by David Wraight
As globalization and modern technology continue to shrink our world people are connecting worldwide as never before – particularly young people – overcoming cultural, geographical, language and ethnic barriers with ease. For the first time in human history we are seeing the emergence of a global youth culture with common values, dreams and desires.
This globalized generation of youth – often referred to as the Millennial Generation – is unique. They believe that they can change the world for the better, but they are unsure what they should change the world to; so they search for an ideology or system of belief to use as a foundation for the change they seek. They are actually searching for something worth living for and dying for.
They are optimistic and idealistic with a deep desire to make their mark in the world. They dream of what can be, and follow their dreams with passion and perseverance. They are no longer prepared to be spectators watching the world go by, but want to be ‘players’, to get their hands dirty, to make a difference. They are knowledgeable about the affairs of the world and very mobile, travelling as much as resources and opportunity allow.
As the Church interacts and interfaces with these Millennials I believe there are four possible responses:
- The Institutional Response – Institutions have well-established systems and structures and are most likely to perceive young people as ‘leaders of the future’ rather than leaders for today. They will demand that young people follow processes and protocols and ‘prove themselves’ over a long period of time before they are allowed to serve in any leadership role.Millennials do not think of themselves in terms of ‘earning a place in the future’. They do not accept the concept that they need to pass through some ‘rite of passage’ or validation process to be able to take the lead. They are ready to make a difference now, and will reject any individual, system or organization that tells them that they aren’t old enough, qualified enough or experienced enough to lead today. The institutional response will inevitably drive young people away to places where they feel free to operate as agents of change.
- The Organizational/Programmatic Response – Organizations are far more accommodating of young people than institutions and will often provide them with opportunity to lead. However, in many cases organizations are defined by programs and practices that must be followed without deviation or interpretation. The organizational invitation for a young person to lead is generally conditional on them ‘following the program’. Millennials live on the cutting edge of societal change and instinctively know what will work and what will not in the contemporary cultural context. They are advocates for relevance and will very quickly and accurately evaluate the appropriateness of current ‘programs’ and come up with many adaptations, changes or completely new ways of doing things. Today’s young person will not respond well to prescriptive programming that squashes their creativity and limits their capacity to change lives and positively impact the world.
- The Abandonment Response – With their enthusiasm for adaptation and change, Millennials are often viewed as a threat and a problem to veteran leaders. From their perspective these young people are naïve, pushy and disrespectful with a very limited understanding of the world. Unfortunately, when young people are given an opportunity to lead a common response from long-term leaders is to abandon them – to say to them, “So you want to lead? Go ahead, give it your best shot, I’ve done my time, I’m out of here – you’re on your own”.Veteran leader abandonment of emerging young leaders is fuelled by a misunderstanding of who these young people are.
Unlike generations of youth before them, rather than dismissing ‘older’ people as being irrelevant, Millennials are seeking intergenerational relationships. They are looking for sages and mentors who will believe in them and encourage them as they pursue their vision for changing the world. They long for someone with whom they can share their dreams, a wise guide who will walk beside them, affirming them in their calling and providing them with a place of safety to explore and test ideas and plans.
- The Empowerment Response – I believe the most appropriate response to this globally-connected generation of world changers is to convey tothem that we trust them enough to let them lead us – to invite them to share their dreams, affirm them in their desire to bring about change for good, validate them as leaders for today, and equip, resource and free them to lead. We need to be their ‘armour bearers’, their champions, advocating for them as they step out into their vision and calling, defending them from the attacks that will surely come, believing in them when others don’t and empowering them to be all that God has designed them to be.
The best place for these young leaders to be is at the cutting edge of mission and ministry, with the freedom to make decisions and respond to the constant changes in culture. For us to remain relevant we need young people to lead us in the advancement of God’s Kingdom, continually contextualizing and adapting our communication and delivery of the Gospel message of hope and salvation. Rather than abandoning them, veteran leaders need to back them up by providing administrative and managerial support, spiritual guidance, and the resources and infrastructure for them to succeed.
Be assured, the current generation of youth will change the world; how we respond to them will determine who or what ‘cause’ they change the world for.