This is part three in a series about the characteristics and values of many in the Millennial generation. This series looks at how we can reach the Millennial generation with the gospel and how the Millennials are likely to reach us, teaching us how to become better Disciples in the process.
It might seem strange to suggest that skepticism could be a positive quality in the discipleship process considering Hebrews 11:6 which says, “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” I understand what this verse is saying, and I believe it’s true, however, I can also see how a healthy level of skepticism can be an important quality in developing a strong, authentic faith in Jesus. In the words of one of my Millennial friends, “people my age don’t put up with BS, our BS detectors are set on kill.” From my experience, that’s largely true, and from my reading of the gospels, this is a quality most millennials share with Jesus. Explore with me:
When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites…they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.” Matthew 6:16-18
When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Matthew 6:5
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done…You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones…you also outwardly appear righteous…but within you are full of hypocrisy. Matthew 23:23-28
Let what you say simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. Matthew 5:37
Most of us know that Jesus reserved his harshest for the Pharisees, and most of us also understand that the Pharisees were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. But when we take an honest look at the things Jesus was saying, we must admit that the Pharisees of Jesus day have a lot more in common with the pastors and deacons; with the Conservative Christian activists, and the old super-moral Church lady than we’d like to admit. These are the people whom Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for. Why? Because they were hypocrites. Jesus had time for sinners, He had time for tax collectors and prostitutes, but he had no time for hypocrites. He didn’t have the time or energy for people who claim to believe, but whose lives tell a different story. Millennials don’t have time for this either.
In Jesus’ day, there was a problem with Cultural Judaism. Everybody in Israel was a Jew, it was more than a religion it was the defining mark of the culture, so you had to appear Jewish or at least appear to be Jewish. You had to mentally ascent to Judaism, which meant that there were a lot of self-identified Jews who had never even thought about the tenants of Judaism. They just automatically accepted them, because that’s what you did in that culture. We have a lot of people in our culture today who have mentally accented to Christianity. They have prayed the prayer, they go to Church, they participate, they like the right things on Facebook, but they’ve never actually sat down and truly considered the tenants of the faith they profess. And more importantly, they’ve never asked the $64,000 question; how then shall we live? What does my faith ask of me? What does it really mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Instead, their lives are made up of automatic Christianized cultural reflexes.
This is the problem with Millennials. Most Millennials don’t have Christianized cultural reflexes. They don’t go to Church because they’re supposed to. They don’t mentally ascent to a set of religious beliefs just to make a parent or grandparent happy. They think critically about the world around them, and they don’t have the time and energy to waste on things that aren’t real. This is also why their generation has much to teach us about Discipleship. Jesus had no time for automatic Christianized cultural reflexes, he was looking for authentic disciples. Authentic faith does not come without honest critical consideration of and wrestling with the tenants of that faith.
It could be argued that skepticism has led millions of Millennials away from the Church, and it can’t be denied that this generation is walking away from the Church faster than we can count. But before we blame their natural skepticism, we must ask ourselves a few questions. When was the last time I was willing to engage their skepticism? When was the last time I had an honest and open conversation, free from judgment or condemnation? Have I even wrestled with these objections in my own mind? Or am I drowning them out, so I don’t have to deal with them?
When we look at it this way, are most Millennials leaving because they have become convinced that God is not real, or are they leaving because they look at us and get the impression that we might not think that God is real? When they look at us do they see people who have just checked their brains at the door, so we can keep going through the motions unhindered by the difficult passages in Scripture and the teachings that are difficult to wrap our heads around. Do they neglect to seriously consider the worldview set forth by Christianity, because they think we’ve not seriously considered it? Are they going elsewhere with their questions, because they think we’re not willing to put the work into answering them? There are some sweeping generalization in these paragraphs, and to some extent, they’re probably a bit unfair, but these generalizations are out there, and we must engage them where they’re at. We’re going to have to be aware of these things as we try to engage the younger generations, we’re going to have to understand the skepticism that is causing them to leave in droves. But we also must understand that, for those who are able to wade through this skepticism and find authentic faith in Christ, it is going to be a faith that the gates of hell itself, will not be able to shake. Not in spite of this natural skepticism, but because of it.