A couple of years ago I was invited to moderate a panel discussion at the Church Involvement Conference in Athens, Tennessee. The panel related to Millennials and the practice of faith, or reaching them and keeping them. The primary message that stood out with universal agreement from the panelists is that Millennials (and younger generations) desire to be challenged and not coddled. The younger generations appear to have more in common with the Greatest Generation than the Generation Xers (my generation) and the Boomers. Yet, it is these last two generations that are in leadership in most churches, thus, the apparent disconnect.
Millennials and their younger counterparts, it seems, take Jesus admonition to “take up your cross daily” pretty seriously (Luke 9:23). They aren’t pushing to jettison all traditions or make wholesale changes to worship practices, but they do deeply desire a more profound and sincere approach to following Jesus. They take the Greatest Commands (Matthew 22:34-40) to heart, they want to see sincerity and genuineness, and they seek real community. That all sounds really good to me!
This all got me thinking back to a phrase I have heard throughout my life that I saw illustrated first-hand: “raising the bar”. What exactly does that mean, and what does it have to do with the Bible, church leadership, and reaching and keeping the younger generations for Christ?
My daughter worked with a pole vault coach while she was in high school who won an Olympic Gold Medal in the sport. His name is Tim Mack, and he won in the games in Athens, Greece. He was in his 30s when he won, and he had failed to make the team twice before. What he discovered and what I saw play out in his coaching sessions is this, you have to literally raise the bar higher if you ever expect to go higher. In my daughter’s case and in the case of her fellow athletes, he would raise the bar sometimes when they weren’t even hitting the current height he thought they could reach, and they would go much higher. What he relayed to me is that athletes will usually only try to hit the height of the bar where it is placed and not go much higher, in so doing, they will often fail to even hit the lower mark. Interesting, isn’t it?
The Hebrew writer, in Hebrews 12, upped the ante in his challenge and encouragement to his readers to stay true to Jesus and keep the faith. He moved on from Moses and the other heroes of the Faith and went to Jesus instead. He held Jesus up as the example of perseverance and success and suggested that they hadn’t even “resisted to the point of shedding blood” (Hebrews 12:1-4). Talk about raising the bar!
So, maybe we have failed the younger generations by not expecting enough from them when it comes to discipleship. Perhaps we have tried to fashion things like we think they would like for them to be, or just force them into a model of ministry that we like better, instead of truly embracing the truths of Scripture to deny our self and take up our cross.
I would encourage you, as an individual, to raise the level of expectation you have for yourself in following Jesus. I would encourage church leaders to raise the level of expectation and paint a genuine picture of discipleship in your churches. I would encourage Millennials and younger generations to help us see what we are missing that would do more to raise the bar of expectations for all of us.
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12)
Timothy Gunnells, DMin.
Associate Professor of Bible, Leadership, and Ministry at Amridge University
I had the privilege to work with Tim when he was our full-time pulpit minister here in Athens. Tim and his wife Kristin currently lead our youth group. He and family are a great blessing to the church here. Tim travels all over the country assisting churches in the area of leadership. He is especially interested in helping church plants in this area.