I recently read this article from the Leadership Journal at Christianity Today about Gen Y or the Millennial Generation or whatever you want to call them (technically, I should say ‘us’ since I make it in on the cusp of some descriptions of Gen Y, albeit not others!).
It suggests, based on the writer’s experience, that ‘Boomers’ may tend to show up for classes and programmes, whereas Gen Y is more interested in mentoring. The writer goes on to say:
While Boomers want their church leaders relevant, competent, and efficient, a new generation is looking for a different kind of minister. At my church, 80 percent of adults are under 40, and they seem to want me firm, mature, and relationally present (even if I’m uncool). In short, they want me to be a spiritual father. For some, I’m the Christian dad they never had. For others, I’m the father figure who’s here now.
I felt such a resonance in reading this. Our figures are more like 90% aged 36 and under, a figure about which I feel deeply ambivalent. As some people tell me, it’s a great problem to have when a church is full of passionate people in their twenties and thirties – many of whom have come to faith in the last few years. Now they’re right, of course, but whilst it’s a great problem to have it is still a problem. Who will care for all of these young people?
The Boomers amongst my readers might tell me and the rest of the team to put on some great teaching programmes, some events, some classes. That is how to disciple this people to God, they would say.
But, in my experience, Gen Y (at least the previously unchurched ones) don’t leave their houses mid-week to come out to church classes or programmes. The concept itself is foreign to them. However, both my husband and I find that when we offer one-to-one focused time over coffee or a meal or a beer (wine, in my case!), they will snatch our hands off.
I really believe that Gen Y is longing for spiritual parents. I’ve seen it. I’ve longed to receive that spiritual parenting myself. And I’ve responded to many in their twenties out of my own unfulfilled longing. I don’t want it to be the same for them as it has been for me.
I often joke with Peter that I feel like a mother to tens of people and yet I also know, in all seriousness, that sometimes just by being who we are – a couple who are committed to growing in love for God and obedience to his ways and who are consistent in our relational presence – we offer a place of stability to other younger or newer believers. In our own way, we have some level of parenting role to some younger people, uncool and old as they think we are! Around us, they feel safe, it seems.
So why this reflective blog post? Well, I guess it’s because I see the size of the need and the depth of the longing. And alongside that, I see many of those who are in their forties or older holding back from the task. I don’t really understand why but it seems that many of you don’t have the confidence. I wonder if you feel that it is a task for the ministry professionals, if you think that you have nothing to give? In some cases, I wonder if it is because no one ever offered this kind of spiritual parenting to you?
And so my post is a plea really. It’s a plea that we open our eyes to those around us. We may feel old against them. (I often do feel old when with our precious people in their twenties but, man, do we have fun and laugh together nevertheless!) We may feel uncool against them. (I almost always do.) We may wonder whether we can make the time, whether it’s worth the effort.
But the truth is that there are people who need you. Who need your life experience. Who need your accrued wisdom. Who pray every night for someone like you to believe them into being whom God has called them to be. Who long to learn how to walk with God through their twenties and their thirties and all the years beyond. There are people who need you. They are not going to respond to programmes or classes alone because they don’t want to be just another number on your church’s success measures. They want to be known. They want to have a name.
You could give them that.
Even if you think you don’t know enough. Even if you think you don’t have much time. Even if you think that you’re not holy enough or you’ve not known God long enough or you’ve not experienced a life of marriage and children or you’ve not walked consistently with God throughout your life.
Gen Y is crying out for you to mother and father us. We won’t always come straight out and ask you for that. In fact, we’ll probably almost never do that. It takes much more confidence to ask for the input than offer it. (I’ve done both and I am convinced that it’s easier to offer spiritual parenting!) But you should still know this: the next generation, the leaders and the innovators and the creatives and the thinkers and the writers and the mums and the dads and the teachers and the medics, in fact the whole of God’s beautiful church of tomorrow, depends on what you and I will do at this moment in history.