Each generation seems to bring with it some really great aspects and some dark shadow sides. As a true gen Xer, we only really know our shadow side. And most of us Xers had the privilege of doing youth ministry for the current crop of youth workers. And now, the vast majority of youth workers are in their early 20's to mid 30's. That means the vast majority of youth workers are millennials!!
I know millennials have been on the receiving end of a solid decade of crap from just about everyone, even their parent's generation, the generation that raised them. This is a brutal and unfair moment for you guys. You have been told your entire lives how great you are and how the world is yours and even better how you were going to be the ones to actually change the world for the better. And now that you are adults, the rug has been pulled out from under you and it sucks!
One of the shadow sides of all the empowerment and words of affirmation that millennials have received in their formative years is that there is an over-inflated weight given to words. In fact, you can complete this sentence, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but . . . WORDS WILL KILL YOU!"
For many of millennial friends, this is a foundational conviction. In fact, there is little backing down from this. (Which is totally fine.) Now, I would love to grab a bourbon or a hoppy beer and talk about how this value is at odds with the older adult world and isn't a long-term value to grow in your pastoral ministry to those who disagree with you or see the world differently than you. But that is a conversation for another day.
Here is a thought for today: The students that you are ministering to are Gen Z. They are not millennials. They have a different set of core values and motivators. While the jury is still out with what those values and motivators will be, the one distinctly different value from their millennial mentors is fragility.
Gen Z is growing up in a totally screwed up world. There is no hope of the future, no protecting them from the big bad world of real death and destruction. The adults in their lives are so busy protecting them from isms, and the loneliness, anxiety, depression, self-medication is running rampant and the true pain and death that comes when the adults have abandoned them is far deeper than the simple hurt feelings that come from words.
The way the students rallied after the school shooting in Florida in February is a perfect picture. They watched their friends get gunned down and they took to the streets. Whether or not you disagree with their platform or the politics that has corrupted the conversation, what is clear is that these students are anything but fragile.
As youth workers, we are called to a grouping of people who are different than us. This means that we can not, we must not put our developmental baggage onto our kids. What we need spiritually, culturally, politically, is different than what our students need. And with this next generation of student, it might be time to press through the fragility that is stifiling deeper conversation and let it rip.
Our kids want to talk about sex, racism, sexuality, politics, immigration, poverty, socialism. They are not scared or worried about transgenderism or their friends who are not Christians. Everything is open for dialogue and up for debate.
I am worried that my millennial friends have bought into the lie that the debate is over. Developing your ideas and convictions takes time and conversation. When we force the politically correct understanding or even the "biblical" understanding on our students, we simply have disqualified ourselves from being safe adults who want to know and love kids. To know and love kids means that we must know and love them, let them process their life, their convictions, their world views the way a 15-year-old does and we can not react or shut them down.
Sticks and stones will break your bones, and words do damage for sure. But not as much damage as you have been told. For the sake of your students, make space for some more dialogue and debate and help shape new up and coming generation so they too can take their place as future leaders in the church we love.
That was a little long and a little ranty, but a thought I wanted to share. I would love your thoughts!