From One Generation to the Next: Empowering a New Generation of Church Leaders
Published by SarahSchreiber
“One generation will call to the next, ‘Our God is good and his hand is strong!’ All of the world sings his marvelous acts and our voice will join with theirs in the song.” This new hymn by Greg Scheer, and the ancient Hebrew Psalm on which it is based, paint the picture of intergenerational shalom in the setting of worship: one generation literally calling to the next, hands outstretched, commending God’s mighty and marvelous work. This commending and calling is so needed in our churches today. How can the Church better call and enfold millennials into its life and leadership?
First, we need to look at who these millennials are. Millennials were born roughly between 1981 and 1996, now ages 24 to 39. They grew up with home internet. They witnessed the September 11 tragedy before becoming adults. They entered the job market after the Great Recession. They are older than you think. The two of us are millennial pastors. Per the stereotype, we do have friends and millennial peers looking for work and living with their parents, but we also have friends with professional jobs, a family, and a mortgage. Millennials are the original users of Facebook, and to get some ideas for this piece, we turned to a few CRC pastor Facebook groups for answers.
“Commit to authentically mentoring them. Recognize their gifts and name them, encourage them, make space for them,” comments one user. Mentoring and discipleship was perhaps the strongest theme in online discussions. Another continues, “Disciple gifted young people 1 on 1, teach them to teach others, challenge them to take next steps… celebrate their wins.” With this will come challenges, one mentions: “The problem is that you have to convince Xers and Boomers that these relationships work, and to get millennials past their cynicism in this area.”
Discipleship along with encouraging leadership is a powerful, life-changing combination. A millennial pastor speaks of both receiving and offering this kind of encouragement: “It is because a church took time to encourage me and put me in leadership positions at age 22 that I began to feel a previously unfelt call to ministry.” Nowadays, this pastor’s congregation tries to “target” 20-somethings for leadership by pairing them up with older leaders. For instance, I am a Cadet Cadre co-counselor with a 23-year-old man in the congregation… This becomes one entryway into further church leadership.” Many users online comment that millennials serve faithfully in many different leadership roles, from VBS to the worship committee.
One pastor offers an interesting stepping stone towards more responsibility: “Ask a young adult to serve as an advisor to council, similar to advisors to Synod.” Another pastor notes that her church is inviting young adults to “dinner with council.” Others advocate a direct approach when a young person is ready: nominate them, “voting and all!”
Beyond encouraging millennials in volunteer leadership positions, another point emerged, sharpened by one pastor: “Hire them!” (Her response received the most Facebook likes.) Indeed, millennials called to ordained ministry are eager to serve the church and are entering their prime. If Jesus’ earthly ministry occurred, as we assume, in His early thirties, this is the age of present-day millennials. However, many millennial pastors note difficulty finding their first positions. “I was told 6 times,” a pastor writes, “that they were looking for someone with more experience. I had to advocate for myself in my current charge.”
There may be conflict as generations come together to form one body. One millennial pastor writes of awkwardly being roped into a conversation complaining about “the young people.” In the other direction, a self-described baby boomer pastor voices longing: “The church is in good hands for the future. However, I think those of us who have gone before still have much to teach, which if millennials were open would keep them from making the same mistakes we made.”
How does a church move towards intergenerational shalom? Allow us to add our own suggestion to the good words already shared here. Let’s put away anxiety about changing times and put on faith in a God who does not change, who pours out His Spirit on the old to dream dreams, and on the young to see visions. The reality is this: The Church needs millennials to disciple younger generations. The youngest graduating students at Calvin Seminary are no longer millennials, they are Generation Z. The church must call to millennials so that millennials can pass on that call, so that even the next generations can join in the song, “Our God is good and his hand is strong!” Some of that might happen on Instagram. See you online!
Special thanks to all the ministry leaders who shared their ideas with us on Facebook.
By Prof. Sarah Schreiber and Rev. Ryan Schreiber
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