This is installment 6 in our series. You can find the other posts here: (Millennials Talk Millennials).
This week, we hear from Mike Myers. He is the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Royston, GA. Mike is 32, married to Katy and has 6 kids. Along with being a millennial himself, Mike spent 8 years as an army chaplain which brought regular engagement with millennials above and beyond normal ministry.
Here is Mike’s article:
Over the years I have read, thought, talked, and listened a lot to and about millennials. In fact, I am one. Because of that, I face a dilemma. On the one hand, conservative society ridicules my generation as the selfie generation, entitled, lazy, and ever snowflakes. On the other hand, although born in 1987, I have been married for over a third of my life and am a father to half a dozen children. If that is not enough, I am a pastor in a denomination that is nothing if not staunchly propositional in its theology. Many in my generation think I am weird, and many outside my generation think we are lame. As a bit of an odd-millennial, I have something to say to both “sides” when it comes to reaching my generation with the gospel. I would like to begin by highlighting four areas that present unique challenges for my fellow millennials and me: relational, intellectual, liturgical, and theological. I then want to propose what I believe is a key to addressing these challenges effectively, both for millennials experiencing them and for “outsiders” wondering what in the world our problem really is.
The people of my generation are technological and digital natives. Although I am old enough to know what the save icon actually is on Microsoft Word, I have never known life without screens or, probably more importantly, without the internet. In that sense, my generation has really never been without the possibility of connection. Ironically, we face a massive crisis of disconnection. Despite (or is it because of?) the proliferation of connections, millennials are lonely. Even the terminology of friend or follow seems gutted of its former substance and meaningful quality. Instead, these important aspects of life have become digitized, which means at least partially, dehumanized. In no area has this become more evident than in relationships. Real relationships require depth, something many in my generation either do not have or cannot bear. By depth I mean moving beyond 160 character statements, text messages, and vacation pictures. Depth requires real life-on-life proximity, not artificial exposure mediated by pixels. As soon as we begin to pursue depth, however, we encounter another problem called conflict. When sinners live in any meaningful proximity with other sinners (and there is no one who does not sin, 1 Kings 8:46) conflict inevitably arises. At this point the millennial faces a twofold problem. First, the hyper-digitized world has greatly hindered our ability to deal with conflict in a civil and mature way. If you need proof, just read one or two Twitter wars and you will see precisely what I mean. Second, the artificial proximity fosters an inclination to the passive aggressive. I am afraid many millennials have been conditioned to desire living at a safe but lonely digital distance, rather than a difficult and meaningful relational proximity. That leads me to commitment. Whether to marriage, family, work, or church, finding commitment seems to be a rare commodity in our day. Could it be that millennials find themselves reluctant to commit because they simply do not have the tools that makes commitment remotely possible, let alone desirable? Here I think that my generation is both perpetrator and victim. We are guilty here in that we may not be seeking wholeheartedly to cultivate and enjoy real relationships. We are victims because we have grown up in a society dominated by splintered friendships, shattered homes, and divided churches, and who wants to live in that?
I do not think that millennials are stupid, but we are very distracted. While things like drugs and gun violence get most of the headlines, there has been a growing amount of articles and studies discussing the effects of the ubiquitous smartphone on our minds (PS: everyone needs to read or listen to 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, by Tony Reinke). Smartphone technology is not inherently evil. Neither is opium. But smartphone technology, like opium, is extremely powerful. I constantly face the temptation to check my email, financial apps, sports scores, social media (though I have largely severed my exposure to this), and most of all, text messages. Every generation has sought to communicate, but no generation has carried the ability to communicate with almost anyone in the entire world at any given time in our pockets, purses, or clipped to our belts. Many use that same device for an alarm clock, which translates into a literal 24/7 exposure to this extremely powerful, and distracting, technology.
What does this have to do with the intellect? Well, I read recently that the average attention span of a millennial is a measly 8 seconds, though some are more optimistic. Whatever you think about that, I would be willing to bet that if you are a millennial like me, this article is already long enough that you might be scanning down to see how much more is left. Maybe you did that already. As image bearers called to love the Lord with all our mind, this habit creates a massive challenge. Smartphone technology accesses something in my mind (and heart) that screams for me to skim over the surface of oceans of pixels. But the Bible, good books (the ones made of paper), prayer, and meaty expositional sermons invite me to explore the depths of the truth, all within the friendly confines of limited exposure. I am afraid that many millennials face this challenge of endless distraction, and do so largely unaware of it. I myself have only come to think about it seriously in the last several years.
The challenges of the mind spill over into how we interact with our world. We ask how does that make you feel far more easily than what do you think about that? The difference may not strike you as profound, so let me prove my point. For a generation struggling to think for more than 8 seconds, I believe we have conditioned ourselves to emote rather than analyze. This has everything to do with a central tenet of Reformed Christianity: the sermon. Far more than our predecessors, I am afraid Millennials struggle to listen to and comprehend substantial, exegetical sermons. Since the preaching of the gospel is the primary means by which God works to save (1 Cor 1:21), how are we to help those who have a hard time focusing for that long?
The OPC’s doctrinal standards are long and densely packed with theology drawn from the Bible. They are also old, dating back to the middle 1600s. The spirit of our age, however, prefers the new, easily accessible, sleek, and fast. So what is a thoroughly propositional, theologically “old-fashioned” church to do with a culture immersed in sleek, doctrinal relativism? Do we change? Do we conform? Do we remain fixed and immovable? The first step to answering those questions is to understand something of the atmosphere in which we live. If surveys like the one Ligonier conducted reflect accurately the millennial’s “theological air quality”, my generation lives, moves, and breathes in the smog of confusion. I think that one major reason for this, related to what I mentioned above, is that many millennials are not thinking deeply. The essential connection between doctrine and practice is not always apparent. Sometimes it takes careful thought, and thinking is hard, and distracted thinking is impossible. Another factor contributing to the smog is a general distaste for doctrine. Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul told his young protégé Timothy that for him to be effective in ministry, he had to keep a very close watch over himself and the doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16). Biblical and maturing understanding requires a good and clear grasp of both the Bible’s stories and doctrinal statements. Before I suggest what I believe will address some of these problems most effectively, I have one more challenge to mention.
Millennials live in an age of audio/visual addiction and a revitalized Athenian Urge–constantly looking for something new (Acts 17:21). So, if this generation is all about speed and freshness what are we to do about Reformed worship? Historically, Reformed worship has been simple, reverent, and most importantly, biblical. The driving directive for a Reformed liturgy is the conviction that worship focuses upon God, and therefore we only do in worship what God commands (otherwise known as the regulative principle of worship). For many millennials who have not been taught this approach form their earliest days, or come from different church background, this can be a huge obstacle for joining a Reformed church. At first blush, this approach to the church’s weekly gathering can appear heady, stuffy, non-emotional, and maybe even boring. As a pastor firmly committed to this approach to worship, I have often thought about how to bridge this experience gap. On the one hand, the church must not let the culture force conformity to its demands when it comes to worship; on the other hand, if my church’s worship is faithful and biblical, how can we help the millennial to see that it is good and desirable?
A Suggested Solution?
I suggest that a solution to the challenges we face in my generation is one word. My friends, we need discipleship. For non-millennials, instead of voicing ridicule, hopelessness, or frustration, the church needs to engage with intentional discipleship in the context of meaningful relationships. Millennials, on the other hand, need to realize our need to be discipled. This will create an opportunity to address the relational challenges by providing a context in which real, personal interaction and growth can take place. Discipleship can help to address the intellectual challenges—provided the phone is put away—allowing for an opportunity to interact more intensely with everything Jesus commanded. One of the greatest tools of discipleship the church has ever had is the Westminster Shorter Catechism, 107 questions and answers that will engage the heart as much as it will stimulate the mind! This will in turn create a perfect opportunity to deal with the theological challenge. It will create good categories in the context of real, life on life instruction. Finally, since worship is the ultimate goal of discipleship, I believe that the instruction and learning that can occur will lead to an appreciation for and understanding of the beauty and glory of Reformed worship.
How your church pulls this off will be up to your elders. That our churches need to pull this off was established nearly two millennia ago by the Lord Jesus himself (Matt 28:18-20). Our great task is making disciples of the Triune God. True discipleship happens in the context of relationship, for God himself identifies so closely with his people that he places his name on them. It engages the heart through the mind as we are instructed, challenged, and built up in the fear of God. Since this God is our great aim, discipleship cannot help but be profoundly theological, for we make God the object of our study and devotion. He loves the truth and has established his church to be its pillar and ground (1 Tim. 3:15). As a support and follow up to the preaching of the word, biblical discipleship will produce more and more people who long to worship God in Spirit and Truth (John 4:24). Millennials have seen so many changes in our short lifetime, but there is still nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9). The tried and true Matthew Henry said it well, “Men’s hearts, and the corruptions of them, are still the same; their desires, and pursuits, and complaints, are still the same.” And Jesus remains the same, yesterday, today, and forever. If discipleship seeks to form people into his image, surely he is able to overcome any challenge we may face.