I don't want to be that guy. You know the person who incessantly talks about one subject, over and over again. I don't like that guy. I don't want to be him. But unfortunately, I am. Whenever I get invited to share in the circles I am in, without fail I always get to asked to talk about Millenials. The context for these meetings are usually a group of pastors gathering and they are looking for some understanding about this age group. I am usually one of the younger people in the room, so I get the call to speak to this matter, and hey, why not take the opportunity.
It is with this in mind that I must make a confession. I am writing this series of posts as my way of encapsulating these discussions and presentations, hopefully, allowing me to reference these pieces and change the narrative for future talks. Like any basic millennial, I am desperate to not be defined by a narrative, especially one that paints me into a corner and stereotypes me along with all the cool kids.
You know, I am that guy with a beard, and the suspenders, and the tiny hat on a not so tiny head, sipping on a $17 cup of direct trade, in season, Ethiopian coffee, squeezed masterfully through my Aeropress, immediately after I ground those glorious direct trade beans by hand in my imported hand grinder. But please... don't call me a hipster, I'm not a hipster, even though I walk like one, talk like one, act like one, dress like one, socialize like one. Please don't put me in that box. I am an individual. An individual who is basically exactly the same as all those other individuals, but I am unique... oh, hold still... that's an incredible shot of you standing there with your jaw dropped at my uniqueness and my creativity, let me take a picture of you in that exact pose with the perfect sunrise in the background. Oh! Please hold on a moment, I want to capture the mountains and the cliffs behind you, and if you don't mind I am going to have a whole bunch of my friends run behind you and release colored chalk powder, so that we can capture the authenticity of the moment... do you like my camera, I just got it, have no idea how to use it, but I sold my car to buy it... by the way, can I get a ride back to civilization with you after this?
Alright, so that is most certainly a caricature of a millennial, by a millennial, but if we're being honest, it's funny because it's true. But this brings me to an important point. Anytime we don't fully understand something or someone we immediately choose to lump them together and apply an overarching, overreaching stereotype which may or may not be accurate.
Over the last few years in my circles, I have seen the obsessive rise of the multicultural church. It is an interesting phenomenon to watch. The cool thing about this movement was to see Baby Boomer's openly embrace culture and diversity. One of the things that can happen when we openly embrace culture and diversity is that we begin to lay our preconceived notions down is that we begin to connect with individuals.
How many times have you heard your racist grandma make a joke about a certain group of people all looking the same? These walls and barriers start to come down when we recognize people as people, and individuals as individuals. When we put a name to a face, and connect a story to those names. When we discover that while we are different on so many levels, at the end of the day, we are all human beings who are in need of a Savior.
The one thing that I would like to shout from the well-photographed mountaintops is that we need to stop stereotyping each other. We have to stop putting people in bins and categories, separated only by fictitious barriers that we have constructed to keep us safe and secure, and ultimately separate from.
When I get asked, "What do I need to know about the millennials?" or "How do we reach them?" or "How do I get more in my church?" I am obligated to let you know that the only way that you can reach millennials is to stop referring to them as millennials and start referring to them by their first name.
There is no "way" to reach millennials. Millennials are people. A diverse demographic who are well cultured and well educated, who have access to knowledge and technology the likes of which this world has never seen. They are passionate and diversified, and inexperienced, and filled with wonder, just as you were at one point.
Sure they appear to do things at a different rate than you did, but that's because the world is a vastly different place than it was. So... the best way to reach them is not to see them as them but to get to know them as individuals. To learn about who they are. Show real interest in them. Listen to their ideas and their goals, and share your stories and your experiences.
Anytime we engage in one of these conversations there is always an underlying tension. When I have these conversations they are always within the context of church leadership. Which means, that ultimately, we have a group of boomer's trying to stave off the next wave of entitled millennials who are looking to take their jobs and everything that they've spent their lives building.
Sound harsh? It's only harsh because everyone is thinking it. Or so you think. It's tense because those in power would like to stay there, and the only way to keep power is to understand and placate those coming up, so that everyone can maintain the status quo. Can I just add, this is an extremely paranoid way to live... and I'm painting an extreme picture here for the sake of my argument.
Have you ever wondered why the label "entitled' for millennials has been thrown around so comfortably? It's because those who are using it are afraid of losing something. When you as an individual are pursuing something, you call it passion, when someone who believes in you describes your pursuit they use words like inspiring and ambitious, when somebody who perceives you to be taking something that is theirs, they describe this very same person as entitled.
Are their entitled millennials? Yes Are their entitled Baby Boomer's? Yes Are their entitled Gen Xer's? Yes
What if we stopped lumping everyone together and started believing the best in one another? What if we realized that characteristics that you were once praised for are the very same ones that you are now condemning? What if we understood that each generation is a mirror, and often what we are reacting to is that part of ourselves that we either don't like, or the part that we never let out of its cage?
What if we took some time to get to know one another, believed the best, and worked side by side towards a common goal instead of sticking to this dangerous and unhealthy US VS THEM mentality? No it's not a mistake that entitled this series US & THEM... because the reality is... TOGETHER WE WIN.
Brett Esslinger is a Husband, Dad, Son, Brother, Pastor, Speaker, Leader, Writer whose life goal is to help people unlock their potential and fulfill their life's purpose.