No, this isn’t about eschatology. It is about those who were born between 1980 and 2000. They are called the Millennials.
Thom Rainer at Lifeway recently gave four characteristics that Millennials desire in leaders, and he didn’t just make them up like many people who talk about this generation do. These are the results of surveys that ask questions. Here are the four:
- Gentle spirit
- Transparency and authenticity
If you want to influence the younger generation, this is what they (the people you are trying to influence) say you need to be and do in order to get them to listen to you.
I think this list is not just true of Millennials in general. I think this list is true of the so-called “young fundamentalists,” many of whom are Millennials raised in “fundamentalism” (in quotes because much of what they are departing from bears no resemblance to biblical fundamentalism).
I think the this list demonstrates why the tactics of some who are desperately trying to influence these young people won’t work.
They do not have a gentle spirit. They are combative, arrogant, and cross. They routinely and vitriolically attack those who disagree with them, even over minor matters. They use strong language. They have an abrasive attitude, and it’s not about ideas but about people. They are just plain rude at times. They claim they are standing for the truth, but the truth is that they are too often contradicting the truth by their attitude. To quote a friend of mine, it makes me glad to be a fundamentalist so I can separate from them.
They are not transparent and authentic. They speak boldly about others, littering the world with their dogmatic statements, even when they aren’t accurate. They just don’t tell the truth sometimes. And they won’t be honest about themselves, even when the truth is obvious to everyone else. They are a lot about show and a little about substance. They will quickly shut down conversations if it threatens them. They are about self-promotion and winning silly little battles and missing the big war.
They do not have integrity. They say things that are clearly not true, or they shade the truth in a particular way while not admitting that there is another side. They run to extremes, and stay there even when challenged. They complain about others while doing the very thing they complain about.
Few, if any, would say, “I want to be like that person.” And that’s why they have little to no influence. I believe that you will never have a positive influence on people who do not want to be like you.
And they will not like me saying this.
Finally, I think this list begins with what real ministry is all about—mentoring. It is why the cyber world and blogs are not the places that young fundamentalists (or young Christian leaders in general) will be created or held onto, or trained, or influenced. Because mentorship is face-to-face, person-to-person. It won’t take place on a blog defending this or attacking that. It won’t take place through demagoguery or intimidation.
Sure, today’s generation is more connected than ever before. They will read widely on the internet, but chances are they won’t read deeply. They live life in soundbytes—tweets and facebook status updates. Email is old to them. Texting is the way the communicate. The use blog readers and news readers in order to skim the first line or two to see if they are interested enough to read on (which is why many will never see the end of much that is written, including this).
But true leadership and mentorship will take place large through side-by-side ministry partnership (otherwise know as biblical fellowship). It will be face-to-face exchanges across coffee with no holds barred and no comment unchallengeable.
Oh, to be sure, there will be a few select voices in cyberspace that will be heard by many. And most will probably agree to some degree and disagree to another.
And in young fundamentalism, that’s okay. There’s no need to be monolithic. There’s no compulsion to do what someone else does, or draw lines exactly where someone else draws them.
And in young fundamentalism, disagreement will be expressed, just like it is in “old fundamentalism” … with some rancor, some anger, some bad arguments, and some bad interpretation of arguments.
But I suppose we should expect a certain amount of immaturity from the younger crowd. It’s the old guys who should be past that. Too often they’re not. And they do not have the decency to shut up.