Millennials & Mission Organisations

Time_MillennialI’m a 1982 baby. Depending on what survey you’d like to agree with I sneak into the Millennial, or Gen Y, generation.

My wife and I headed to the Middle East when we were in our early twenties. Spurred on by a call to global missions we spent two years working as missionaries through a local school. Since then I’ve continued the ministry path as a Youth & Young Adults Pastor, and now working with the Australian Baptist mission agency – Global Interaction. My main tasks include walking alongside young adults and encouraging them to follow God into missions, connecting with churches and pastors, and facilitating short-term mission teams. For the last 12 years my world has involved working with youth and young adults in a variety of ways and mobilising them toward long-term mission service – here or overseas.

In the recent Evangelical Missions Quarterly journal Jim Raymo writes an article entitled “Mission & Millennials: Encouraging A Generation Toward Mission Service”. In this post I simply want to engage with it and affirm it. But also, after months of pondering and talking about this article with a few people I’d like to add my own reflections to what Raymo has said.

Engaging with Millennials is an important topic for mission agencies and churches to be thinking about. It will be the Millennial generation who will be the most active on the mission field in 10-20 years time. They will be the next team leaders, the next organisational leaders, the ones who will pass the faith onto the following generation and continue the enormous task of reaching the least-reached.

When I look at the Christian young adults I come across I see people who are wrestling with what God is calling them to. They want to serve Jesus in the best way possible, use their gifts, skills, and abilities in ways that will extend His kingdom, and bring love and compassion to those who don’t see much of it. They seek to serve God and serve others, willing to give up opportunities in the West to serve in other places and in other cultures.

In light of this mission agencies may like to consider the following points in how best to integrate young adults into the life of their organisation.

1. Communicate regularly and clearly
A large portion of the points Raymo makes are related to communication, spoken and unspoken. In fact, it may cover all his points. Leaders need to be willing to communicate the ‘why’ in everything. Whether it is the ‘why’ of the organisation or the ‘why’ of a particular task in a particular project. We like to know why we’re doing what we’re doing and whether it actually has any significance. There’s nothing worse than being given tasks that seem irrelevant. But if the relevance is explained and questions answered, that’s certainly helpful. Oh, and don’t skirt the issue, just tell us plainly what’s going on.

2. Give room for improvement and growth
Linked to communication is the aspect of improvement and growth. In each role I’ve had I have always wanted to grow in my experience and expertise. In any role I want to know if it is actually helping me in my ‘career’ or chosen vocation. If it’s not helping or is looking like a dead end I get nervous. I want to improve and better myself, organisations need to show how this can occur.

3. Show and tell high expectations
Everyone has expectations and we, as a Millennial generation, have high expectations. We want the best out of ourselves and the best out of everybody else. If people aren’t pulling their weight then we quickly become frustrated and annoyed with them and the system. It’s like the group assignments at uni, nothing worse than a person who doesn’t put in and gets good marks off the back of everyone else. The leaders we work for need to show they have high expectations for themselves too. Give us a task and tell us you want to achieve a high level of success, tell us your benchmark of what success looks like. We’ll try our damn hardest to get there if we reckon it’s a goer.

4. Be open to new ideas
The phrase “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is the worst possible phrase to come out of any leader’s mouth. Don’t say it. Don’t even think of saying it. If you do, you’ll lose us. Our ideas aren’t meant to be radical or cutting edge. They’re not meant to be upsetting for people who are not used to them either. Our ideas are simply that, ideas. But somewhere along the line you’ll need to give us the freedom to work with them and do them. Let us do that and you might be amazed at how things turn out.

5. Respect
If you’re not communicating, not giving us room to grow, not setting high expectations, and not open to new ideas then you’re telling us you’ve got no respect. Respect is earned, but it is also there initially when you take us on or when you have that first conversation with us. Respect us for who we are and what we can do and help us grow as people.

6. Have a big vision of God and the work
Of all organisations, mission agencies should be the ones who are leading and equipping people to serve God. God who rules the world and continues to play an active role within it. God who is spoken of with such high and lofty language in Scripture that we should be able to see that vision of God a mile off. Like generations of the past, we hunger after more of God and seek to be part of what He is doing. So tell me why your organisation is one I should be involved with and what kind of vision of God you have in the work you do.

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