It's all about #millennials. No, really.

Yesterday, a super awesome editorial cartoon was put out by CNN Opinion entitled, "The generation we love to dump on."  I'll pause here so you can follow the link and go check it out.

Really.  You should.

Do it now.

Done?  Good.  I'm my humble opinion, and this is from an earlier Millennial (verging on Buster territory), this thing is legit.  And there are mountains of data to support it, just go check out anything that the Barna group has put out for the church lately.

My favorite part of this cartoon though isn't the cartoon itself, it's reading the comments below.  Comments that are disturbingly ignorant from older generations.

And the best part?  These comments from older generations are undoubtedly similar to the comments that those generations received from their parental generations.  Generational commentary passed down through the generations.

There's very little commentary on what the millennial generation could be doing for the world if given the chance.  I see myself in my personal context in the church as a bridge builder.  As a hyper-creative (a defining characteristic of this generation) that understands traditional church systems, but still gets frustrated by them, I see it as my job to bridge those of my generation and younger into life in the church.  Even though that itself can be quite frustrating, there's nothing more worth the frustration.

I read articles like this and I actually get excited about the possibilities - what can the church do with this generation?  What changes can the church make to give room to a highly creative generation who isn't motivated because there isn't room for creativity?  What can the church do for a generation that's encouraged to take on debt after debt after debt to pay for schooling that we're told is necessary and then is extremely condescended to when there aren't jobs available?

Where is the church in the career discernment process?  Where's the church when we're graduating high schoolers and college students without the basic life skills to keep it together, much less a faith that will last through the craziness of young adulthood?

What are the most common descriptors for the millennial generation from the generations before us?  Entitled and lazy.  Which begs the question - who taught us that?  You can't blame the millennial generation for taking on these characteristics when they're given no influence on the systems that they're raised in.

We have a tendency to focus on the negative.  So I'll say this -
Millennials are more passionate than they look.
Millennials want to change the world, but aren't given the resources.
Millennials would rather use their creativity for the good, rather than write blogs like this or create fun cartoons about being a millennial.
And before you say that they don't want to work hard for their money, try being a barista at Starbucks, or working at Taco Bell.

I won't lie.  This is kind of an emotional field for me.  So much so, that I made it my job in the church.

Discuss.  Let me have it if you need too!  But think: what could the church be doing differently to help the younger generations change the world?

Do you have an idea?  Make it happen.

The Big Change

A few months back I began the candidacy process in the UMC to pursue ordination as an elder.  Since that time that decision as been reaffirmed through conversation, prayer and a multitude of experiences in discernment.

Through it all, I knew I was in this process for the long haul, knowing that the UMC takes a fairly deliberate course in determining who's right and then equipping those folks for ministry.

Here's one thing I know: I'm called to new church start ministries in the UMC.  I'm called to reach out to the millenial generation, a generation that's largely been mishandled by the church - a generation that I'm a member of.

In discerning that call as a family, I've reached out and made it know that that's what I feel called to do with my life in ministry.  And through that reaching out, a new opportunity in ministry has come.

Beginning April 1st, I will begin serving as Associate Pastor of Young Adults and Communications at First United Methodist Church of Arlington, TX.  I'll be working with the pastoral staff and laity to reach out to the local community to pull in the young families and college students that are on the fringes.  I've also been blessed with the responsibility to preach and lead their contemporary worship service, a responsibility that will be phased in over the first few months in Arlington and that will step up after I attend licensing school this summer.

Oh yeah, and I hope to start seminary again this fall as I begin studies towards an MDiv.  It's all happening at once!

It's an awful big change for my family.  As I broke the news to my chancel choir family on Wednesday night it hit me that I've had Wednesday night choir practice for the last 12 years or so, the last 8 years as a director.  It's sinking in that the music ministry portion of my worship ministry is going on the back-burner for a little while as I continue to feel out God's will for my life.

I've had such a blessed time as a worship leader, for the last two years at FUMC Duncanville on the edge of Dallas.  This faith family and I have been through a whole lot together and we have blessed one another.  It's bittersweet, no doubt - there's still work to be done with my faith family in Duncanville.  I thank God for the many lessons I've learned here, lessons I will be carrying on as my family and I move on in God's ministry.

But I'm excited ... I'll finally have the time to get out in the local community and see what I'm made of in that context.  It's a new season for my family, and we're stepping out in faith together for a new adventure with the Lord.  We'll be needing your prayers!

"You Lost Me, LIVE" Reflections

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to go to a free one-day conference facilitated by the Barna Group, and David Kinnaman, author of unChristian and now You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith.  It was a day-long conversation that really gets to the heart of where my ministry call is going - how do we reach the un-churched/de-churched millenial generation that I'm a member of?

Honestly, it was a day full of more questions than answers, but that's OK - the conference was indeed free, and I ended up buying the books.  The predicament regarding the church and the younger generations isn't new ... But I'm interested in the words and strategies.  For all of my real life experience, I've never truly fallen away from the church in my lifetime, so I do feel that God is calling me into difficult waters when it comes to relating to those of my generation who have fallen away from the church, or even those who have never had a real chance to experience what Christ can do for you in your life.  Mostly the workshop was about asking questions, and I feel good about that.

There was a point, however, when the conference brought the real in.

A Christ-promoter by the name of Jim Henderson put an ad on Craig's List calling for young adults (19-29) to join him in a chat on religion - why they do or don't go to church and where they stand on various faith issues.  Knowing that just offering an invitation wouldn't work, he offered to pay each attendee $50 to come help him with is research.

Two of the young adults who went to that meeting came forward to share their testimonies on why they no longer attend the Christian church.  Mr. Henderson led them through their stories with tremendous grace and without judgement.

The first to share, Lauren (24) served as an organist at an African American church until a few months ago.  She had faithfully served her church community for several years as their part time accompanist, and for reasons unknown to her she went unpaid for several months.  She pursued conversations with her pastor, who avoided her and she continued to work without pay.  After several months of frustration and faithful service, she took to a little ranting on Twitter.  Her pastor got wind of her behavior, and rather than bring her in and fire her, when the church bus drove by her house to pick her up on Sunday morning she was simply told that she wasn't being picked up that day.  Just like that, she was excommunicated.

I didn't even realize that could happen any more.  Without a formal word, a creative and faithful (though clearly not without flaw) young adult was excommunicated from the faith community she called home.  And why?  She embarrassed her pastor.  When Mr. Henderson asked her where she stood in her faith at the moment, she said she still considered herself Christian, but she was done with the church for the time being.  In her opinion, she was tired of church leaders that were more into their own names than the one name that truly matters.  There were many murmurs of dissent with she she shared those remarks.  I heard an older gentleman mutter rather loudly, "Well, that's just an opinion!"

It's an opinion that really matters - because it's COMMON.

The second interview was with Abby, a former Christian.  She grew up in an extremely conservative household, but twin brother baptist grandfathers, if you can imagine that.  She spent some time in the military oversees and had a strong heart for Christ - her intent was even to jump into Military Chaplaincy.  But she quickly became disillusioned with a faith that didn't seem active enough and Christians that seemed to only talk a lot of talk.  She fell away from the church.  She ended up waitressing at a hookah bar of all things, and ended up being ministered to by an Islamic Lebanese family that could see she was searching for something.  She ended up turning to Islam - and get this - because of the rigorous requirements on those who join the faith.  In this Islamic community it's constant worship, constant prayer, constant charity, constant community, and constant family.  She's a history nut with an affinity for languages so she's been able to study the Qu'ran in it's root language and she's been renewed by her faith in Allah.

Now you can sit here and say, "Well, now she's going to hell for joining Islam.  Bummer."  That's an issue that we don't really have time to explore here ... But what the Christian community needs to accept here is that's our fault in both cases of these brave women. We failed these young adults by not embracing their creativity and desire for a faith in action.

And they're just two examples in a sea of thousands upon thousands of young adults that are on the bubble of leaving the church or have left already.

But, there is hope.  In a couple of days I'll share a few of the strategies shared with us to renew our commitment to young adults and young families in the church. But in the meantime, what do you think of the two testimonies shared here?  What is your church doing to meet the ever changing needs of the young adults in your midst?

Prayer for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

From the United Methodist Book of Worship:

We remember the conviction of Martin Luther King, Jr., that "freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
Therefore, let us pray for courage and determination by those who are oppressed ...

We remember Martin's warning that "a negative peace which is the absence of tension" is less than "a positive peace which is the presence of justice."
Therefore, let us pray that those who work for peace in our world may cry out first for justice ...

We remember Martin's insight that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."
Therefore, let us pray that we may see nothing in isolation, but may know ourselves bound to one another and to all people under heaven ...

We remember Martin's lament that "the contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.  It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo.  Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church's silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are."
Therefore, let us pray that neither this congregation nor any congregation of Christ's people may be silent in the face of wrong, but that we may be disturbers of the status quo when that is God's call to to us ...

We remember Martin's "hope that dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."
Therefore, in faith, let us commend ourselves and our work for justice to the goodness of almighty God.  Amen.

Quotations from Letter From the Birmingham City Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like a Lion

This Sunday in worship we debuted "Like a Lion", a song by Daniel Bashta, a worship pastor at a church outside of Atlanta.

It's a heavy song.  The first time I heard was two years ago, when the David Crowder Band covered it for Passion 2010.  And, to tell the truth, initially I was really put off by it.  It's a very raw-natured song at it's heart.  The lyrics of the chorus go like this:
My God's not dead: he's surely alive,
And he's living on the inside, roaring like a lion!
It's the "My God's not dead" part that bothered me.  I mean, whoever said God was dead?  In seminary, we did cover for a second in my intro to theology class the "God is Dead" theologians, but I didn't really pay attention there.  I didn't see the relevance.  I did, and do, realize that there are people in this world that do not believe in the Almighty.  Or, should I say, an almighty.  But for people to devote time to theorizing on the death of God, and how we killed God, just kind of struck me as silly at a time.

Recently, however, I've been awakened to the plight of my generation.  A generation who's primary witness to God's love is given through politicians looking for sound bites (on both sides of the many aisles) or TV pastors who do the same before getting caught up in the many ways to do things that are illegal or immoral.

It's to this generation, this feeling throughout the world, that Daniel Bashta is singing for.  Not only is God not dead, God is alive, God is relevant, God is hope, and God wants to roar into the world through us.

At the raw-centered heart of this song is a call for God to come down into this world run amok like a Pentecostal fire:
Let heaven roar!
And fire fall!
Come shake the ground,
With the sound of revival!
How do our faith families speak to the people who don't find relevance in knowing God's salvation?  Specifically to our struggling millennials? 

It might start as it does throughout the Word ... We ask for help.

#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.