The Internet lit up recently with outrage when a 20-something woman complained about how hard it was to live in San Francisco, because her job didn't pay her enough. The post, directed toward the woman's employer, Yelp, caused many to point out that millennials are, as a generation, lazy, self-obsessed and entitled.
The controversy caught my attention because I tend to hear similar things within the church directed toward millennial Christians. I don't feel qualified to speak to the general group psychology of the entire generation of millennials, but I have spent most of my time for the past decade or so around millennial Christians, and I think the nasty caricatures of them are just not true.
Within the secular culture, the Chicago Tribune's Rex Huppke has called for a halt to "millennial bashing." He rightly notes that every generation in recorded human history sees the next as spoiled, lazy and selfish. I agree. And every generation in church history tends to see the next as carnal, unorthodox, unevangelistic and uncommitted. But it's just not so.
I know my impressions here are anecdotal, but so are the stereotypes on the other side. Are there lazy, entitled, narcissistic Christian millennials? Of course there are. But I see no evidence that there are any more of them than there are lazy, entitled, narcissistic Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers or any other age cohort. In many ways, I see just the opposite.
Most of the millennial-age Gospel Christians I know are far more theologically rooted than their parents' generation. Most of them are far more committed to reaching outside of Christian subcultures to share the Gospel with people not like them. Would some of them rather discuss theology than evangelize? Yes, just as many in the last generation would rather discuss evangelism than evangelize.
On the whole, though, I find the millennial generation's grasp of Gospel Christianity far better than what we've seen in a long time. They tend to be better at articulating a Christian vision of life, because they've had to do so all their lives, never able to count on a pseudo-Christian culture to do pre-evangelism for them.
One of the gripes I often hear is that millennials tend to avoid taking counsel from their elders. This is seen as evidence of their self-obsession. I have seen some millennials chafe when the only interaction they have from past generations is criticism of how they're doing everything wrong. But I hardly see millennials eschewing guidance from those older. As a matter of fact, I see them begging for such guidance.
When I taught preaching class at Southern Seminary I would go around the room the first day of class and ask students to tell me what preacher had had the most influence on their own preaching. I was stunned when not one of these students mentioned someone he had actually known, choosing instead famous preachers they had heard on podcasts. I chalked this up to the next generation's consumerism and individualism and celebrity focus. I was wrong.
When I talked to the students, I found that their reliance on these faraway voices was not because they had rejected flesh-and-blood mentoring but because they'd never found it, and didn't know how to. As a matter of fact, the No. 1 question I get from millennial Christians is how they can find mentors. We cannot refuse to put the hard work in of mentoring younger men and women, and then lambaste them because we don't like the way they carry out their ministries. That's not only counterproductive; it's also, well, lazy, entitled and self-obsessed.
Is it a temptation for every generation to ignore the wisdom of the past, as Rehoboam did (1 Kings 12:8)? Certainly. But it's also a perpetual temptation for older generations to react to the younger with envy, seeing in them a sign of coming irrelevance and mortality. It is much easier, like Saul, to throw spears at the next generation than it is, like Paul, to pour one's life into the next generation.
Let's stop the millennial bashing, in public and in private. Let's thank God that he has given us a vibrant, Gospel-focused, Christ-following next generation. We can have lots of differing opinions on the finer details of eschatology, but, when it comes to the more immediate future, we should all be pro-millennial.
Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. This column first appeared on Moore's blog at www.russellmoore.com.