I mentor two girls from Generation Z at a local public middle school. Their teachers paired them up with me last year because they were failing the 6th grade.
Once I got to know them and the horrors of their home lives, I became much less interested in their grades than their hearts. These two were broken in ways few can comprehend. I spend the drive to their school in prayer every week, begging Jesus to give me words to say and questions to ask, and to know when to keep quiet.
Besides the emotional and physical pain they’ve experienced that I have not, they are born of a different generation than me, making it difficult to relate on a number of levels:
- I learn about some new (read: bizarre) Internet subculture just about every week.
- They spend their time on video games (disturbing ones, in my opinion), YouTube binges, Kik and Snapchat.
- They have been bullied online and in person.
- They have views on gender and sexuality I would never have expected a 12-year-old to possess, much less express.
- One of them hates Christians — though she felt bad about saying that when she found out I am one — because her experience with some Christian family members would make you feel physically ill.
They are not like me, in the least. And yet Christ in me has found a way to connect. His words, His understanding, and His perspective are all that keeps me going to lunch each week. I am reminded of how insufficient I am each time I see them walking to meet me outside the lunchroom.
This article isn’t actually about Generation Z, though I feel deeply our churches need to be focused on them a lot more than we currently are. It’s actually about Millennials.
I’m guessing that the way I feel talking to people of Generation Z is how many senior church leaders today feel when talking to Millennials. Or reading their Facebook posts or viewing their Instagram feeds. There’s a disconnect that can be off-putting. I dislike feeling that I fundamentally don’t understand how another person sees the world. I imagine you can relate.
But here’s what I am discovering every week in a middle school guidance counselor’s office:
If we refuse to engage on a personal level with the people we go before, the people God has called us to lead, we handicap Christ’s ability to work through us.
He is the bridge between generations. He is the wisdom for each moment, each conversation, each sermon prep session.
It’s so much easier to read the headlines — to watch the show and allow the stereotypes to create monsters out of the people coming behind us — than it is to listen.
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” James 1:19 NLT
If you’ve already made up your mind that Millennials’ points of view on life, politics, marriage, work and religion are completely outrageous and unfounded, you’re writing off an entire generation. Few of us are aware enough of our prejudices to even hear how we sound when we speak about the next generation. We need to invite honest feedback. It’s rarely fun to engage in conversations with people who see the world differently, but doing so makes us stronger, more compassionate, more godly people.
I write this today as a challenge to myself as much as to church leaders ahead of me on their spiritual journey:
Let’s do the hard work of opening our hearts to people we don’t understand in the generations coming after us. God will do the seemingly impossible work of creating love and understanding between us.