By Amber Riggs
The millennium had barely turned when I first became acquainted with the labels that would define my generational identity. As researchers looked at the culture that had shaped us and hypothesized about how we would collectively respond to and shape our environments as we grew into adulthood, I found myself both fascinated and enthralled by what I read.
We were called Gen-Y, Millennials, Echoboomers, and my favorite, the Bridger Generation. However, as we looked at the promises of a new (at the time pre-9-11) millennium, what they all seemed to have in common in the perception of this Millennial was a hopefulness that transcended the cynical rebellion of Gen-X. (Yes, at the time, Gen-Xers were young adults and the favorite target of societal criticism).
As a pioneering millennial 1 I had the opportunity to embrace this label and all of the hopefulness it encompassed and allow it to engender a healthy pride in my generation – a pride that seems to have been harassed out of millennials who stepped into adulthood a later point in time.
As millennials, we are natives to the culture that is sending shock waves through the Church. Yes, it is becoming a bit of an overused point to ponder, but “with crisis comes opportunity”. It is as millennials that we have the opportunity to provide unique leadership at a time when culture is presenting significant challenges to Christianity.
Each generation has a unique personality. What helps define that generation is how it interacts with its unique setting on the historical stage.
Here are just a handful of contextual strengths that are defining Christian leadership among millennials:
1. WE SEE OPPORTUNITY EVERYWHERE.
Against many odds, “relentless optimism” is part of our generational profile. This article in the LA Times noted that despite economic (and other) challenges, millennials demonstrate “remarkable resilience” and confidence. It’s significant to note that this theme of optimism and confidence runs throughout analyses of the millennial generation.
As far as Christian leadership is concerned, we can turn that optimism into the realization that opportunities for influence abound. Realizing that influence is not limited to positional leadership, we eschew helplessness in the face of intimidating circumstances to recognize the potential that we have to engender change on more personal levels: in our homes, churches, communities, and work places.
I also look at the spiritual challenges around us and raise my eyes for the chance to see different facets of God’s character – parts of Him that though ever-present were sometimes obscured by political Christendom.
2. WE ARE INTRIGUED BY HISTORY AND HISTORICAL FAITH.
You know what they say about those who don’t know history. Fortunately, to our great advantage, we have an unprecedented accessibility to history. It is always at our fingertips. If I come across a historical figure, event, or song from Hamilton: The Musical, and want to know more, I can simply ask Google, Siri, or Alexa, and I’m off and running on a side-tracked train down the path of time.
Significantly, this has translated into a millennial respect for historical faith and classical Christianity.
As Robert Webber asserted, “The road to the future runs through the past.” We have 2000 years of a deeply rooted faith from which we can gain wisdom in worship, evangelism, spiritual formation, and theology. Those of us who are exploring this well-trod winding road are finding our relationships with Christ enriched by it.
3. WE ARE A CREATIVE BRIDGE TO THE NEXT GENERATION.
Perhaps because we’ve been told to “think outside the box” our entire lives, our generation is known for its creativity. However, there is speculation that we won’t be anywhere near as creative as the generation that follows us.
For this reason, we will play (and already do play) a crucial role in communicating the gospel to the next generation. However, instead of “reinventing church”, our creativity appears to reflect a desire to communicate ancient truths in meaningful ways.
4. WE WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR COMMUNITIES.
Millennials have much higher rates of involvement in volunteering and community service than other generations did in their 20’s and 30’s. While some analysts cite technology as a catalyst, surely competitive university and scholarship applications that highly favored community involvement played a role in this as well. We were told that we could and should make a difference, and we believed it.
What this means for the Church is that we have a generation who is highly aware of needs not only in the local community but the global community, and we want the Church to define and act on the intersection of these needs and the gospel.
5. WE ARE COLLABORATING WITH THE BODY OF CHRIST ACROSS DENOMINATIONAL LINES.
Less than 100 years ago, denominational “turf wars” were a significant factor in American Christianity. Multiple denominations declared themselves to be the “one true church”. The award winning joke about one type of Baptist pushing another type of Baptist off a bridge as a heretic won precisely because of its insightfully hyperbolic take on historical reality.
Today, however, inter-denominational partnerships among Christ-centered congregations are on the rise, particularly among evangelical denominations. My local congregation partners with both One Hope and Love Inc. to spread the gospel in our community. We have received reports from school administrators, government officials, and community members all being powerfully amazed at so many congregations working together to meet the needs of our county.
While denominational identify still holds significant relevance, its role has shifted in a healthy way.
6. WE WORK WELL IN TEAMS.
Chalk it up to the seemingly endless group projects that were inflicted upon us as students, but we are fluent in the language of teamwork.
This fluency brings with it multiple advantages that can ultimately lead to a greater sense of unity and collaboration. When we are allowed to capitalize on our unique strengths within a focused team, it can engender energizing levels of effectiveness.
My own experience co-leading (with a fellow millennial) a primarily millennial staff has been an incredibly rewarding opportunity. Together, we have strategically and creatively overcome what once seemed to be insurmountable obstacles to see a small glimpse of a Church that “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16).
EMBRACING THE MILLENNIAL OPPORTUNITY
The millennial generation truly is a “bridge” generation. Born in one millennium but leading in the next, we are bridging the span between two eras of history.