Should we care what “millenials” think?
“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:32, ESV)
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15, ESV)
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (Second Timothy 2:22, ESV)
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (First Timothy 4:12, ESV)
There is no question that ours is a youth-obsessed culture. All kinds of products and services, from cosmetics to plastic surgery, are available to help the middle-aged and elderly in their seemingly endless quest to look as young as humanly possible and hide any evidences of aging. Of course, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently wrong with wanting to look and feel younger, but in our contemporary setting it seems this desire to preserve the energy and appearance of youthfulness has turned into an obsessive quest for the always-elusive fountain of youth, an obsession that translates into overly-esteeming the opinions, interests, values and beliefs of the younger generations, while at the same time showing near contempt for the opinions, interests, values and beliefs of the older generations. In our current cultural climate, the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to his apprentice and son-in-the-faith Timothy to “Let no one despise you for your youth” just doesn’t register on the cultural radar screen. I am convinced that if St. Paul were around today, he would be exhorting older pastors and believers to “Let no one despise you for your age,” so obsessed with being youthful, cool, “hip” and “with it” have we as a culture and in the church become.
This obsession with youth and over-esteem for the youth culture hit me during a recent vacation for the Thanksgiving holiday. One evening while visiting a close family member I was relaxing in front of the TV. While flipping through the channels I came upon an interesting program on one of the news channels. In this program the host was interviewing in studio a group of around 20 “millenials” about their opinions and thoughts on some current social and political issues. A number of these young people were very bright and articulate, and some of them seemed to possess a wisdom beyond their years. But at a certain point in this otherwise-engaging conversation one young woman spoke up and said something along these lines (I’m paraphrasing her here): “We (i.e., “we millenials”) have a lot to offer. We’re a lot smarter than you think, and if you in the older generations would just listen to what we have to say then a lot of these social and political problems would be solved.” I’m sure this bright young woman wasn’t intending to come across as arrogant or naive, but that is precisely how her words and attitude struck me. The idea that this young person (probably a college student in her early 20s) and her peers, with their very limited life experience and the sheltered, suburbanite first-world privileges, prosperity and comforts they enjoy, somehow have the wisdom and hold the key to solving the multitude of complex ethical, social and political problems we face in this fallen, sin-cursed world, struck me as enormously naive, arrogant, and “out of touch” with the real world.
In many of our elite educational institutions today our young people have drilled into their heads by agenda-driven professors the idea that people in past generations were mostly a bunch of racist, sexist, ignorant, anti-scientific, homophobic bigots whose opinions at best should be ignored, if not outright vilified and demonized. But now that has changed. Young people today are told that, unlike the ignorant and bigoted masses of past generations, they are “awesome,” they are “hip,” they have the power to “transform” the world, they are at the pinnacle of social and moral enlightenment, having thrown off the shackles of past superstitions and prejudices and bigotry. Ignorance of the past (along with the attempts of historical revisionists to re-write history along ideological lines) only helps to foster this delusion among the younger generations that they are morally, culturally, and intellectually superior to the older generations. It is out of such delusion that this sense of superiority to their elders arises (as evidenced in this young woman’s comments); and perhaps it also helps to explain why many in the younger generations are leaving the so-called “traditional” churches (which represent to them the fossilized traditions of past generations) for either a more “contemporary” church that caters to them, or for a cafeteria-style personal spirituality which rejects anything that smacks of “organized religion.”
I want the reader to understand that I do not deny that past generations have been guilty of various sins, including the ones listed in the previous paragraph (racism, sexism, etc.). (The tragic history of the evils of the slave trade in the United States and our nation’s problems with racism are just a few examples of moral and social evils our nation has been guilty of.) We dishonor the lessons of history if we idealize the past. But at the same time, the temptation in our youth-obsessed culture today is to idealize the present, and to naively demonize the past. Yes, there were racists, bigots, sexists, etc., in the past, and I don’t intend to excuse them; but there were also many in past generations who were examples of godliness, piety, and strong character, who resisted and spoke out against the sins of their generation, and who pointed their generation to a better way. Likewise, there are similar sins in the younger generations which are often ignored, but which are easily identified by older generations and which may very well be pointed to by future generations as indictments against the current generation of “millenials.” (Examples of these sins might include the following: the wide-acceptance and prevalence of sexual immorality among the younger generation as evidenced in the “hook up” culture which prevails today on college campuses across the nation; the reverse-racism of some blacks who hate whites simply because they are white; the extreme narcissism and self-absorption of some in the younger generation, as evidenced by certain trends in social media and by a strong “entitlement” mindset; the overuse of invective, crudity and abusive communication by some in the younger – and older – generations such as one finds in the comments sections of blog sites and other websites; the ironic hatefulness of those in the pro-gay movement who slanderously label anyone and everyone who rejects “gay marriage” and favors a “traditional” biblical sexual ethic as a “hater”; etc.)
So should we care what the “millenials” think? Absolutely, yes! Many millenials are bright, articulate, and wise beyond their years. Furthermore, since the church of Jesus Christ is intended by God to be a multi-generational reality, the church should seek to take the good news of Jesus to the younger generations, and should value the millenials whom the Holy Spirit ingrafts into the Body of Christ, for “…we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5, ESV). Millenial believers are a vital part of the Body of Christ, and a church which lacks its share of millenials is an incomplete expression of the Body. Millenials have valuable gifts and graces to offer to Christ’s church, and the older generations of believers should embrace and esteem them. But at the same time, millenials need to be reminded that God’s Word contains sober words about the temptations and follies of youth and the need to show honor and respect to the elderly. If there is a generational “bias” in Scripture, it is a “bias” to the elderly. Of course, just because someone is older doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is wiser. There are plenty of old fools, just like there are plenty of young people like Paul’s young apprentice, Pastor Timothy, who are wise beyond their years. But, as a general rule, the older generations have the advantage of more life experience, and many of them have learned by hard experience the practical, applied wisdom which comes from this life experience. The wise among the millenials will recognize this reality, and will thus seek to respect, learn from, highly value and even submit to the wisdom of their elders. While we should care what the “millenials” have to say, we should care even more what the older generations (including those of past generations long dead) have to say. As Scripture says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:32, ESV)