This past weekend I had the chance to participate in an open-space conversation on the purpose and practices of lay theological education. As part of this discussion, there emerged a recognition and need to talk openly with and about millennials. How can the church engage them? How can the church meet them where they are at? As one of probably only two actual millennials in the conversation I had to avoid being a “token voice” but overall, I enjoyed the conversation. I have talked about the implications of millennials some with my parents and some in my parents’ generation, but had never really before seen the topic be engaged by a gathering of people my parent’s generation. My fellow millennials, I think you would have been pleasantly surprised by what the gathered group had to say about millennials. There is a lot of energy around them in the church and the opportunity and possibilities they might provide.
This leads me to wondering today though, what are the gifts and opportunities that millennials provide the church? I don’t use the term “provide” in a commodity like sense for the church, rather I think that millennials through their perspectives and values may be part of a seminal moment in the life of the church (and at least specifically of the denomination that I am a part of, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).
This is no exhaustive list, but so far I have come up with seven things that stand out. In this post, I will share the first two. The rest I will share in a post later this week.
Millennials who are present or at least engaged in some kind of ministry, force the church to wrestle with questions. To be a part of something or to engage with something millennials are likely to consider and think deeply about the basic questions of why, who, what, how and where. These are important questions that congregations, faith communities and the larger church should always be forced to wrestle with but often do not reflect on them and take the answers to the questions for granted. By wrestling with these questions though, there is space to really wonder, for example, what might be possible and what God might be up to and calling and leading a congregation to be a part of.
Building off the previous point, millennials are adept at allowing space for questions and the ability to leave a question open without an easy answer. You aren’t likely going to find an easy answer to a question as deep and profound like “what might God be up to here.” However, that fact actually may excite millennials who aren’t looking for easy answers. Millennials, like many people of faith are looking for those who allow the questions to be questions and give space to wondering about them. When there are easy answers there is less gray area, and at least from a Lutheran theological perspective, that doesn’t seem to correlate well with the many tensions and paradox which Lutheran theological ideas seem to create and leave room for.
Until picking up this conversation on Wednesday, what do you think the church can learn from millennials?
Image Credit: Pope and Millennials