Ministering to Millennials (PART V – My Recommendations regarding Sex, Learning Style, Service, and Tolerance)

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(four more recommendations…)

Talk About Sex…Positively

Of the several hundred Millennials I’ve talked to fairly privately about their lives, most of them Christian or formerly so, almost none had conversations with their parents about sex during adolescence. For that matter, other topics that tend to occupy young brains in addition to sex – money, career, friends, identity, meaning of life – extremely few of the Millennials I’ve spoken with had these important conversations with people who loved them, who were the primary caretakers nurturing their relationships with God. I don’t know a single young adult who hasn’t struggled with the question of “how far is too far” in dating relationships and yet I’m still waiting to meet more than a handful of young adults who had highly productive conversations with his/her parent(s) about this. It’s almost as if Satan has thoroughly damaged this gift of God merely by the threat of “awkward conversation.”

Consequently, young adults have been left to base their evaluations of such issues, to form their perceptions, based on peers, music, television, movies, the internet, and media…the ways secular teens form their perceptions.

Granted, many of these young adults were aware that “sex outside of marriage is wrong.” Significantly fewer, however, were aware that “sex inside of marriage is a beautiful, God-glorifying thing.” The idea that God invented sex and designed humans as sexual beings seems odd to many young adults, unfortunately even Christian ones.

As far as young people being products of the environments in which they grow up, including sexually, I’m not sure exactly what we can do. But sympathetically acknowledging the difficulty of the extraordinary influx of hormones in young adulthood, teaching a proper theology of sex, and helping Millennials understand that the promises of extramarital sexual activity are Satanic lies that ruin relationships, both with other humans and your relationship with God…this would be a good place to start.

Socratic Learning Experience

Millennials are the generation that has access to any and all information. They can Wikipedia their way into biometrics, bomb-making, or Buddhism. In other words, they have plenty of places from which they can get information, and therefore they don’t need you to be dispensers of information per se. They need your help discerning between conflicting information.

This creates a drastic shift in learning. A generation or two ago, a minister was able to say, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” and his congregation would swallow it whole. Not so with Millennials. Millennials will challenge you on that, reasoning, “Who are you to say what the Lord says?! The Catholic priest says this. The Baptist minister says that. The Lutheran pastor says a third thing. And for that matter, the Jewish rabbi and the Dalai Lama don’t agree with any of you.” All of these individuals claim spiritual authority. But who holds the truth?

It is simply not enough to teach a Millennial the way something is, you have to show them. You have to take them down a journey of spiritual exploration, and you had better maintain a delicate balance – both a humility that leads you to listen attentively to their thoughts and concerns AND a passionate “I’d lose my life for this” conviction about where you currently stand. You forfeit your audience if you make a mistake on either side.

Connect Service To Evangelism

For better or worse, many young adults believe that evangelism must be connected to service on behalf of others. Many new studies coming out suggest that Millennials are significantly more inclined than their parents were to volunteer for causes perceived as important.

Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation of National and Community Service says,

“We’re on the crux of something big, because these Millennials are going to take this spirit of giving and wanting to change communities and they’re going to become parents soon. I am very encouraged by what we’re seeing.”[1]

Millennials are so skeptical, and sniff out hypocrisy so readily, that they will adamantly reject any love and forgiveness talk that isn’t genuinely reinforced by a selfless, serving walk. To them, action must provide shading to the beauty of word. And lest someone think this smacks of Social Gospel ideology, let’s not become so jaded against social causes that we forget the emphasis that both Christ and the early Christians put on social concern. Historian Rodney Stark describes how such service by Christians led to interest in the Christian faith in the early years of Christianity…

“alien to paganism was the notion that because God loves humanity, Christians cannot please God unless they love one another. Indeed, as God demonstrates his love through sacrifice, humans must demonstrate their love through sacrifice on behalf of one another.”[2]

Further related, a whopping total of 96 percent of Millennials believe that they will someday “accomplish something great.”[3] That’s right – 96 PERCENT! Here’s the catch though – while previous generations may have defined greatness in terms of personal wealth, power, and fame, that’s not how Millennials see it. They still want the money, but their end game, at least from their own mouths, is a greater good for humanity. They’d like to sponsor a camp or build wells with clean water for kids in Africa. The generation that’s concerned about things like carbon footprints is very conscious of leaving a positive impact on the world. Without question, this is something churches will want to tap into – Millennials want to live out the gospel, especially when it comes to social causes.

Be Sensitive To Their Tolerant Disposition

Okay. Okay. Yes, we all know Millennials have work to do on their problem with moral relativism. But before immediately correcting their inconsistent and illogical attempts at morality, let’s start with a positive – these young adults are eager to find a point of commonality rather than a point of contention. This is drastically different from previous generations. Many Christians and Christian churches in the twentieth century largely defined their faith and denominational affiliation on the basis of what they were not, e.g. a Lutheran was not a Catholic because…, a Baptist was not a Lutheran because… Certainly such doctrinal differences are serious and at some point in time need to be worked through, but Millennials don’t want to start there. Older WELS members often do appear to.

So it’s worth reminding ourselves that statements of inclusion are important to communicating the gospel clearly. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) John says, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (1 John 4:2) Jesus himself says, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) These are clear statements of gospel inclusion. The gospel is so overwhelmingly inclusive that it works for EVERYONE. It’s intrinsically inclusive. So let’s not be too quick to stomp out a good, but often misguided trait of Millennials.

Rather, for confronting a misguided common belief in culture – in this case, the native tolerance of Millennials – I would prefer to approach it with the methodology that Timothy Keller proposes:

“Our premises must be drawn wholly from the Bible, yet we will always find some things in a culture’s beliefs that are roughly true, things on which we can build our critique. We will communicate something like this: “You see this ‘A’ belief you have? The Bible says the same thing – so we agree. However if ‘A’ is true, then why do you not believe ‘B’? The Bible teaches ‘B,’ and if ‘A’ is true, then it is not right, fair, or consistent for you to reject ‘B.’ If you believe this – how can you not believe that?” We reveal inconsistencies in the cultural beliefs and assumptions about reality. With the authority of the Bible we allow one part of the culture – along with the Bible – to critique another part. The persuasive force comes from basing our critique on something we can affirm within our culture.[4]

So, for instance, on the issue of tolerance, it works like this: What if someone says, “I think you’re being intolerant – and therefore, unloving – of other beliefs and other Christians by not (e.g.) allowing them to commune with us.” At that point what you do is say that you agree that the gospel does promote radical, almost otherworldly, inclusiveness. However, tolerance of beliefs has nothing to do with it. In fact, by saying that I’m being “narrow-minded” or “intolerant,” you’re being just as intolerant of my beliefs as you claim I’m being of the beliefs of others. Neither of us is more or less tolerant than the other. BOTH of us are claiming authoritative spiritual insight. At that point, you’ve both affirmed their desire for a good, gospel-flavored attitude, but corrected their misguided application of what is or is not loving.[5] This affords you the opportunity to then walk them through 1 Corinthians 10-11, at which point they’ll be impressed to see how loving and compassionate the idea of close Communion really is. If you come in with, “Well, that’s just wrong” you’ll run into that Nietzscheian Millennial distrust of authority and institutional power plays.

Affirm the good. Gently walk them through what is incorrect.


Enough for this week. Again, I’ll have four final recommendations next week. Thanks for reading!

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[2] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, pg. 86

[3] Rainer, pg. 16

[4] Timothy Keller, Center Church, pg. 125

[5] Perhaps a better example of this methodology, I’m constantly using this teaching technique on the issue of Evolution. Most young adults operate with “macro-evolutionary beliefs” since that’s what they learned in their science textbooks. However, most young adults also often have particular compassion for the oppression of human rights around the world. So, what I’ll do is establish that such human sensitivity (an ‘A’ belief for them) is a wonderful attribute, but gently point out how this is inconsistent with their ‘B’ belief of evolution. Evolution is predicated on the idea of “survival of the fittest” and “the strong eat the weak.” So, if you believe in macro-evolution, you cannot logically say that it is “wrong” for a stronger country in the Middle East to devour a weaker country. That’s merely the advancement of the species. See, at that point, their ‘A’ belief trumps their ‘B’ belief, and they feel compelled to correct the cognitive dissonance. I don’t know that I’ve ever explained macro-evolution to a young adult that way and had them not say, “Hmmm. That’s interesting.”

4 thoughts on “Ministering to Millennials (PART V – My Recommendations regarding Sex, Learning Style, Service, and Tolerance)

  1. John Huebner says:

    Thanks, again, James. Your thoughts on helping others (not just millennials) see the wondrous inclusiveness and blessing of close communion are quite helpful. Your direction in having conversations with the Keller approach fits what I’m finding in today’s folks, too. Have you read “Tactics” (Koukl)?

  2. John Huebner says:

    The conversations about sex are difficult for most parents, probably because many of us do not want to be thinking about our parents and sex. It might be a place, however, where the church leaders can find a way to help parents address this…or, even, perhaps hold a Bible class series on this—one for parents, one for the kids.

  3. Adam Goede says:

    I am really enjoying reading these posts. While much of the analysis on Millennials leaving church, etc., gives the impression the future of American Christianity will be darker, many of their beliefs you describe are actually cause for much hope–if only we can step up to the challenge in our own faith lives to walk the talk so that they see sincerity of belief.

  4. Dave says:

    One thing you alluded to briefly in a previous post was the fact that many Millennials simply “don’t care” — They don’t see the gospel (or religion) as actually having a true, real impact on their lives, careers, and relationships. I see this everywhere in churched millennials as well as unchurched. A similar, but slightly different (and very common) apathetic position is that many churched millennials don’t care about sin. They don’t see it as truly having a negative impact on their lives, despite the biblical truth suggesting otherwise. Any comment on these or how we might address them?

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