Tag Archives: millenials

Burned-out Evangelicals and Millennials

As I was praying this morning, I realized I might be overly preoccupied with two groups of people I seem to love more than others — even though God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34).

I am very concerned with the burned-out evangelicals I meets who are super sensitive to being marched around by narcissistic leaders.

I am also concerned about the slavish millennials who are like hunter-gatherers living in small tribes feeding off the cast-offs of society, with little hope of the future.

Of all the people who were worshiping with me last night: successful professionals, immigrants, hard-working teachers, dutiful parents, etc., I tend to hone in on these two subgroups. I think that is because they need to be saved and are oh so close to getting there but often have the deck stacked against them.

Not an evangelical

"If someone tells you that you are “on fire,” and your first thought is not to stop, drop, and roll...you might be an evangelical." -- Elizabeth Kaeton
“If someone tells you that you are “on fire,” and your first thought is not to stop, drop, and roll…you might be an evangelical.” — Elizabeth Kaeton

I’m not a burned-out evangelical because I never really was one. I had plenty of opportunities to travel with them (I was even trained by Campus Crusade before they coolified their name to Cru), but when I was making a decision about who were my people, I found the Anabaptists. I liked the Brethren in Christ because they added on “Pietist” and “Wesleyan,” to their Anabaptist roots, and basically refused to be too strongly affiliated with some past description because old labels don’t make that much sense in the present. But even though I don’t live in the mainstream, I still meet many skittish people who grew up in a mega church or a conservative, little, strangulation-by-Bible church. They don’t always have a live relationship with Jesus, but they do know a lot of Christian stuff. It is often like they are inoculated against any real relationship with Jesus because they were trained to be suspicious of every wrong way one might have one!

They need to be saved rather than just be deserters of the bogus faith of their past, or mere critics of what others say.

Not a millennial

Click pic for positive look at the "millenial" generation
Click pic for positive look at the “millenial” generation

I’m not a millennial, either (according to Pew, I am a GenXer). But nobody really knows what a millennial is, anyway, which is probably what makes someone a millennial. They appear to be less “white;” they can’t remember a time without the internet; they can work devices and act technologically savvy. They don’t care as much about success, and that is good, since they will probably be less well-off than their parents. Under their parents’ watch, their future wealth was stored up in the 1%, the government became more like a corporation and started selling off public assets to businesses, and people became so fearful of terrorists and of losing their jobs that they stopped trying to change things. The younger one is, the more likely she is to feel like it is “all up to her” and maybe she will be helped by a few close friends. For many of these people, the church is just another huge institution they sometimes hover around looking for scraps of meaning to put in their personal identity backpack.

They need to be saved rather than left isolated and suspicious, being injured by the huge forces that use them like raw material, like slaves sent to make bricks without straw when they speak up.

Living in mercy

My life is filled with students, children, parents, and Christian leaders — all sorts of people. I love them all. But these two groups seem to make my heart break and my conviction stir. I think they represent what is hardening the hearts of the next generation.

One of the things I want to do most with my days is work with God as she softens us up for love and truth. Most days I am not sure what I am trying to do makes a bit of difference. Most days I am content to let God make of it what he will, since he is part of every generation and his mercy is new every morning.

Christian Media Discovers Hipsters

A friend of mine sent out a test on “How Millenial” are you?” in March. People pegged in various age categories were supposed to score like this:

  • “4″ for Silent Generation
  • “11″ for Baby Boomer
  • “33″ for Gen X-er
  • “73″ for Millenial

I got a 52, which is near my age, even though so-called millenials are teens and twentysomethings. Tags are better when they are a game.

He sent out the “Are you a Hipster Christian?” test in July that has been going around on Facebook lately. I got a 92 out of 120. I authenticated myself. That is until I say “balderdash!” or my usual “poppycock!” (Although I did just write that ironically).

I think these kinds of sociological games are fun but they mostly fall over the edge into poppycock. Unfortunately, they are also the rugby of intellectual games – people get hurt. The Pew people have a ton of money to keep people in their marketing niches. Brett McCracken had a cool idea and marketed it to his niche: the children of evangelicals – I think he is making it through the recession OK. But he is also getting a lot of airplay to cast aspersions.

The problem is, insecure Christians keep using these pseudo-scientific research projects to define reality. Call me a hipster, but I rebel against their rationalistic, term-paper approach to truth. I was a “hipster” Christian before there were hipsters. Francis of Assisi has been a hipster Christian since about 1202. I think one could make a very good case for Jesus calling a bunch of hipsters to be apostles. Actually living in one’s culture and having a mission to one’s generation should not be made to look suspicious in the eyes of some supposedly objective truth.

In the recent Christianity Today issue, McCracken had the lead article, complete with a shout out to our own, bonafide evangelical rebel-hipster, Shane Claiborne.  (How did he miss you, Joshua Grace?) McCracken says, “In order to be a hipster, one must be a rebel. Despite the fact that (ironically) hipster culture usually operates within and is sustained by the very structures it opposes, hipsterdom’s raison d’être is countercultural, boundary-pushing rebellion. As such, hipster existence is frequently rife with vices. If hipsters cannot completely overthrow the structures that bind them, they can at least destabilize them by engaging in hedonistic behavior: smoking, drinking, cursing, sexual experimentation, and so on. It’s about freedom, partying, and transgression—not in the Jersey Shore, frat-party sense (unless ironically), but in the “bourbon cask ales taste good and I don’t care if I get drunk” sense. Hipsters ridicule bourgeois concerns such as “cigarettes cause cancer” and “drinking should be done in moderation,” opting instead to recklessly embrace such vices with “why not?” abandon. If you aren’t willing to engage in at least some of this “subversive hedonism,” you will have a hard time maintaining any hipster credibility.”

This is generally true, especially if you are Pew people parsing statistics or millenial writers looking to make a name for themselves visiting notorious churches for an evening. I suppose Circle of Hope qualifies as a hipster church, if anyone does. But I meet most of the qualifications, too: I love Thrift Stores, I have a tattoo, I’ve been known to drink (but I won’t touch a cigarette and you should stop that!), I bike, I disdain big-box Christianity, I misappropriate primitive culture at times, I like Sufjan. But I don’t have little glasses and I am not 25. Reading McCraken’s article made me feel like I might be stepping in poppycock.

It is hard to be part of a movement of God’s Spirit in your generation when the sociologists want to trace the history of your “fad” and level you out into just another interesting, predictable development of their theory. Honestly, I think Gamaliel thought Christianity was a fad, but he had the sense to wait and see: “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Act 5:38-9).

We’ve been waiting and seeing for about 15 years, here. So far, we have definitely seen some people pass through faith like it was just another bit of fashion for them. Once they got into it, they needed to rebel against it, especially when uncool acquaintances adopted it. There are true former-Christian hipsters out there. Even more likely, they lost faith when they stopped being hipsters – like they bought a house and had children. Faith-as-rebellion is actually a lot easier to maintain than faith as something-I-am-building-a-life-with. But this is hardly a new phenomenon in Christianity. Jesus was weeding out wannabes long before his resurrection made it plain he was not just rebelling against the status quo. “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” …From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:62-9) People who are rebels against the domination system are often just smart people who end up meeting the One who gives them the truth behind what they were rebelling about.

As you can see, I resent people who tag my property with their intellectual signatures. International foundations, national magazines who are just “reporting” are playing a rough game with real people of faith. We’re having our local struggle to be an authentic representation of Jesus in our here and now. I am a living example of how your tags don’t fit. I hope you are having your own life. I liked it better before you discovered how to investigate and make a buck off mine.