I recently had a chat with several friends about our kids. The term that was used to describe this current generation was “Millennials.” I am not a social scientist and have been mildly interested in the culture war discussions, so I was a bit lost on the meaning of the term. As generational labels go, I was never very clear on what they meant anyway. From Baby-boomers to baby-busters, Gen-Xers to Gen-Yers. What happened to Gen-Zers? Someone lacked real vision in this entire discussion by not beginning with Gen-Aers! After XYZ, there are no more letters in the alphabet to continue the labels!
Now we are dealing with Millennials. I really didn’t know what this meant. From my discussion with these parents, it wasn’t a very flattering picture. Supposedly, millennials are considered to be lazy, narcissistic, and unable to make commitments. They have a sense of entitlement and eager to sacrifice a steady career in order to pursue their own personal interests. For that reason, many refer to them as the “Me-Generation.”
Who would be content with being like this, especially one who also calls themselves a disciple of Christ? No one. In that sense, I also would not want to be a millennial. I am A-millennial.
As true as this description may be, I recall my parents describing my generation in the same exact way. Are people really that different when our real struggle is against the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21), which the Apostle Paul clearly condemns. Sin is not limited to one generation, it is not prejudicial, nor does it have preferences. Sin destroys; sin condemns; sin brings death. Instead of getting caught up in generational labels, perhaps it is more helpful to focus on discussions of overcoming sin and growing in our sanctification.
Having said that, I must confess that I see other characteristics in this generation that are praiseworthy. First, they crave community and are eager to create intimate groups. In that sense, I see them embracing the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39), in ways that my generation could not. What many may see as a character flaw in a person, they are eager to embrace as a unique aspect to an individual’s personality. For that reason, this generation has the heart to share the love of Christ to those who would turn away from the church otherwise: those coming from broken families, those in the LGBT community, etc. Our faith condemns some of the virtues of these groups, but we are called to love them still. Millennials can do this.
Second, millennials are not obsessed with wealth. They are fueled by other passions that are more focused upon people, and this is a good thing. Better than other generations, millennials can say “How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver” (Prov. 16:16), or “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways” (Prov. 28:6). They appreciate that money, though necessary, has its weaknesses. When it comes to true godly wisdom, “Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold” (Job 28:17).
Third, millennials trust in the Lord. Many struggle to find work due to the national economic crisis. Yet, they remain optimistic and hopeful of their future. Their faith has been viewed as a laissez-faire attitude, but it could also be a pure trust in the sovereignty of God that allows them to live from day to day without emotional strain and with a pleasant temperament.
I have four millennials in my home. Two are in college, two are in high school. I have met their friends, they have been to my home, we have shared meals, and had many discussions. These are some of the traits that I see in them and I admire them for it. In that sense, I hope that I can be a millennial as well. However, there are two particular areas that I hope they will take to heart. As they reach out and extend the love of God towards others, remember that there is “the greatest commandment,” which is to love God. It is true that money is just money, but God is truly God. To have Christ is to have everything, to not have Him is to have nothing.
Finally, this is a young and enthusiastic generation, eager to contribute their thoughts from their youthful (often naïve) perspective that they say offers new, fresh insights into old discussions. True, but remember that there is a generation before you who have experienced and gained much knowledge. Time and time again, in the book of Proverbs, a father appeals to his son to “Hear, O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching” (Prov. 4:1-2). The father is wise and wants to pass that onto his son, but only if the son will hear it and heed it.
So, for millennials, be millennials in the best way possible but remember that to love the Lord is the “great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:38). Be A-millennial insofar as the values of this generation do not conform to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Remember that there is a wise and godly Pre-millennial generation, who already have done great things. Together, we can make a golden Post-millennial era!
Peter Lee, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.