The issues and ideas discussed included the effectiveness of 'desperate attempts' at making services 'hipper'. Many lamented the way the traditional church fails to engage meaningfully with key issues of the day. Others contended for a less-pandering approach to young adults, advocating instead for authenticity and creation of communities where people could meet the 'real Jesus'.
The discussion got me thinking about the way the millennial generation engages with cross-cultural mission. Traditional models of mission involvement and commitment for young people have changed – so, are we losing a generation?
Engaging in New Ways
The effects of globalisation have removed much of the mystique of cross-cultural service for many young adults. New Zealand is becoming an ever-increasing melting pot of cultural experience as refugee and migrant cultures merge with a more 'traditional' kiwi way of life. Add to this the low-cost of international travel and the rise of the gap year phenomenon – you have a recipe for one of the most connected and globally aware generations.
Local churches in New Zealand are becoming increasingly aware of missional opportunities to reach out within their own communities. Millennials have become leaders amongst those seeking to reach out to those who are marginalised, socially disadvantaged and spiritually needy. For many young adults this sort of local engagement provides a contextual starting point for understanding cross-cultural ministry overseas.
Challenges for the Next Generation
Millennials approach mission with classic flexibility and fluidity. Their global awareness (think of the rise of fair trade products and on-line advocacy for social concerns) means many have engaged with major world issues before investing in short-term mission experiences. While this flexibility can be a helpful starting point for cross-cultural mission is does bring challenges.
We are seeing increasing numbers of youth and young adults explore cross-cultural mission through short-term experiences. The benefits of well-planned short term experiences are numerous. But what about those who return unchanged? There is disturbing frequency in youth and young adults who chalk up short-term mission as a rite of passage to tick off the Christian to-do list.
Where to From Here?
While global exposure, flexibility and local awareness can be good things, younger generations still seem to struggle with commitment. How do we make sure we don't lose a generation?
The d-word is not very sexy. It's certainly not a quick fix solution. Younger generations have grown up with 'Christianity made easy', with services targeted to their tastes and messages made shorter to fit attention spans. This watered-down gospel is not the Christianity of the bible. We need people willing to disciple young people in the 'take up your cross and follow me' type of faith.
Not the sparkly ring on finger kind of engagement – the conversational, prayerful and tangible kind. Well run short-term teams provide a great opportunity for engaging in mission in a tangible way, while being provided leadership, discipleship material and guidance for processing the experience well.
Young people need opportunities where they can ask deep questions and wrestle with ideas. Are there young people in your church who might be interested in discussing the effects of globalisation on mission, or the nature of the call to mission in the bible?
There are many forums where I see too many people with grey hair, too many wrinkled hands holding on to positions and responsibility instead of equipping and mentoring the next generation to take over. With ownership and responsibility come commitment, sacrifice and innovation. When young people are properly equipped for ministry and missional engagement they are empowered to make a difference. How can you be nurturing young leaders in your church?
Sophia Sinclair is a writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand. After studying, working and training in Theatre, English Literature and Journalism, she joined the non-profit sector to work for the Anglican mission organisation NZCMS where she promotes mission around New Zealand. For more information on NZCMS: www.nzcms.org.nz
Sophia Sinclair's previous articles may be viewed at