What words come to mind when you think about your generation? How would you describe your friends? What are the strengths, weaknesses, and trends usually associated with your age group?
When I think about my generation – often labeled the Millennials – words like capable, connected, confident, optimistic, diverse and self-expressive immediately come to mind.
At the same time, words like searching, waiting, relativistic, unsettled, self-focused, entitled and confused quickly arise.
Several books that examine the lives of young adults, including Christian Smith’s Souls in Transition and Robert Wuthnow’s After the Baby Boomers, as well as Pew Research’s Millennial Study, indicate that all of these interesting descriptions do indeed apply to the sundry twenty-somethings.
Still, there’s one more fact amongst the schmorgesborg of Millennial trends that matters to me the most. Pew Research concluded that my generation is the least religious of any age group that’s been studied. The organization found that less than half of twenty-somethings say religion is very important in their lives. Meanwhile, three out of four twenty-somethings believe there’s more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their faith. These stats illustrate the religious apathy and pluralism that often characterize Millennials’ lives.
Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith further corroborates these trends, writing that most young adults are indifferent about religion. Smith explains that faith is basically irrelevant to the everyday lives of young believers and non-believers alike. As a result, Millennials’ religious beliefs rarely impact their actions, commitments, values, or priorities.
Smith also writes that most young adults reject the idea of absolute truth. As a result, they think everything is relative. Right and wrong are based on nothing more than personal opinion. Each individual, rather than God, is the absolute authority over his or her own beliefs and actions; religion is a subjective, personal choice; and nobody can tell anybody else what’s right or wrong.
Wow, these trends translate into big challenges facing Christians today!
- The current cultural situation, where religious beliefs rarely impact actions, is the perfect breeding ground for apathy and complacency in the Church. The Challenge: encouraging Christians to live out their faith, rather than living the lie that faith isn’t a priority meant to shape decisions, actions, and commitments.
- In our society, which upholds individuals as the highest authority and personal happiness as the highest goal, even Christians are susceptible to subconsciously living according to the world’s standards. The Challenge: encouraging Christians to pursue Christ, rather than striving for advancement, ease, comfort or personal desires.
- As society twists “truth” into nothing more than a subjective, personally-defined hunch, it’s no wonder that Christians have begun to uphold their emotions and personal experiences with Christ as the ultimate spiritual authority, to the detriment of spiritual disciplines and knowledge of the Word. The Challenge: encouraging Christians to study Scripture and to think critically about the application of biblical truth, rather than buying into the lie that religion and truth are based on subjective, personal feelings.
- Society’s deification of tolerance makes it extremely difficult for believers to tell others that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life. The Challenge: encouraging Christians to confidently share the Gospel and proclaim Truth, rather than buying the lie that religion is fine so long as everyone keeps it to himself and doesn’t tell anyone what to believe.
Kenneth Myers aptly describes the situation facing Millennials: “Every generation of Christians faces unique challenges… The challenge of living with popular culture may well be as serious for modern Christians as persecution and plagues were for the saints of earlier centuries.”
While the trends might be discouraging, there’s still good news. As I was thinking about the challenges facing young believers today, I actually got excited. You see, those cultural obstacles we face might be the very opportunities we need to go big or go home for God’s glory!
Winston Churchill once said, “Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” Embracing his powerful perspective, more cultural difficulties mean more opportunities for Christ to win in and through our lives!
Martin Luther King, Jr. painted another applicable picture when he said, “Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars.” Maybe the difficulties facing our generation are inspiring opportunities for us to more distinctly shine before a world in need of Light.
Besides, times have been challenging for God’s followers before, and He’s faithfully raised up men and women who were willing to count the cost and live counter-culturally for His Kingdom.
Case in point: one of my favorite men in the Bible, Phinehas. Numbers 25 tells the whole story of Phinehas, an Israelite priest, but I’ll summarize the details. During Phinehas’s day, the problematic societal trend in Israel was that Israelite men were engaging in lewd sexual acts with foreign women and then worshiping the women’s idols. Since both of these acts violated God’s commands, He told the Israelites to kill those individuals who engaged in idol worship. He also sent a plague on the nation.
Just as the people of Israel began to beseech God’s forgiveness for the sins of their nation, an Israelite man interrupted the prayer meeting, parading his sexual partner right past the praying people and into his tent. When Phinehas saw this act of such blatant disrespect for God’s commands, for God’s very character, he was so upset that he grabbed a spear, entered the tent, and killed the man and his partner with one thrust of the spear. His courageous act stopped the plague against Israel.
While such an action might appear extreme, and the point of the story isn’t that we should kill or even tear down those in our society who disobey God, in that cultural context, Phinehas’s action illustrated the depth of his devotion to the Lord, obedience to God’s commands, and willingness to act on his convictions. It also serves as an encouraging reminder to us that one person’s decision to stand for God’s truth can positively impact an entire generation, even an entire nation.
In fact, Numbers 25:10-12 actually says, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him.’”
Wow, that powerful statement gives me goose bumps! Can you imagine the God of the universe telling you that He knows you are just as passionate about His glory as He is? That He knows you desire Him to be honored in your nation as much as He desires to be honored? That He knows you long to love and obey Him above all other things, so much so that you are willing to break the trends of your society and radically follow Him?
Can you picture standing for God’s truth so firmly that the Lord actually chooses to bless your entire nation because of your actions? Well, that’s exactly what happened in Israel: people were saved from death because Phinehas decided to live passionately for God’s honor and glory in the society God had placed him. And that’s exactly why Phinehas is one of my favorite Bible characters.
While we might not be – and hopefully aren’t – called to spear anyone for God’s glory, we are called to passionately uphold His honor in this generation. That means we’re called to represent Him well to an unbelieving world. Our “spear” might be the deliberate choice to live with integrity, to pursue purity, to exhibit humility, to love God passionately, to love others selflessly, to serve others willingly, to read God’s Word earnestly, to obey Him diligently, to prioritize Him constantly, to speak winsomely, to embrace life joyously, to give generously, to seek truth scrupulously, to share the gospel unashamedly, to bear fruit increasingly, to seek His will fervently, and to surrender our desires daily. The cumulative effect of such small decisions is all it takes to break the trends of religious apathy, self-focus, and pluralism that characterize our society.
With that said, I have to ask, where are the Phinehas’s of this generation who will steadfastly stand for God’s truth amidst a world living for lies? Where are the Millennial men and women who will passionately advance God’s glory on this earth?
While the cultural trends might be challenging, let’s embrace the opportunity before us to shine in the darkness for Jesus Christ!
There’s a stirring in my heart, Unexplainable There’s a calling on my days, Undeniable And there’s a fire in my bones, Uncontainable And it’s causing me to burn It’s causing me to burn for you
I’ll go anywhere I’ll do anything At any cost for you My King
There’s a passion in my heart, For the world to see Revival fires burn, A great awakening And there’s a raging fire inside, That’s so high And it’s causing me to burn It’s causing me to burn for you
I’ll go anywhere I’ll do anything At any cost for you My King
~ Steve Fee