Thursday, July 26, 2012

#generationhope - a faith-based response to #generationscrewed

Last week I saw #generationscrewed trending on my twitter feed, via the Daily Beast, a fun/serious/snarky news service I follow.  My interest was piqued, so I began to read the tweets that followed.  Then I also caught the article that started it all from Newsweek, "Are Millennials the Screwed Generation?"  News Week started the #generationscrewed tag, offering to retweet anybody using the tag.

I had to do a little research of my own on who millennials even are ... The generation is summed up as anybody born between 1977 and 1994.  So, I'm at the older end (born in 1981) of a group of people that span 17 years, the youngest of which are just graduating from high school and moving on to college.  Nice to know that I'm considered to be in the same generation as my student intern!

In all seriousness, people of the Millennial generation are entering into a troubled time, with much higher than average unemployment (nearly 50% higher than the national stats) an average student loan debt of $27,000.  Because we graduate with bachelors degrees to a closed job market (older generations are not retiring as they used to), we end up going on immediately to grad school, to lump on more debt.  And then we graduate from that to a still closed job market.  Millennials have ended up often finding themselves both over educated and underemployed.  And the penchant of older generations to gravitate towards debt and social systems that the younger generations pay to support and likely won't be there for us creates a huge climate of anxiety for the current crop of young adults that the church is fishing for.

I shared in a lot of this woe when my wife and I got married.  Before we were married, my personal debt total (student loans, credit cards, vehicle loans, etc.) totalled nearly $90,000, $80,000 of which was student load debt.  A little bit from undergrad, plus a lot from seminary.  I didn't even know how to get started with it; I'd taken voluntary forbearance a couple of times, which was only racking on more interest.  Then I met Leanne, and she let me know that if a relationship with her was important, having financial order was going to be essential.  She'd already begun her journey towards getting out from under a mountain of debt and it was a big deal for her to see me, and not just my debt.  As a longtime follower of Dave Ramsey and student of his Financial Peace University program, she brought me a couple of books, and I set to work chopping down my debt, credit cards first, during our engagement.

I also, in the midst of the stress of writing a real budget and making above minimum payments on my credit cards, signed my first-ever pledge card to the church I was serving.  It wasn't the full 10% tithe, but it was something, and it felt right to do it.

My first birthday present to Leanne during our engagement was a card full of the cut-up remains of my credit cards.  I took a stand with her in that moment, we were going to live within our means when we started our life together.

I was fortunate during this time to have many answered prayers ... I stepped out of seminary at Perkins with my MSM from a loving home church to a wonderful new church home in Slidell, LA.  My career had officially started, with a real salary (not crazy by any means, but good).  I went from an underemployed graduate student to real work.  I prayed through that time, but I also took the opportunity in grad school to do what grad school does for you: make connections and network.  My job in LA came through a friend in seminary.  The Holy Spirit worked it out for me, but I put in a lot of work and prayer along the way.

My wife didn't have such an easy time of it when she landed in LA before our wedding.  She was a Perkins grad as well with her Masters of Theological Studies, but that didn't mean much in the surrounding community.  So she had to just get a job to get a job.  It ended up being a stinker.  Underpaid, underemployed, under-appreciated.  It was not a good situation in any respect and not the way to start off our marriage.  She had to quit that one, and took on three part-time jobs through friends and continued to make connections before landing on some wonderful ministry opportunities inside a year of moving to Louisiana.

The whole while we were struggling with our family budget during our first year of marriage, we kept a strict budget based only on our household income, we paid down debt as we could, and tithed.  We gave the full tithe to the church and that has created a financial foundation to our marriage.  But the important thing to note is that through every step, we prayed intentionally together.  We found as we prayed for specifics, a wonderful new job for Leanne, opportunities began to roll in.  We're not naive enough to think that the perfect job opened up just because we prayed to God for help, we worked super hard as we went, constantly in conversation with the people we met in ministry in LA. 

But I do think, that because we prayed constantly for the right path for our family, we were open to possibilities in exciting places.  I now serve a wonderful congregation as worship pastor on the south side of Dallas, and Leanne is serving at the conference level in youth and young adult ministry.  I feel like I need to say that I'm not throwing out our story to gloat - just to say that with God's help, it's been possible for us to go from unfortunate circumstances to a life of blessings over flowing.  It started though with realizing that even in the thick of our own family debt crisis, God was with us.

Keeping counsel with God has been essential in the last three years as we've budgeted, made career decisions, and moved forward as a family.  When we got married three years ago, we had nearly $120,000 in debt.  This month, after we make a payment on my student loans from seminary (the only debt we have left) we'll be down below $20,000.  If all goes well, we'll be done within the first couple months of 2013.  Then following Dave Ramsey's baby steps, it's time to build an emergency fund, start saving for retirement, buy a house, and start a college fund for Wesley.  Good stuff is coming - due to some hard work, discipline, and real prayer as a team.

So when I saw on my twitter feed last week that Newsweek was RT'ing anybody who used the hashtag #generationscrewed, I saw a lot of the sadness within my generation.  I couldn't help my self; I threw out this in response:
#generationscrewed? 30yrs old, mega school debt, but working to pay it off and raise a family. I prefer #generationhope. Made my dream.
It was retweeted an awful lot, making me think that there's something there.  Others in our generation are finding ways to be successful in a world that can be hostile towards youthful ideas, and yes, I'm also talking to the church.  Still others are looking for hope and a way out, towards some kind of peace.  My wife talks more about our family journey toward financial peace over here.

My question as reading other Twitter stories was this: where is the church in the lives of these young adults that are hurting?  What is the church doing to teach them a better way?  My wife first took FPU at a church.  It taught her, and later me, a truly bible-based theology of home finance where giving is a priority and living within your means is essential.

How can the church do a better job of creating a #generationhope?  This is my prayer today.