Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Millennials and the "Age of Individualism"

As a young adult pastor (and as an an official YA by UMC standards for the next 3 years), I tend to soak up writing and research on millennial issues.  As we all probably should.  I find it fun to drop a little bit of new knowledge when I have the opportunity to go to one of our older adult Sunday School classes - and they eat it up.  Most of our classes have a real desire to figure a way forward for the church, seeing tangibly the way that young families, college students, and youth have drifted away from the church over time.

I drop in with the latest material from Barna, Pew Research, Relevant Magazine ... And they listen.  They want to know most of all how they can fix things as I'm the age of their children and grandchildren in some cases.  It's always a ton of fun to chat.

But where do I often meet resistance?  When I put the onus on the previous generation for the problems of the current one.

Case in point - this article The Age of Individualism, by NYTimes columnist Ross Douthat.  It's pretty cynical stuff, based on a fascinating report from the Pew Research Center that I dare everyone to read.

Douthat discusses the Millennial generation's penchant for going out on its own.  Becoming more and more individualistic.  No political party is good enough.  Being left wing and right wing at the same time.  Limited trust of leadership.  Not so much the marrying types.  Less patriotic.

It's all kind true, I guess.

But in a way it's super not.  We didn't just enter into an age of individualism - it's been here for a very long time.

Speaking as a Christian, the church is my chosen wheelhouse.  I'm not an expert at much, really.  But I do know this - the individualistic nature of the millennial generation (the 'me' generation as I hear it lovingly called in the church) is a learned behavior.

My faith is my faith.  I don't want you in my business.  Don't hold me accountable.  Tradition is trash.

Some millennials say these things.  Truly however, I can't speak for all millennials, we have no time for a faith that doesn't want to build community.  We have no time that's going to help us do anything that isn't going to help build a better community, better lives for others.  Among the young adults I'm in ministry with on a daily basis the term accountability is something that is longed for.

It's happening in spite of what our parents taught us.  I admit, however, that my parents have gone against the boomer grain - they didn't just go to church when I was a kid, they sought to be the church.  I am who I am very much because they are who they are.

If people want millennials to grow to be less individualistic, less about 'me', it starts with people not just saying this things, offering these bits of analysis.  It starts with conversation.  Conversation, communion, is a tradition that's being trashed.  Time to recycle.  

I'm not saying that the current crop of young adults is totally absolved of the sin of thinking that they can go it alone.  However, ministry happens in community, and community happens in outreach.