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Missions and Millennials: How To Integrate The New Generation Into Intercultural Ministry

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Written by Jim Raymo

For over thirty years I have worked alongside, trained, led, and learned from younger people in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the USA. I have been inspired, bewildered, amused, and frustrated by their challenging contributions. Studies of Millennials, born between 1982 and 2000, reveal a mixed bag of strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies.  Millennials seem to recognize their own negative inclinations: “A Harris Interactive poll found that 21 to 31-year-olds were voted the most greedy and self-indulgent even by the twenty-somethings themselves, who were actually more likely than the older generations to agree that the young generation had these narcissistic tendencies.”

Generational experts Howe and Strauss take a more positive view of this generation, claiming: 

“Millennials are reversing the long-term direction of change – the delta of history. Today’s kids are doing this so dramatically that, as a group, they are behaving better than their parents did as kids– and better than many of the parents (or leaders) behave even now, as adults.” 

What to Avoid with Millennials

In light of my research and work with Millennials, I have concluded that when it comes to inviting and integrating them into our organizations and churches, we need to be aware of the following “deal breakers”.

  • Unwillingness to consider the young worker’s ministry aspirations
  • A distorted presentation of the ministry’s strengths or successes
  • Demanding instead of mentoring
  • Treating them as second-class missionary citizens
  • Lack of opportunity and scope for worship
  • Immediate demand for long-term commitment

Recommendations for Successful Integration of this Generation

  • Leaders should try to coach and counsel, not criticize and rebuke
  • Work towards building multicultural/multiethnic teams
  • Include their parents in the process

Finally, these suggestions, to be successful, must be overlaid with a genuine appreciation for the new young worker, both his or her person and contribution. Millennials have acute “baloney detectors” and will withdraw from anyone trying to control them with flattering, disingenuous speech. But when they believe leaders have their best interest at heart and demonstrate a humble commitment to Jesus, their hearts will connect with us.

They want to walk and work alongside others, including seniors with ministry experience who continue to be learners along with their younger colleagues. I believe that risking, winning, failing, and growing along with the Millennials can result in staggering blessing for the advance of God’s Kingdom.

Jim Raymo is the director of BGU’s Center for Graduate Studies and author of Millennials and Missions: A Generation Faces a Global Challenge.

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