Stop the Millennial Bashing!

Maybe I’ve just become highly sensitized to concerns over Millennials. As I wrote in my last post, I’m wrapping up a book project on freshmen entering Christian universities. To do that, I’ve had to get myself into the mindset of those born in the 1990s. So when people attack this generation, I take it personally in spite of my official Boomer status.

It’s so easy to pick on the millennial generation. We’re told that they’re narcissistic, only focused on what’s in it for them while recording their every move with their ever-present smart phones. Even attempts to challenge the narcissistic claim, like this one in Slate, begins with a joke about how millennials “took a break from Googling themselves”.

Unbelievably, Jeff Bethke (source of the “why I love Jesus and hate religion” YouTube sensation), took on millennials in the Washington Post, claiming somehow that millennial Christians are the “new fundamentalists” because they supposedly raise their own interests above scripture (whatever that means). Never mind that his definition of fundamentalism is flat wrong AND that he’s a millennial himself who found “fame” through video self-expression.

Then, of course, there are the never-ending Facebook posts written by my generation about today’s young. Here’s a standard example.

never_spanked_as_kids

I could write another whole piece on the spanking part. Where the idea that spanking built character come from is beyond me. It’s just one of those tropes thrown out like the claims you can’t have Bibles in school.

I really am focused on the “trophies for participating” line. We could throw in Lake Wobegon’s “where all the children are above average” (although Garrison Keillor has been using that line for nearly 40 years, so it can’t be about millennials). What makes me crazy about the cartoon above is that is seems to absolve previous generations as well as the broader culture for the patterns put in place for millennial children.

Our kids were born in the cusp of the millennial transition (1981 and 1985). For whatever reason, they didn’t wind up in tons of organized activities in sports or dance or gymnastics. Probably has something to do with my lack of athletic prowess. But even if they had, I really don’t think they would draw deep meaning from a participation trophy.

Participation trophies aren’t for the kids. They’re for the parents. We’ve made the affirmation of children a measure of our success as parents. If they don’t get to play on the team and get affirmation, parents are hurt.

I have seen this play out over the past ten years with regard to the Helicopter Parents of college students. They call a faculty member or an administrator and want to run interference for their child. In doing so, they deny the child the opportunity to solve problems in complex settings like universities. Why do they do this? I think it’s because they think good parents do that. (I have lots of helicopter parent stories)

The broader culture doesn’t help. The rise in Reality Television (which bears a scary resemblance to “The Family” in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451) feeds our narcissistic fascination. Who cares about Kardashians? Why do we watch Jersey Shore? What about almost any show featuring beauty pageants, cooking, models, or having lots of babies? All of them perpetuate a focus on individual entitlement, complete with the single-camera-shot interview where you explain what you were thinking at the time.

Don’t think we’ve glamorized narcissism? Look at the magazine covers in the grocery store check-out lane.

Millennials didn’t make reality shows popular. But they may use them as models for self-expression. If so, who did that?

Social media plays a part. We feel the need to share affirmation of what other people post. We don’t mildly agree, we “like”. And people then add LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to a post. It takes away our perspective.

The grandbaby will be here in a month, so I’ll have to eat these words before long. But not every picture posted on Facebook of the baby or the pet is the cutest thing ever. Not ever profile picture is gorgeous, hot, beautiful. Even my dog isn’t the most adorable dog ever.

Millennials, who are more tech savvy than earlier generations, have adopted these social norms. They have repeated patterns they’ve grown up with.

Millennials, however, are deeper than this. They are asking questions that deserve to be asked. They are not superficial and self-centered. They are exploring options for their place in the world.

Yesterday, I drove to the Epworth Forest Conference Center in Northern Indiana to sit in on an event called IdeaFarm. It’s a gathering of a small number of recent college grads, many from Christian universities. The participants had submitted proposals on an vision-related project they wanted to pursue. For four days, the leadership team is investing in them as individuals to help them turn their passions into action.

IdeaFarm

I got to participate in one of the small group discussion and talked to a number of the participants over lunch. Yes, these young people are tech savvy. Yes, are concerned about acceptance. But are they fundamentalists who think the world revolves around them? Absolutely not.

They see the world as complex and are trying to find their place in that world. They are decidedly NOT trying to accept the conventional, reality-tv version of life. They are looking for authenticity and impact.

I have a couple of hypotheses on what’s behind the millennial bashing. First, we are reacting (correctly) against the artificial version of reality present in the media. If those images represent today’s youth, we may say, then we’re all in trouble. Recognizing the falseness of the images portrayed can go a long way. Second, and more importantly, I think we bash millennials because older generations are unwilling to admit their complicity in the culture millennials inherited. We blame them so we won’t blame ourselves.

But if they are trying to change that culture, isn’t it the right thing to be on their side?

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9 thoughts on “Stop the Millennial Bashing!

      1. I was thinking about the increasingly level of accountability to government as they look to see if they’re getting their money out of their investment in higher education. I was alluding to a shifting of accountability to students (as adults) to accountability to government that defines what counts as an appropriate education. My preference would be to equip students to function as adults and make decisions and assessments for themselves. I apologize for politicizing the discussion.

  1. I agree with much you’ve written. The fault is not mainly with the Millennials. The church has to look to itself for the cause of Millennials staying away. This does not mean the church has to cave in on issues like gay marriage, but it does mean the church needs to do a better job of preparing students for the university experience.

    You say you are writing a book on incoming freshman students attending a Christian college. I have not seen any research on this, but I’m willing to bet students at Christian colleges do not drop out of the church at anywhere near the rate as students attending public universities.

    I survey students at state-run universities and the attitude that Christianity is not intellectually viable is pervasive. Obviously the militant atheists (who like to be called “new atheists”) are having a great deal of success and have been for years.

    In a Pew Forum poll published in 2009 and revised in 2011, 44% of respondents say they do not hold to the faith of their parents. Most of those changed their faith before age 24, during the university years.
    http://www.pewforum.org/Faith-in-Flux.aspx

    Of those who are now unaffiliated, 32% of former Catholics and 32% of former Protestants say science has proven religion to be superstition.
    http://www.pewforum.org/Faith-in-Flux(2).aspx

    In October 2012, Pew Forum published a report titled “Nones” on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation. As the title suggests, unchurched Americans are growing at a surprising rate. In 2007, the unaffiliated were just 15.3% of the population. By 2012, the unaffiliated had grown to 19.6%. This growth took place exclusively among those under age 30. In 2007, 25% of Americans under 30 were unaffiliated with any church. By 2012, 32% of Americans under 30 are unaffiliated. If the growth in unaffiliated young Americans continues at the same rate, by 2017 41% of Americans under 30 will be unchurched.

    http://www.pewforum.org/Unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx
    http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-chapter-3.pdf

    Millennials are leaving the church in part because they are tired of being mocked and ridiculed while at university. They are told Christians are all uneducated and superstitious and they will not get a job if they continue going to church.

    I care deeply about Millennials who are leaving the church and I have a plan to slow the exodus. The church needs to accept the importance of apologetics. And it has to take the claims of science seriously. It is possible to have a high view of Scripture and uphold science. Science and Christianity are compatible, but many pastors don’t recognize this. They think they are at war with science. All truth is God’s truth. There is no reason to fear knowledge learned from science.

    What are Millennials supposed to think when they get to university and learn the successes of science? And how science has explained the universe, increased technology and cured diseases?

    What Millennials need to know is that serious scientists are converting to Christianity on the basis of rational evidence from science and history. I’ve written a booklet titled “Is Christianity True? Why Three Brilliant Atheists Became Christians.” It tells the conversion stories of Dr. Francis Collins, Dr. Allan Sandage and Lee Strobel. It directly confronts the idea Christianity is only for the uneducated. And it provides compelling arguments from philosophy, science and history that persuaded these brilliant men to convert.

    If you care about the church, then you will care about Millennials. Pastors may even need to learn something about apologetics. But it will be worth it because Millennials are worth it.

    1. Thanks, Ron. I appreciate your thoughts.

      I agree that students at Christian institutions aren’t departing church at the same pace as other students. But they are impacted by the broader cultural trends, like the militant atheists and the social acceptability of being non-religious.

      I’d want to think more about apologetics. My sense is that it’s focused too much on providing pre-set answers without dealing with the complexity students know is in the broader world. A church willing to engage complex questions will better prepare students. Science is certainly part of that and pastors need to be more conversant on the issues folks like Collins address.

      I encourage you to check out my other posts on the topic — I wrote recently about what millenials understand that the church needs to hear.

      John

      1. I am glad to hear you want to think more about apologetics. Let me give you a few things to think about.

        To most university students the definition of faith is to believe something you know is not true. This is why they think Christianity is not intellectually viable. They are unwilling to deny reality.

        To allow the present situation to persist is not a viable long term strategy for the church. The church has to do something different than it is doing today.

        I have recently learned of a cancer on the church known as presuppositional apologetics. Basically, it means you quote Scripture to unbelievers. Scripture is powerful, and it needs to be quoted to unbelievers. But some unbelievers are not yet ready to hear Scripture and this is not the best way to build bridges. Presuppositional apologetics is supposedly built on a high view of Scripture. Ironically, presuppositional apologetics is completely unbiblical.

        Peter taught us to always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in us. Paul modeled apologetics in his preaching (Acts 19) and in his letters (1 Cor. 15:5-8). Paul also described the mindset of an apologist.

        1 Corinthians 9:19: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”

        If those verses were written today it might say something like “to scientists, I talk about science; to historians, I talk about history; to philosophers, I talk philosophy. I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.”

        When Jesus taught the parable of the soils in Matthew 13, he spoke of the hard soil “by the wayside and the birds came and devoured” the seed. We need to break up the soil so the seed can be planted and the birds can’t get to it.

        The goal of apologetics is to show that faith in Christ is reasonable, that the claims of Christianity are plausible. It is not to argue someone into the kingdom. The goal is just to break up the soil so the seed can be planted. Once the soil has been plowed, then you can begin to quote Scripture.

  2. I agree with much you’ve written. The fault is not mainly with the Millennials. The church has to look to itself for the cause of Millennials staying away. This does not mean the church has to cave in on issues like gay marriage, but it does mean the church needs to do a better job of preparing students for the university experience.

    You say you are writing a book on incoming freshman students attending a Christian college. I have not seen any research on this, but I’m willing to bet students at Christian colleges do not drop out of the church at anywhere near the rate as students attending public universities.

    I survey students at state-run universities and the attitude that Christianity is not intellectually viable is pervasive. Obviously the militant atheists (who like to be called “new atheists”) are having a great deal of success and have been for years.

    In a Pew Forum poll published in 2009 and revised in 2011, 44% of respondents say they do not hold to the faith of their parents. Most of those changed their faith before age 24, during the university years.

    In October 2012, Pew Forum published a report titled “Nones” on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation. As the title suggests, unchurched Americans are growing at a surprising rate. In 2007, the unaffiliated were just 15.3% of the population. By 2012, the unaffiliated had grown to 19.6%. This growth took place exclusively among those under age 30. In 2007, 25% of Americans under 30 were unaffiliated with any church. By 2012, 32% of Americans under 30 are unaffiliated. If the growth in unaffiliated young Americans continues at the same rate, by 2017 41% of Americans under 30 will be unchurched.

    Millennials are leaving the church in part because they are tired of being mocked and ridiculed while at university. They are told Christians are all uneducated and superstitious and they will not get a job if they continue going to church.

    I care deeply about Millennials who are leaving the church and I have a plan to slow the exodus. The church needs to accept the importance of apologetics. And it has to take the claims of science seriously. It is possible to have a high view of Scripture and uphold science. Science and Christianity are compatible, but many pastors don’t recognize this. They think they are at war with science. All truth is God’s truth. There is no reason to fear knowledge learned from science.

    What are Millennials supposed to think when they get to university and learn the successes of science? And how science has explained the universe, increased technology and cured diseases?

    What Millennials need to know is that serious scientists are converting to Christianity on the basis of rational evidence from science and history. I’ve written a booklet titled “Is Christianity True? Why Three Brilliant Atheists Became Christians.” It tells the conversion stories of Dr. Francis Collins, Dr. Allan Sandage and Lee Strobel. It directly confronts the idea Christianity is only for the uneducated. And it provides compelling arguments from philosophy, science and history that persuaded these brilliant men to convert.

    If you care about the church, then you will care about Millennials. Pastors may even need to learn something about apologetics. But it will be worth it because Millennials are worth it.nnials are worth it.

    I tried to post links to the Pew research I cited and a video of Richard Dawkins telling university students to mock Christians. Evidently, this site does not allow links.

  3. John, this may seem like a trivial point, but while I was reading this post, I couldn’t help but think about the song “What’s The Matter With Kids Today?” from Bye Bye Birdie, a movie that is 50 years old.

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