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Things that Discourage Millennial Christian Leaders

I believe in the millennial generation—perhaps because I worked with young adults for over two decades! Because of my age, I regularly find myself on the receiving end of “concerned” conversations from two generations. Those older than me are fearful of where the millennial’s will take the gospel and biblical Christianity. Those younger than me feel they aren’t being given a fair shot—they are discouraged by and often feel compelled to run from unbiblical attitudes and hostile dispositions of previous generations.

I’m not referring to doctrinal concerns—the millennial’s that I know are committed to gospel purity and biblical integrity. They are grounded doctrinally. They aren’t evolving their theology. But they ARE learning their culture and their ministry “style” just as every generation has. They are rediscovering how to actually and effectively DO gospel ministry in a world that is VERY DIFFERENT than it was just 25 years ago.

Over the last two thousand years, I don’t believe any generation had a “style” of ministry exactly like the generation that preceded them. Christianity is not a “culture” it’s a person—which is why it is so wonderfully integrated into every culture on earth! No other world religion can attest to the same. Yet we often fail to distinguish between style and substance—culture and content. And most of the questions or debates I see or hear are focused on “culture” or “context” rather than content—in other words, form not doctrine. (See 1 Corinthians 9:19-22)

That said, for this post, I’m referring to millennial Christian leaders who are well-grounded doctrinally, but who struggle with being ostracized by some (not all) older leaders—a “group” or “crowd” that EQUATES tradition with doctrine—style with substance. (See Mark 7:7) Those who do these things are often discouraging to millennial leaders. How?

Here’s a list of things that I see discourage millennial Christian leaders:

1. Being Marked, Cut-Off, or Ostracized over Non-Doctrinal Issues. To separate from a Christian brother over stylistic or cultural form is just not biblical—otherwise you would probably stop supporting most of your over-seas missionaries. Millennials know this, intuitively, and they know scripture must be twisted or ripped from context to support this type of behavior towards other Christians. Millennial leaders LONG for mentors and friends who will stop evaluating, judging, and measuring them on non-doctrinal issues. (See Romans 14)

2. Being Criticized for Their Vision or Innovation. Again, we’re not talking about doctrine. We’re talking about song selection, ministry decor, design elements, media usage, service schedule, small group structure, and other subjective cultural elements. They want the freedom to follow God and integrate and communicate the gospel into a culture that has changed dramatically in the last twenty or thirty years. (See Titus 3:9)

3. Being Accused of Narcissism. I have a theory—though I can’t prove it. Every generation is narcissistic. Mankind in general has a sin-nature bent on loving self. But narcissism is a new buzzword—or club—that is used to beat up the millennial generation. My theory is that social networking has provided a new cultural measuring stick for self-love.

The funny thing with those who cry “narcissism”—at least in my experience—is that they are blind to their own. We seem to be proficient at excusing behavior in ourselves that we criticize in others. (Some just don’t want millennials to have influence through media. That’s strange when considering we need all the Christian influence in America that we can get.)

Narcissism is a hard case to objectively build or prove—it’s usually a very subjective accusation that maliciously attempts to judge another’s heart. It’s impossible to evaluate the heart motives of someone who is attempting to influence others for the gospel. (Not to mention, we tend to “find” what we’re looking for in subjective arguments.) We usually PROJECT our own pride onto someone else’s heart. Judging someone else is more of a mirror into our own hearts than a magnifying glass into another’s. (See 1 Corinthians 4:4-5)

4. Being Misunderstood for Preferring Dialogue over Dogma. Millennials are coming up in a culture that is very different than even 25 or 30 years ago. Culture is changing, and the rate of change has accelerated dramatically. Morality is no longer mainstream in most parts of our country. The emphatic declaration of dogma is not nearly as effective today as it was fifty years ago when the whole room would shout a loud “amen” in answer to any moral dogmatic declaration. (In some places in America, this is still the case, but not most.)

Therefore, Millennials are hungry for substance—a deeper argument with stronger rationale, the ability to dialogue and intelligently lead a skeptic to biblical truth. They often feel ill-prepared or even “short-changed” academically or biblically. They often feel that they haven’t been equipped with the solid, rational logic that strongly supports Christian truth. They feel they were taught to preserve a “specific Christian culture” with more passion than they were equipped to substantively preach Christ in a pagan culture.

They still believe dogmatically in absolute Biblical truth, but they also realize that a secular culture responds better to intelligent, rational, substantive dialogue that validates Christianity, than it does to rabid declaration of dogma with no logic.

Simply put—every day they face a culture that incessantly shoots holes in their Christian “dogma.” And they realize how desperately they need depth and solid answers WHY in order to be effective in turning hearts to Christ. The good news is, Christianity provides substantive truth, and the millennials are committed to learning it, preaching it, and publishing it loudly into an increasingly secularized culture. (See Acts 17:2, 18:19, 1 Peter 3:15)

5. Being Rejected for Not Fighting Old Battles or Sharing Old Loyalties. Millennials appreciate the spiritual battles fought a hundred years ago or more, and they deeply respect those who fought them. But they have a hard time venerating them, and they just aren’t interested in re-fighting old battles over and over again unnecessarily. Oh, they will fight for doctrine and a pure gospel. They know what’s valuable. But they are facing a whole new set of their own cultural challenges. They are wrestling to wrap their brains around a rapidly, morally digressing, post-modern world. They really can’t get caught up in 75 year-old loyalties over denominational battles and internal Christian strife—not if they desire to be effective salt and light, gospel-spreading, fruit bearing leaders in the 21st century.

Often, the generation preceding them doesn’t understand this and reacts with cries of “compromise.” The “center-of-the-target battles” of previous generations aren’t the same for this generation. Culture has shifted epically, and gospel ministry has never been more vital and necessary. Yes, doctrinal compromise is rampant today. But often the cries of compromise aren’t about doctrine, they are about things far more meaningless, temporal, and cultural.

Another point on loyalties—millennials find it easier and more attractive to base their Christian identity in Jesus Christ alone over movements, groups, fellowships, and denominations. Camps are unattractive to them. In their experience, camps cannibalize themselves in the end, through eventual division and strife. Millennials have a deeper, stronger loyalty and strength in Jesus and are happy to be called Christians—followers of Jesus Christ. Personally, I love this about millennials, because after all—JESUS is the ultimate goal of any biblical movement or group! (See 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 3:1-7)

6. Being Rebuked for Not Being Contentious. Contending for the faith is one thing, while just being contentious is another. Millennials don’t understand why Christians don’t treat each other kindly, lovingly, and respectfully while simultaneously maintaining doctrinal purity and clarity. One thing that social networking reveals is the hot vitriol of professing Christians towards other professing Christians. Millennials want to run from this because they believe it kills the ministry of the gospel. They believe it hinders the work of preaching Christ in the last days.

Along this line, they also don’t have “know it all”—to be dogmatically right about areas where scripture is unclear. While some Christians wouldn’t even admit to biblical uncertainty, millennials generally don’t have a problem with “not knowing for sure” on areas of theological complexity. The main stuff is SO CLEAR that they are willing to keep “the main thing the main thing” and not get sidetracked on lesser points of contention. (See 1 Corinthians 11:16, Titus 3:9)

7. Being Misunderstood for Being Grace-Focused. Grace does not lead to sin, it leads to holiness. Behaviorism doesn’t lead to holiness, it leads to sin. (Behaviorism is the imposition of external behavior modification by others that supersedes the inner grace-driven true transformation and resulting behavior changes that only the Holy Spirit can genuinely produce.) Most Christians get this, but millennials especially get this—perhaps because they witnessed first-hand a great number of moral and ethical failures that began with a proud mindset of behaviorism.

Millennials desire a biblical Christianity in which a loving relationship with Jesus compels obedience empowered by grace. Behaviorism creates a Christianity in which obligation forces obedience driven by conformity, self-effort, and comparison. Millennials desire church communities where grace thrives and comparison dies—which is conducive to spiritual growth. Behaviorism develops church communities where comparison breeds pride and contention which stifles health and spiritual growth. (See Galatians 2:20-21, Romans 6-8)

8. Being Dismissed as Compromisers Rather than Mentored by Encouragers. Millennial leaders are absolutely looking for mentors. They are looking for gracious, biblical, Spirit-filled mentors who will compassionately believe in them, encourage them, influence them, and acknowledge them as leaders of the next generation. They run from those who caustically cut them off, but they run toward those who fuel their passion for Jesus and believe in their potential for the gospel. If you ever wondered why millennials are running from one personality toward another, read that last sentence again. (See Proverbs 22:24, 29:22)

Millennials have a keen sense of awareness that they may be the last spiritual leaders on earth who communicate the gospel before Jesus returns. This is a grave realization—it’s sobering. It calls them to a clearer, higher focus—to live above pettiness, divisiveness, and stylistic debates. They don’t really have time or emotional energy for illogical, subjective arguments that impose meaning upon scripture and fabricate battles that aren’t worth fighting, much less dying over. They see the world perishing while Christians are quibbling, and it frustrates them.

Simply put, millennials are facing a culture that may not be “Christian-friendly” much longer, and the guy across town that also preaches the gospel and loves Jesus doesn’t look so horrible anymore—especially when you consider we might be sitting in a prison-cell together someday for preaching Jesus. (See Luke 9:50) Truthfully, sudden oppression or persecution of Christianity in our culture would bring together a WHOLE LOT of Christians who, right now, just don’t even like each other!

All of this gives them a greater sense of urgency in gospel ministry, but a deeply Christ-dependent urgency rather than a self-dependent urgency. In other words, they want to live and serve in fervent balance—like it really is a work of God, rather than the work-a-hol-ism that has wrecked so many families over the decades.

I get very encouraged when I’m around millennials. They function with a clarity in biblical priorities that’s hard to find. They love Jesus and the gospel, and they want to see as many souls come to Christ as possible! They love the local church and the Word of God. They love doctrine and depth. They are committed to real faith, real Christianity, and real gospel ministry.

I’ve never met a millennial who did not deeply respect, honor, and love the older men that influenced them. Generally, their spirit is not to be disrespectful or dishonoring. One younger pastor shared this insight: “In truth, I don’t know of any young men who truly want to dishonor or leave behind the previous generation in any way.  We love them and need them dearly.” But older men who desire control are NOT comfortable with these younger men. Millennials want to be influenced by godly men but they don’t want to be controlled by another man—they are too discerning for that. They desire their biblical liberty to seek the Lord and obey Him as LORD. (See Romans 14:4, James 4:11-12)

I will probably follow up this post with a post entitled, “Things that Discourage Older Spiritual Leaders.” In that we will talk about some of the doctrinal compromise, emergent church trends, and things that just scare the older generation. In truth, some of our millennial leaders are in fact being drawn away by false doctrine. Millennial friend, the concerns are often based in valid doctrinal depth, and they usually have your best interest at heart. Not all of them are gracious, but most of them are, and you will be wise to find those godly men and allow them influence in your life.

In closing, PLEASE don’t read or impose doctrinal compromise into my writing. I am clearly committed to pure doctrine. I absolutely reject ecumenism and emergent church trends of doctrinal compromise. And please don’t read a “tone” in this. I deeply respect and love godly friends in every generation. Personally, I’m more concerned about an attitude than an age bracket.

Won’t you join me in encouraging, strengthening, and cheering on the millennial generation of Christian leaders? Let’s face it, soon enough, if Jesus tarries, the gospel WILL BE in their hands entirely!

I, for one, believe that God is preparing them to be the most fruitful generation in Christian history!

UPDATE: The post was written and posted in April of 2014. The follow-up article was shared a few days later and can be found here.

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46 Comments

  • Great post! A must read!

  • Spot on! Thank you Bro. Schmidt for the encouraging article!

    -A Millenial

  • I so appreciate the positive and balanced way you have approached this. It is always encouraging to read someone who with the right spirit can help articulate where we are coming from. Thanks for all you do!

  • Great article! Thank you so much for writing this. It was like a breath of fresh air. I’m looking forward to the follow up post. :-)

  • Encouraging Words Indeed. Thankful for you my friend.

  • You took those words right out of my heart. I am anticipating the follow up post. We Millenials truly have a desire honor the spiritual battles of the previous generations; those battles are no less important today, but yet we must continue to press forward.

    – A Millenial

  • As usual, Pastor Schmidt blows it out of the water again! I’m grateful I got to spend my teenage years under this man’s teaching!

  • Thanks for this! Although I am a few years on the other side of a “millennial” I find that this article has put into words some discouragement I have felt. Thanks again.

  • Very well said and so true! With the comments on twitter and Facebook about this article it further proves your points.

    I imagine when you write about the “Old Spiritual Leaders” the response from the millennials will show a little more grace and love.

    • Thanks John, I guess I can’t see most of the negative comments from my vantage point—probably a good thing. :)

  • Thank you for saying what I have felt for years…..and have been shunned for believing. There’s nothing greater than walking the “old paths” with new shoes. :)

    • Well put Jason, I love that idea of “There’s nothing greater than walking the “old paths” with new shoes.” Always growing as the Lord sanctifies us. I love the teachable spirit attitude I see in the comments.

      Thank you Bro. Schmidt for taking the time to share your heart with us!

  • So spot on. I battle these feelings constantly as a Millennial Pastor

  • Thanks for this article. It is well-written and hits the mark!

  • Timely! You are the man Bro Schmidt!

  • Thank you so much. This perfectly articulated everything in my heart and mind.

  • Bridging the gap between one generation and another is a MUST. Thank you for your keen insights!

  • Thank you so much for writing this! I’m encouraged and ready to press forward for the Lord! Looking forward to the follow-up post.

  • WOW! I didn’t know I was part of the millennial generation! I feel young again. :) Good article, Cary.

  • Thank you for your stance on Biblical matters, and going the extra mile and seeing the big picture like you do every time you write. You understand both generations and see the implications that the changing world is having on them. I pray God blesses your keen insite to the important things of the world evermore. You give encouragement to those of us who want to see many souls saved for God’s eternal work. Thank you bro Schmidt for helping me grow. :0)

    -Shakeel

  • This is like a biography…MINE!
    Finally, someone put into words how we feel. Even though I was born 10 years before the millenials I identify with them. Thanks again Cary that’s incredible!

  • Spot on with some of the thoughts I’ve wrestled with over the past few years. Thanks for writing this and I look forward to the second article.

  • Thank you so much for your insight and wisdom in writing this article. However it’s not just the new generation pastors, but also the younger laymen of the church. I have seen many from my generation drop out of church altogether or join other denominations because of the silliness that goes on in some church circles. The saddest part of this is now these young people are raising their kids without church, the gospel, or biblical leadership. It has started a downward spiral in their families.
    They’ve gotten tired of the judgmental, finger pointing legalism, they’re tired of the “we cant talk to them cause the women wear pants” they forget we’re washed in the same Blood, they’re tired of the “old paths” man worship, they’re tired of the shallow topical preaching in which a fundamental preacher really doesn’t need to study his bible much,
    They’re tired of all the man made laws, but do not see the love, they’re tired of the emphasis on standards to the point of works salvation, which minimizes grace…..
    Thanks again for this article. Articles like this give me hope that revival is coming, but I don’t think it will happen in the streets this time, as much as it will within the 4 walls of the church.
    Thanks again, and my God alone get all the glory!

  • Thank you for being so careful yet thoughtful with your words. At 28 years old, these subject matters are difficult to write or talk about—they often jar unwanted frustrations and emotions, which are not things I’d want these types of discussions to be stemmed from.

    Reading these words from you is incredibly refreshing and encouraging. Thank you for communicating what many of us feel and experience, yet have been unable to say in the careful manner in which you did.

  • Thank you for attempting to be a bridge builder.

  • “Grace does not lead to sin, it leads to holiness. Behaviorism doesn’t lead to holiness, it leads to sin.” Absolutely terrific post! Very helpful and timely. May God bless your efforts to bring biblical unity into His church.

  • Thank you for such a well-written article Bro. Schmidt!

  • Amazing truth. Thank you for caring, teaching and helping this generation. We need more men like you to stand up for truth, rightly divide and keep in context the word of God. Pride is destroying what good, faithful men died to give us. Thank you Pastor Schmidt!

  • Do you really think that dialogue is a good, scriptural alternative to a misused dogma? Turning the authoritative declaration of God’s Word into having conversations with a group in which we ask them what they think a passage means fails to live up to Paul’s command to preach the Word. Implicit in that command is an authoritative monologue.

    We should make sure that our dogma, our objective claims about truth, should be both found in and explicitly demonstrated from the Bible. Have there been irrational monologues by church leaders that are not explained from the Word? Yes. But that does not mean we jump into the opposite ditch and turn preaching into a two-way conversation.

    Chesterton said there are only two ways to believe something: dogma, and preference. Either something is absolute and unalterable, or we just like it. And the truths of God’s Word are no exception.

    So, do we need an adjusted dogma? Maybe. Should we abandon that style completely and reinvent a dialogue based ministry? Never. Millennials (a group which I belong to) should be criticized for this. Those that have chosen to pursue this have not thought it through to its logical ends. Please consider what the Bible says about dogma vs. dialogue.

    • GREAT Question… and in fact, I was not clear in the article. When I refer to “dogma” I’m referring to unsupported declaration. I’m not referring to well-thought, intelligently delivered biblical preaching.

      When I refer to dialogue vs. dogma I’m primarily thinking “out of the pulpit” when engaging lost people. I’m NOT at all for diminishing biblically rich preaching and teaching… I’m just for making it clear, substantive, and rational in drawing conclusions and leading the listener to biblical ends.

      I hope this helps!

      Thanks!

  • Wow! You put a lot of thoughts that we’ve all been having into words. That’s an article that I can read over and over, and think about. I think it helps me to understand both myself, and a lot of the things I see my colleagues doing in the ministry.

  • Much needed – Well said with scriptural wisdom and grace. Very helpful lenses to look through for clearer vision. Thank You.

  • Pastor Schmidt,

    Thank you so much for such a wonderful and encouraging read! I wanted to reblog this on my website, but unfortunately I couldn’t figure out how. I hope you don’t mind, but I decided to copy and paste it (with proper credit and a link your website of course) to my website, but if you’re not okay with that, please let me know, and I can take it down immediately. God bless Pastor!

  • I’m one of those “older men” who has spent over thirty years on the mission field, and what you say in this article needs to be shouted from the rooftops. I look forward to your next article, because, as is the case in all things, there is a need for balance and mutual understanding. Thank God for brothers like you willing to bring this issue to the table. May God give all of us grace to sit side by side, to listen, to learn, and then go out and reach our world with the Gospel!

  • You articulated so clearly some things that have been bouncing around in my mind for the last couple years. I’ve been trying to reconcile how they can be ok while no one in the older generation seems to see them (I’ve seen lots of millennials talk about these topics, but this is the first time I’ve seen “The Old Guard” post on it – probably since as you said, they are mostly opposed to media). Thanks for validating our zeal for the things of the Lord.

    • Not sure how I feel about being called “the old” guard… but thank you for your encouragement. :)

  • Really enjoyed the section on behaviorism. We must raise our families to love God above behaviors. Thanks for your heart!

  • Good stuff Brother Schmidt! A must read for all who want Christ exalted, the lost evangelized, and God’s people edified in these trying days!

    jjdjbtl

  • Thank you for taking the time to put this in writing! Well said

  • Living in between “the old guard” and the millennials, I’m seeing myself change under new influences.

    Your points 6 and 8 illustrate where my mind-shift is occurring most. Even though my brain knows that Christ’s example was tender to all but the self-righteous, I still sometimes feel I’m neglecting a duty when I don’t come down hard on someone else’s sin or “overly-free” (whatever that means) standards.

    Thank you for articulating here that being encouraging and gracious to those who are a bit different – even to sinners – isn’t always a compromise to be rebuked. I certainly appreciate your encouraging words.

  • Well written and thought out! Thank you for your voice of reason. Our generations need a mediator at times. We live in a world that has no idea we exist, and so much effort is being wasted trying to discuss these matters with each other when so much work is to be done in our respective ministries.

    We share the same passions and battles but so often not the same sentences. And I believe that has become the problem. Thank you for helping to bridge this concern. God bless!

  • I’m in, Cary! Thanks for the insightful post!!
    From a “Generation X” member

  • Thank you for crafting with words the exact notions I have had for several years. If “millennial” is the title being assigned to such groups, call me a millennial.

  • Thank you Bro. Schmidt. Very thought provoking. The unity that JW’s and similar groups have, even internationally, is sickening. I’ve met and chatted with several while out door knocking, and it always leaves me with the feeling like you wrote about here, ‘why do we have to canibolize each other?’ There is a real and live enemy out there, and the church down the street isn’t it.

  • A well-written article on an important subject. Thanks for understanding us!

  • Great thoughts. I especially appreciated the thoughts on behaviorism vs grace. Thanks for the article.


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