Millennials: Antisocial, Selfish, and Afraid?
Last week as I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I came across a post from Dr. Timothy Keller, one of the founding members of The Gospel Coalition, who has been known for his very intellectual and reasonable perspective on a variety of issues that his other conservative colleagues have not been so balanced on. However, one of his recent comments surprised me, seeming to further a false narrative about millennial evangelicals that we are a generation of spineless, selfish, and scared hipsters:
I immediately was taken aback when I came across this post. As a millennial who has been actively involved in the conversation surrounding what faith, life, and church will look like for my generation, it is abundantly clear that the image that Keller paints has little to no grounding in reality. In fact, I would argue that one of the biggest desires of millennials is that we would be involved in deeply intimate communities that allow us to express ourselves openly, ask the questions to arise in our minds without fear of judgment, and give us a tribe of people that will walk with us through the ups and downs of life. In fact, this desire for intimate community is a direct response to the lack of community we have grown up with, especially in the evangelical world with our sterile megachurches that make true community nearly impossible.
For far too long, millennials have been criticized because of our excessive use of social media, preferring isolated interactions with others through screens and devices instead of face-to-face conversations. But it should be noted that though millennials are the most social-media driven generation (because we are the first generation to grow up in a world where such technologies existed!) this does not mean that we do not desire real community. Most of the time, social media serves simply as the platform through which we connect through in order that we might form real communities that exist in our real worlds.
It is certainly true that we are a generation that defies most labels; because we have near unlimited access to a database of global information, we are a generation that doesn’t easily buy into a singular system of thought. We are a generation that is able to pick and choose the best ideas and aspects from many different groups and systems and embrace them in our own lives and thinking. That doesn’t mean we lack commitment to a community — but millennial communities will look radically different than that of previous generations.
Our communities will not be defined by a set of boundaries that mark who’s in or who’s out. Instead, we are united around common causes and principles, bringing different perspectives, beliefs, and ideas to our communities and sharing them; even if others disagree, we remain united around our common cause. For church communities, this will look like culturally, generationally, and theologically diverse gatherings of people worshipping and following Jesus. Millennials will be radically committed to Jesus and to each other but will not be committed to one system, perspective, or belief structure that traditionally has defined Christian communities. Many evangelicals cannot fathom a coherent community being formed with out a shared commitment to theological, political, or worldview systems. How would you control that? You wouldn’t. But our communities aren’t molded after Fortune 500 Companies. They’re designed to be organic, authentic, living and breathing organisms and not organizations. It is possible and it is being done by dozens of groups around the country. (Check out The Practice and The Orchard communities for examples of how this practically looks)
This doesn't mean millennials are against structure, but rather against structures that dictate how one must think. Fear forces conformity, but it's only Love that can create common-unity (community) among diverse perspectives. And that's what most of us in the millennial generation are yearning for. But fear isn't a successful motivator for a generation that fundamentally understands that the world is bigger than the leader makes it out to be. And that excites us. It inspires us. It provokes us to spend our lives searching, discovering, innovating — and not in isolation. No, we're doing it together. In community. It's an essential part of our generation make-up.
I hope that the elder leaders of evangelicalism will cease being cynical and critical toward my generation and instead serve as the wise and humble mentors that they are called to be. It's my prayer that the they would abandon fear and power tactics and entrust my generation to the hands of God that God might use us in a mighty way to expand the Kingdom and renew the church. And it's also my prayer that my generation would have healthy leaders whom we can look to and learn from as we step into positions of leadership in the community of Jesus.
Because we need them.
Are you with me?
Brandan Robertson is a writer, activist, speaker, and dreamer behind The Revangelical Movement. He has a B.A. in Pastoral and Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and is pursuing his Masters of Divinity degree from Wesley Theological Seminary. Brandan writes for a number of prominent outlets and is a frequent guest on national and international television and radio programs. Follow him on Twitter @BrandanJR.