An Open Letter From a Millennial To Older Christians
So I may have violated the cardinal rule of the internet, namely, “Don’t let it make you angry.” That said, I’m frustrated over what seems like a pervasive trend both on and off the ‘net: Boomers and Gen-Xers (and even a few Millennials) bemoaning how mine is the most selfish, petty, and entitled generation to walk the planet. I’m especially troubled by the fact that I’ve seen this attitude among those in in the church. As a follower of Christ, I will leave the trends of the broader culture for a moment — troubling though they are — and focus my address to the older Christians in the church who may be tempted to dismiss Millennials.
Older Christians, please don’t mock Millennials.
We have problems just like you, but when you lament how awful “kids these days” are, you turn us off to listening to you. You have wisdom that we need — please don’t waste the opportunity to offer it in a loving manner by mourning the advent of ‘selfies’ and entitlement. Despite our cultural differences, we’re facing a lot of the same challenges you did at fifteen or twenty, and the experience of those who have walked the path before us is a priceless asset. However, if the people who have that wisdom are yelling at us to get off their lawn, we’re not exactly going to be inclined to walk across the grass and ask them for advice. We’ll go off and try to “#adult” by ourselves instead, and probably fall flat on our faces a lot of the time — just like you did when you were our age. We’re also facing new challenges that you haven’t — we’re the first generation of digital natives — but some of the wisdom you have can help us with those as well. You’ve walked with Christ in the culture much longer than we have, and we need your help. So please, don’t cut off that resource by ridiculing us. Rather than holding us to the standard of the “good old days,” hold both us and yourselves to the standard of the Scripture.
Older Christians, please listen to Millennials.
We have some concerns about your generation’s way of doing things just as you have about ours. Both of us are wrong about some things and right about others. If we don’t listen to one another — and this is a two-way street, fellow Millennials — we’re never going to learn any of the lessons we could from each other. We Millennials have real concerns about the “Moral Majority” way of doing politics, so please listen to our concerns rather than firing back defensively. I’m sure you have concerns about our own methods of cultural engagement, and we have a responsibility to listen to you as well. We also have real concerns about older methods of church organization and outreach, and I’m sure you’re alarmed by some of the institutional changes our generation is driving. Neither of us are completely wrong or completely right, but if we talk past each other, we’ll forever pendulum between two flawed extremes. Let’s listen to each other and work together to follow God’s lead in building one another up into a more Christlike church.
Older Christians, please help Millennials.
We’re young and inexperienced — in the words of a good friend of mine, “a pool of ignorance” — and we’re not unaware of that fact. But please don’t forget that at our age, so were you. As ridiculous as some of our “adulting” moments might seem to you, they show that we’re well aware of the fact that we haven’t quite got this life thing together yet. Rather than lamenting our flaws, come alongside us in love to show us how to do life. In the church more than anywhere else in American culture, older and younger people should be able to learn from one another. Paul has this interchange between generations in mind when he writes in Titus 2:2–8:
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (ESV)
Older Christians, please include Millennials.
A lot of us are capable adults now, and if you shut us out of opportunities to lead and learn in the Church, we’re going to become frustrated and isolated. No adult likes to be treated like a child — engage with us, challenge us, and be the church with us. Challenge our weaknesses in a loving spirit rather than lamenting them or accommodating them. Give us opportunities to fail and realize our need for Christ and for other Christians. We will grow better together when we expect each other to be progressing in holiness, “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Older Christians and fellow Millennials, let’s work together in unity to shine the light of the gospel to a deeply divided and lost world
We are not being a witness for Christ to the culture when we’re yelling at each other about the failings of the older and younger. A church divided generationally is the exact opposite of what Christ calls us to be when he asks of God that his church might be “perfectly one” (John 17:23). What will be a witness to the culture is a church that is “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). For older Christians and Millennial Christians alike, disunity is not only a personal issue — it is a gospel issue. Regardless of age, all of us have a responsibility to love one another and seek reconciliation of our differences, and not to dismiss or ridicule our fellow believers.