To Share Jesus with Millennials, Let’s Start by Not Mocking Them

If there’s anything people enjoy these days more than watching cat videos, it’s making fun of Millennials.

And why not? Decrying the foibles of the upcoming generation is a time-honored tradition, and with Millennials, it would seem that there’s more low-hanging fruit than ever. How can we not poke fun at an entire generation of people who spend every waking hour staring at expensive black rectangles which enable them to remotely interact with faraway “friends” who have painstakingly edited their online lives before posting them on their own shiny black rectangles?

It is pretty hard to resist. And I’ve seen some pretty clever satire out there…and “LOL’ed,” as the kids say nowadays.

Increasingly, though, a question has been nagging me: As a Christian whose mandate – and deepest desire – is to share Christ’s love with others, is it truly God-honoring for me to deride many of those very people I hope to reach?

The answer, I hope, is so obvious as to be superfluous.

SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND

In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul instructs his readers regarding how they ought to commune with various groups of people:

Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. (I Cor. 10:32-33)

For missionaries traveling overseas, this is only natural. If I am a missionary who wants to share the Gospel with, for example, a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea, I will first seek to understand its culture. Are they reserved or gregarious? Are they task-oriented or people-oriented? What does family life look like? All these questions, and more, will inform my approach to telling them the good news of the Bible.

And yet somehow, we have trouble applying this to the culture that surrounds us here and now. While we wouldn’t dream of joining a missions organization, planting ourselves in a foreign land, then proceeding to mock the people there for their worldviews, cultural norms, and cherished values, we feel perfectly free to do exactly that with the culture in which most of us live. Instead of giving no offense, as Paul instructs us, we ridicule an entire generation for its apparently unconscionable quirks…then wonder why they don’t want to hear about Jesus.

Christian friends, we can – we must – do better than this.

QUENCHING THE THIRST

In the fourth chapter of John, Jesus speaks with a Samaritan woman who has come to draw water from a well. In the course of their conversation, He tells her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I give him shall never thirst” (John 4:13-14). When she eagerly responds that it would be great to never have to come draw water again, He explains that what He offers is living water — the gift of new life through Himself. His words echo those of the prophet Isaiah:

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;

And you who have no money come, buy and eat.

…Why do you spend money for what is not bread,

And your wages for what does not satisfy?

…Incline your ear and come to me.

Listen, that you may live.

(Isaiah 55:1-3)

In every generation, in every part of the world, people are seeking fulfillment. Some have sought it in athletic achievement; some, through financial success; others, through acceptance by peers…the list could go on, of course, but what we always find is that none of these things ultimately satisfies, and as long as we expect them to do so, we must keep going back to the well.

Today, the well is shallower than ever…but, in the short term, more immediately satisfying than ever. As Simon Sinek points out in the video below (which is well worth the fifteen minutes, in case you’re wondering), the generation we call “Millennials” is heavily influenced by the self-esteem movement, which — news flash — was NOT initiated by Millennials. As children, “they were told that they were special — all the time — and that they could have anything they want in life — just because they want it!”

Conveniently, their transition into adulthood coincided perfectly with the advent of social media…which, used carefully, reinforces that childhood feeling of being special with comments and “likes.” The feeling produced by social media notifications is caused by a chemical in our brains called dopamine — the “exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, and when we drink, and when we gamble; in other words, it’s highly, highly addictive.”

At the end of the day, however, most people will admit that this constant gratification — one that must be fueled by diligently crafted posts on Facebook, Instagram, and so on — fails to provide what we truly need.

“Everything you want, you can have instantaneously — everything you want, instant gratification – except job satisfaction and strength of relationships; there ain’t no app for that. They are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes,” says Sinek. Because of this dearth of deeply fulfilling relationships and sense of purpose, depression and suicide have increased alarmingly; and of those who don’t fall into these worst-case scenarios, many will still find themselves “growing up and going through life and never really finding joy.”

Jesus harshly rebuked the self-righteous religious leaders of His day, but He wept for the lost. Should we not do the same?

Millennials are no different from the woman at the well…or from the nations of Israel and Judah…or from anyone who has ever sought fulfillment and found that every earthly pleasure was, in the end, fleeting.

Let us heed the words of Paul, and the example of Christ, and meet people where they are.

Let us see not a generation, but individuals.

Let us seek to understand what individuals are looking for.

And let us lovingly, graciously show them that Jesus is the only One who can truly satisfy their thirst.

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