Erich Bridges: Let's stop bashing Millennials & start building them up

Remember the "Greatest Generation" that won World War II and turned America into a global powerhouse? Well, their spoiled grandchildren are the "Lousiest Generation," says Johnny Oleksinski, a 26-year-old New York Post reporter.

"Like a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I must admit that I'm powerless to [change] my biological age," Oleksinski lamented in a recent column. "Nonetheless, I fight back every day against the traits that have come to define Gen Y: entitlement, dependency, nonstop complaining, laziness, Kardashians."

They're more interested in snapping selfies than developing actual selves. They invent elaborate personalities on social media but can't hold an actual face-to-face conversation. They have no loyalty to anything that doesn't build their own personal "brand."

After rehashing all the stereotypes about Millennials (at least the upscale Millennials he encounters in trendy Brooklyn neighborhoods), Oleksinski tells today's 20-somethings: Stop blaming everybody else for your own lack of accomplishment. Stop waiting around for something big to happen. Get a life and start living it.

Every time I read one of these anti-Millennial screeds, I'm tempted to join in the jeering. I'm a Baby Boomer, after all, so it's my duty to complain about these young upstarts who dare to out-"me" the original Me Generation.

Problem is, the stereotypes don't fit many of the Millennials I know.

Consider the Sunday School class I co-teach for young adults (ages 18-25). We average eight to 10 people a week. On two recent Sundays, only one or two showed up. Were the others chilling at the beach or out playing Pokemon Go? Hardly.

Three of our young women were in South Asia, making friends and sharing the love of Christ with Hindus, Muslims and anyone else they met in one of the world's great megacities. Two of our young men were in Uganda, boating to isolated islands on Lake Victoria to deliver the Gospel to fishermen and their families. So I'll gladly give them a pass for missing Sunday School.

Another member of our class has contended with a major disability since birth. Yet she is one of the strongest followers of Christ I know. She finished college last year and has begun writing a book to encourage others who struggle with disabilities and various challenges. Her main message: Trust God and never give up.

Still another class member just began graduate study in social work. She wants to use her training to serve others—especially the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized.

A young woman from our church joined a mission group straight out of high school. She's already spent time in the Middle East helping Syrian refugees. More recently, she led a 10-person team to Israel and the West Bank to build relationships with Jews and Palestinians. Half of the people on her team were older than she is.

I could go on. True, the Millennials in our church are much too tiny a demographic sample to be representative of their generation. True, many Millennials have dropped out of churches or never become a part of one in the first place. And I've encountered plenty of Millennials who seem aimless or content to fritter away their lives on pointless pursuits. But I've met hundreds of other 20-somethings around the country who are just as committed, just as inspiring, just as determined to serve God and others as the young adults in my church. And they represent millions more.

Oleksinski and others who push the media stereotypes of Millennials may not be aware of this cohort of young Christ-followers. But they are there—and we should celebrate them. They need our encouragement, our mentoring and our prayers. Too often, we allow the world to frame how we view the people who live right next to us, even our younger brothers and sisters in the faith.

Let's stop bashing Millennials and start building them up.

Erich Bridges, a writer based in Richmond, Va., has covered international missions and trends for more than 30 years.

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