reach a generation. I’m not questioning the motives but the methodology.
The Church, acting in human wisdom understood the data and the research too much. Someone, somewhere realised that impact for impact’s sake can be a ‘selling point’ and boy, did it fit in nicely with a hyper-charismatic approach. Who wouldn’t love to hear stories about what everyday people in the bible achieved and impacted their world with God on their side right?
……Well, actually I’ll tell you who doesn’t want to hear it anymore: millennials. Because telling a disillusioned person about empowerment is a bit like talking about ‘being filled with the joy of the Lord’ to someone who’s just lost their wife or husband to cancer after being married 6 months. Just because it’s theologically true, doesn’t mean it’s right for that time and space.
I say disillusioned because this generation is just starting to figure out that using God to simply make an impact doesn’t work. In fact even Sinek points out that the millennial generation is starting to figure out en masse that nothing works the way they were told it does. Therefore, they feel like hopeless failures. Not just failures, but hopeless ones. It’s almost like Ecclesiastes was written by a millennial.
I’m one of the blessed ones. There were many that went forward in the ‘days of impact’ in altar calls that I was a part of who have long since disappeared. Why? Because as they embarked on the journey on making a diff’ for Jesus, they realised they didn’t actually love Jesus. And, event organisers and Churches weren’t there or properly equipped to pastorally care for them through that valley.
So how do you talk to millennials? Well, I can tell from various facial expressions, deathly silences and tears on faces that what millennials really want to hear about is….the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Exodus 3:5-6 “Do not come any closer,” God said (to Moses). “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
What on earth has this to do with Millenials? More than you could possibly imagine.
Let me ask you a question: after 40 years wandering the desert on the run for his life after killing the Egyptian, how does Moses, the former prince of Egypt who lost it all after one dumb decision feel? I’ll tell you; he feels like the world’s biggest failure. Probably because there’s an argument that actually…..at that point he kind of was!
Thus God’s first words to Moses as he (re)introduces himself couldn’t be more important for how the rest of the conversation and hence Exodus is going to go. So why does Gos introduce himself the way that he does? We ask that question principally because when we hear those names we think ohh, ahh, the ‘big three’ heroes of the faith. But does Moses think that?
No, Moses doesn’t know how the story ends. He hasn’t yet downloaded ‘the bible app’ on his phone because it’s still being written. All Moses knows is a) God knows the past (the very thing Moses is most trying to run from) and b) he knows about his ancestors. The question becomes, how does Moses view those names?
Well, aside from one great decision to follow God, Abraham made the Egyptians think his wife was his sister because he was trying to protect his own skin and showed ‘textbook leadership’ when he agreed to Sarah’s plan to sleep with Hagar because God was taking his time. So, Abraham was showed impatience and cowardice. Hmm, what did Moses show when he tried to save the Isrealites his way by bopping the Egyptian slavedriver on his head and then running for his life?
What about Isaac? He was deceived by his son Jacob. Trying to bless Esau, Jacob flagrantly disobeyed his authority and gave him the middle finger. I wonder how Moses felt after being told all of his life that he was something special, to hear the first words of his kinsmen to him: “who do you think you are?” (Ex 2:14)
Oh and how did Jacob spend his life? On the run from people, through the wilderness and then wrestling with God. What do you reckon Moses has been doing the last 40 years?
When God introduces himself with those names here’s how Moses is hearing it:
“Moses: I am the God of people like YOU……
I am the God of the broken, the failures, the disillusioned and the disappointed. I am the God who knows you.”
That folks, is how God talks to a person who feels like a hopeless failure.
Is that how we communicate him to a disillusioned generation?
Relationship trumps empowerment. Love trumps the offer of impact. Because you can only fall in love with a God of love, a God who says: I know you better than you know you….and I still Love you.
How you talk to millennials is how you need to talk to people who feel like they have completely screwed up their entire universe. Because that is what has happened. God knows how to engage millennials better than all the research suggests. Because God knows how to talk to the failures and the disillusioned.
Moses was completely welded to the spot before that burning bush and it makes me realise that in order to know that I am loved no matter how little impact I may have, I must be still.
But in order to be still, I must give up the need for ‘impact’ and ‘great things’. I wonder if in so much talk about destiny and ‘great things’ we have trained a generation out of an ability to be still and know God loves them.
But we can get them back, if we simply do it God’s way; show them ‘bushes that don’t burn up’.
Tell them our story, of his faithfulness and love in our deserts.