Millenial Angst: Adele, Getting Older, and Discontentment

Adele captures the consciousness of the millennial generation better than any other musical artist. Her latest album 25 reflects on themes of growing up, as her twenties fade and a new decade begins. As I've been listening to Adele's latest album, perhaps my favorite song is When We Were Young. She sings,

Let me photograph you in this light In case it is the last time That we might be exactly like we were Before we realized We were sad of getting old It made us restless I'm so mad I'm getting old It makes me reckless

As more millennials enter into their late twenties and early thirties they are bombarded by restlessness. We're getting older. Our twenties dawned with roaring optimism, filled with idealistic dreams of love and success, yet as the years wane that bitter reality has turned that roaring optimism into a reckless restlessness. Life did not end up the way we thought it would or rolled out the way that we planned. The last few years left us only with broken hearts and crushed dreams.

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Back during our freshmen year of college, we were brimming with hope. The world was our oyster, filled with endless possibilities. The idea of independence, freedom, and adulthood seemed like a dream too good to be true. We longed to grow up, but as we entered into adulthood we’ve discovered it rather mundane. Our lives have become rather monotonous: we wake up, go to work, parent toddlers, watch Netflix, and go to bed early. Rinse and repeat. The exhaustion of this never-ending routine leaves many longing for something more. The millennial angst and disillusionment leaves us scratching our heads and picking up our hearts, wondering if there might be anything to provide meaning and purpose to our daily lives.

It is in this angst, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ enters into our restlessness and balms our burning hearts with his grace. Only Christ gives meaning to the mundane,  joy to the broken hearted, and hope for those in a quarter-life-crises. Though our lives may not have panned out as we hoped, Jesus gives purpose to our disappointments. Perhaps we have not advanced to where we want to be in our career or have yet to find our perfect spouse. Even still, Jesus gives something that we millennials desperately need: contentment.

It is no secret that millennials are not a very religious bunch. Yet, I believe that as more and more millennials enter into their child-rearing years, our discontentment will grow for something more. I pray that the disillusionment that so many feel will morph into a spiritual brokenness. The puritan Jeremiah Burroughs highlights this truth in his work The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment,

God has broken your estate; Oh seek to him for the breaking of your heart likewise. Indeed, a broken estate and a whole heart, a hard heart, will not join together; there will be no contentment. But a broken estate and a broken heart will so suite one another, as that there will be more contentment than there was before.

So brokenness is the first step to true contentment. Millennial angst could very well give way to a spiritual revival among this generation. When we finally realize that the promises of advertisers are just a sham and that living for yourself only brings disappointment, then and only then can we find refreshment in the fount of Christ. He is the only source of lasting contentment.

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Burroughs goes on to say in the same book,

It is not by having his own desires satisfied, but by melting his way and desires into God's will. So that, in one sense, he comes to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desired before; still he comes to be satisfied with this, because he makes his will to be at one with God's will.

As the idealistic plans of so many millennials melt away, I pray they will surrender their wills to God. As our wistful dreams crack and decay into the reality in which we live, may we freely give up our life and find true life, true contentment in Jesus himself. As Jesus said,“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:25).

6 Tips for Millennial Pastors in Established Churches

I'm a young pastor.  Trust me. You don't have to tell me. I get told that every time I step into a hospital room or a funeral home. Although young pastors are not all that unusual anymore, it is unusual for a pastor in his twenties to be pastoring an established and predominantly older church.  Some how, God willed it for me to become the Pastor at Forest Hills Baptist Church.  I'm not sure if the church was crazy, but they called a young, inexperienced, guy like me to shepherd them.  I've been at my church for almost four years now – 2 years as a Student pastor, 1 year as the interim Senior Pastor, and another year as the permanent Senior Pastor.  Over the course of these past few years I've learned a lot about my self and I have made plenty of mistakes along the way.  My church has been so gracious to me as I learn and grow as a man of God and as a shepherd. I'm observing a generational passing of the baton in most churches right now.  The aging boomers are starting to retire and the millennial pastors are getting their first opportunity to lead established churches. Although many established churches are hesitant or afraid to hire any pastor under 40, more churches are open to having a younger pastor.  Being a younger pastor has its own unique sets of challenges (some of which I might outline in a future post), but for now I want to provide some council to any young pastors in establish churches.  For what it is worth, these are some things I've been learning slowly and sometimes painfully.

1. Lead with the Bible

This is absolutely essential.  As a young pastor there isn't a ton of life experience to pull from and you have little to no relational authority.  Sure you might be the Senior Pastor, but when your younger than everyone in the room, that positional authority doesn't seem to go very far.  Thankfully, the authority of the pastoral position is not tied to age but to Scripture. The authority of the pastor is not his experience but God's word.  As you lead your people, make sure you hold out the word of life through preaching, in meetings, in hospital rooms, at funerals, and any other place you might find yourself among your people.  The pastor (young or old) should always be pointing his people to follow Jesus, not him.  When leading any sort of change or initiative, you should demonstrate thoroughly from the Bible why it is necessary to go that direction. Convince your people that as they follow you, you are following Jesus.  This happens by centering your leadership on the teaching of God's word.

2. Demonstrate Humility

A lot of younger pastors get themselves in trouble because they are about as humble as Kayne West. They think they have church figured out. If only everyone would follow their plan, their ideas, and do what they say, everything would be fine.  Not only is this arrogant, it's idiotic. The painful lesson I learn each day is that just when I think I have ministry figured out, I find out I don't. Listen to criticism. Be teachable.  Demonstrate humility.  No body wants to follow a know-it-all. If you lead your people under compulsion you will not only loose any credibility to do anything meaningful and lasting in that church, but chances are you'll get asked to go elsewhere.

3. Adapt to the Culture

Contextualization is one of those buzz words out there right now.  From church planters to missionaries, everyone is thinking through how we can communicate the unchanging gospel in a constantly changing culture.  When the culture we find ourselves doing ministry is traditional, nobody throws out the importance of contextualization.  Many of the established churches are formal, traditional, and resistant to change.  Many young pastors make the mistake of ignoring the current culture of their church and forcing cultural change on the church before they are ready.  Adapt your methods to the people God has given you to shepherd.  To adapt to the culture, you must know the culture of your church.  This means you must pay attention and learn your people.

I'm not a big fan of the coat and tie. In fact, I can't stand wearing a tie. Every time I put one on it feels like I'm putting on a noose.  Yet I wear one every Sunday morning at my church to preach.  Why? I'm adapting to the culture of my people.  I do not want the fact that I'm not wearing a tie to hinder the preaching of the word of God.  I'm contextualizing to the people God has given me, reaching them where they are to teach them and instruct them. If this means that wearing a coat and tie allows them to hear the Gospel clearly, than it is no sacrifice.  This is a simplistic illustration but the point is made. Meet your people where they are,and slowly implement cultural change.  Then after many years of careful teaching maybe the tie can come off. (I'm hoping!)

4. Be Patient

Patience doesn't come naturally to anyone, especially young men. It is easy to come into an established church as their pastor thinking that the reform and revitalization they need will happen in six months.  It won't.  Leading change in established churches can be a painfully slow process over the course of many years and sometimes even decades.  It is like turning around an ocean liner. It can take a while to get on course.

Young pastors, do not let your eagerness get the best of you.  Do not lead too fast or too far in front of your people that you loose them.  The wise shepherd knows his sheep. He can sense when they are tired or worn out from the journey.  He can tell when he needs to slow down or when he can speed up.

5. Don't Be Afraid to Lead

On the flip side, you must lead. It is easy to go into an established church and get comfortable.  The salary is nice, the routine is predictable, and no one is going to get mad at you if you just keep every thing the same.  I see many pastors who are so afraid to lead that they just sit there and feed off the sheep. Pastor you are not called to feed off the sheep.  Ezekiel 34 has some pretty strong words for shepherds who do that. Rather, we are called to lead them.  Yes, we must be patient, but if you are not moving them to greater health and a deeper love for Jesus and their community than you are failing them as a pastor. Sure leadership can be painful and yes the sheep might bite back, but this is the call of ministry.

6. Love Your People

Your church is not a project to be fixed, but a people to be loved. Spend the first few years of your ministry just loving your people well.  Get to know them. Go out to eat with them. Pray with them.  Love them. It is so easy for young ambitious pastors to loose sight of this.  Not only by loving your people will you serve them well, but you will also gain relational credibility and buy-in to lead in more significant endeavors later down the line.

Great Failures are Covered by a Great Savior

As you lead an established church as a millennial pastor it will be challenging.  It can be painful, frustrating, and heart breaking.  Along the way you will experience some major leadership failures, yet despite our failures we have a great savior.  As we lean in on Jesus, and ask him to help us love our people, he will give us wisdom to shepherd wisely.  Millennial pastors do not need to abandon established churches just because it may be difficult.  As one myself, I'm excited about seeing other millennial pastors begin to take seriously the call to lead established churches, and I'm excited to see what our great Savior is going to do through young pastors.

Are you a young pastor in an established church? If so, share with us some things you have learned in your ministry context on social media or below in the comments!

Young Christian Don't Forget the Old Churches: A Call to Revitalize

I wrote earlier this week about the need of passing the baton of the Gospel to the next generation. As we all know, this is easier said than done. Young Evangelicals today are a diverse bunch. I am amazed what God is doing through my own generation. These younger Christians seem to have a great value for theology, the Bible, community, discipleship, social justice, and mission. This is incredibly encouraging as we watch this younger generation of Christian millenials arrive on the scene of the local church. However there is one big problem, they are not going to the churches that need them. I've noticed that younger evangelicals tend to prefer churches that are already doing those thigns they are passionate about. They want churches where there deep community, discipleship, and mission. As a result the churches that are healthy and do these thigns well tend to keep growing and growing. To keep up with the growth in these churches and to spread the Gospel, there has been a renewed emphasis on church planting. This is a wonderful thing and should continue to be done. Young evangelicals flock to these growing churches and to these new church plants.

I've seen this around my seminary. A seminary is a concentration of  thousands of young and passionate evangelicals. Yet at my seminary there are about four or five "seminary churches" they all tend to go too. Imagine the influence and reach these younger evangelicals could have if they spread out into hundreds of churches rather than cloistering together in a few? The great problem is that there are thousands of churches that are forgotten. Churches that are unhealthy and need revitalization. Yet for many it is soil to difficult to plow and nobody sees any potential for a ripe harvest.

In some ways many have wrote off older established churches that are platued or declining. Many think we should not even bother attempting to revitalize these churches, we should just let them die. Out with the old and in with the new. As a result these platued or declining churches are left desolate.  They are wanting to reach the younger generation but they don't have any young people to show them how.  These older churches need the health and vitality that comes from passing the baton to the next generation.

I have spent most of my life in platued or dying churches. As I have conversations with many of the members there, I see that they really do have a heart to reach young people. The problem is they just don't know how.

If you are a younger evangelical looking for a church, let me challenge you. Don't forget the unhealthy churches. They need you. Sure it might not match your preferences and it will be far more difficult than you can imagine, but they need you.  The Lord needs you to go into these churches. Go to the hard places. Go to the difficult churches. Go to the unhealthy churches. These platued local churches could be a powerful force for the advancement of the Gospel. The potential is brimming and the resources are vast, yet so many younger Christians just write these churches off as irrelevant.

If this next generation of Christians ignore these platued and declining churches within twenty to thirthy years there will be empty, closed up churches scattered all across the country.

So do not forget these churches. Pray for them. Serve them. Love them. And yes, even join them. It might be far more difficult than joining the cool trendy church plant that all your friends are going to, but Jesus doesn't always call us to where it is most comfortable.

Passing the Baton: Preserving the Gospel from Generation to Generation

There is nothing quite like a good old fashion relay race. The concept is simple. One person runs a certain length as well as they can, then they pass the baton to the next runner on their team who takes it a little bit further. Then that person will hand it off to the next person. You get the picture. In Paul's letter to his protégée Timothy he describes this passing of the baton as he writes awaiting his execution. Paul knew his time was coming up and his section of the relay race was coming to an end. He had run his race well. He had carefully guarded the deposit of the Gospel. Now it was time for him to pass the responsibility of guarding the Gospel to the next generation. It was now Timothy's turn to guard and protect the truth of the Gospel. He charges Timothy:

"By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:14)

Over the past 2000 years, the Gospel taught by the apostles has been passed from one generation to the next. As a younger pastor I feel the weight, the excitement, and the responsibility of carrying the baton of the Gospel. As the millennial generation (of whom I belong) begin to take leadership in our culture and in churches there is a changing of the guard that is beginning to take place. So as the next generations of Christians begin to bear the weight of responsibility, there are a few things we must remember.

1. Protect the Gospel from Distortion

The Gospel message of salvation by faith alone through grace alone will be attacked in every generation. This will be especially true of the next few decades as Christianity continues to be marginalized. The Christians of tomorrow will face the same challenges of Christians of yesterday. We will be tempted to distort, twist, or water down the Gospel to make it more culturally palatable to 21st century people. As the baton is passed to this new generation, the truthfulness of the Gospel must be preserved. We must continue to unapologetically defend the exclusivity of the Gospel and point people to Jesus alone for salvation. In a culture hostile to Christianity we will be tempted to take the easy way out and change all that might be controversial. We must resist that temptation and remain faithful to Jesus and His word.

2. Proclaim the Word of God

This next generation of Christians must continue to stand firm on the truthfulness of God's word. However we must not only hold to key doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy, we also must keep God's Word central in everything we do. We must stand firm on its truthfulness and proclaim it to others. As we evangelize and we disciple, we must do so with God's Word. We must proclaim truth to all, even though they may not want to listen. At the very end of 2 Timothy, Paul gives him one final charge in how to guard the deposit entrusted to him. He writes:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

Those words remain just as true to us today as they did to Timothy in his day. The next generation must proclaim God's word.

3. Pass the Gospel to the Next Generation

The Gospel can be lost within one generation. If one generation refuses to disciple the next generation the Gospel would be lost. This is why we each generation is given the baton of the Gospel and they are to pass it to the next generation. As a young man, it is hard for me to imagine a time where I am 50 or 60 years old. However as any 60-year-old would tell you, old age comes quicker than you realize. Our life is a vapor. We are here for one second and gone the next. As a result, we must continue to pass the generation on to the next generation. We must teach them, instruct them, and show them how to faithfully follow Jesus.

From Generation to Generation

Every generation of Christians must Protect the Gospel, Proclaim the Gospel, and Pass the Gospel on to the next generation. This cycle has continued for the past 2000 years and it will continue until Jesus returns at his second coming. Receiving the baton and then passing it on to others is a huge responsibility. However we have this hope as Paul did that "I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me" (2 Timothy 1:12). As we have the weight of responsibility we have this promise, that God will protect his truth. The Gospel will be preserved no matter what the obstacles or no matter how hostile the culture. The Church will survive across generations. Then on that day when Jesus returns, we will all stand in the assembly of saints spanning generation to generation and the relay race will be finished and we will celebrate with all of God's people that the race has been finished and Christ has won.