Understanding the Generations

millThe generations before you have some strong opinions about you. Their opinions are generally incorrect, but their interpretation of what they observe has some merit. Don’t be offended. You will do the same with the generation that follows you.

Because you don’t like labels, you might not like to know that they call you “Generation Y” or “Millennials.” That label is given to those who are born between the late 1970s and the late 1990s. (The Generation X people are still debating the exact date range.) Before you are the Gen-Xr’s who were born between 1965 and late 1970s. Before them were the Baby Boomers who were born between 1946 and 1964. Those born before the Boomers are called Traditionalists or Veterans.

The Veterans know about hardship and discipline. They understand the military world and respect authority.

The Boomers know about hard work and education. They are the “workaholics.” They have lived their lives in order to get ahead in the workplace. It was this group began the personal development craze.

Generation Xr’s have watched the Boomers and are concerned about the work/life balance. They are the “latch-key” kids who have grown up to be independent and cynical.

Your group, the “Y’s,” have been able to see the Boomers and the X’rs, and you have made some conclusions about how to live life. It seems that your kind do prefer challenging work, as long as it is meaningful. You are a generation defined by the Internet; connected to everyone everywhere.

The Veterans enjoy you. The Boomers think you are dysfunctional. The Gen-X’rs think that you are annoying. Here are some other views from those older than you have about you.

Opinion #1: Millennials are lazy.

You get this tag because of the importance you place on friends, fun, leisure, and rest. This causes people to think that you don’t want to work hard, or even work at all. You also tend to mentally “check out” when work becomes boring, mundane, or un-meaningful.

The truth is that you are not lazy. Research suggests that your understanding of work ethic is on par with Boomers. The difference would lie in areas of passion and stick-to-it-ness. (I have added a chapter later in the book.)

Opinion #2: Millennials are selfish.

They call it Affluenza. Some are now arguing that it should be considered a disease. Affluzena is claimed to be a psychological disorder affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, lack of remorse, feelings of personal guilt, and a sense of isolation.

Recently, Judge Jean Boyd sentenced 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years probation for drunk driving and killing four pedestrians after his lawyers successfully argued that the teen suffered from “affluenza” and needed rehabilitation, and not prison. Couch was witnessed on surveillance video stealing beer from a store, driving with seven passengers in his father’s Ford F-350, excessive speeding, and had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit for an adult in Texas, when he was tested 3 hours after the accident. Traces of Valium were also in his system. A psychologist hired as an expert by the defense, testified in court that the teen was a product of “affluenza” and was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences due to his parents teaching him that wealth buys privilege. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affluenza)

All Millenials aren’t selfish. The extremists and oddballs of any generation, culture, or crowd, often hijack how that group will be defined. For instance, many people dislike Christians. But the majority of Christians are likeable. They are tolerant, loving, giving, and accommodating. It’s just that a few wing-nuts make the news. A church of less than 40 people, with their “God Hates Fags” slogan, draws constant media attention, while thousands of other churches continually transform the lives of the poor and brokenhearted. Most Christians aren’t like Westboro, nor are all Muslims aren’t terrorists.

The above accusation of entitlement and selfishness is a challenge you will face. It may not be a fair accusation, but it means you have to treat perception as reality. You must, for the sake of your generation and the Kingdom, destroy the allegation that you are selfish. You must be generous; more generous than Boomers and X’s. You must let go of materialism. You must serve. Jesus MUST increase; you MUST decrease.

Opinion #3: Millennials are spoiled.

There is no question that Y’rs are the most over-celebrated and over-trophied generation ever. The first time you dropped a log into the potty, you were given a new iPad and a puppy. You had a full graduation ceremony with regalia when you graduated from kindergarten, and every grade there after. Every sheet you coloured was a masterpiece worthy of worship. Your Boomer parents (aka “helicopter parents”) parents have catered to your every need and wish. They told off your boss (or professor) for you. They set your teacher straight. They helped you, a lot, and now you count on your parents help forever. Soon they may be fixing up a room for you and your spouse in their basement.

Of course, this is just a myth. Oh wait. No it’s not. You are spoiled. How are you going to process the affects of this spoiled-ness echoing into your leadership life?

Opinion #4: Millennials need instant gratification.

But this accusation, while true, may not necessarily reflect a disadvantage. In fact, you are masters of the environment created for you by the Gen-Xrs. Rapid changes do not scare you. You adapt quickly to new technology, new thought, and new situations. Things become second nature to you almost instantly.

Have you ever tried to teach your grandparents how to send an e-mail or “use the Google,” as my mother says? It takes time. It takes repeating. But not so with you, because you cannot remember not knowing how to e-mail. In fact, even email has come and gone in your few years on the planet, and you communicate through other preferred media.

The terms “fast” or “quick” mean something different to you than they did for the Boomers, and even the Gen-Xrs. You are the generation that straddles the old world and then new world. You may know what it is like, for example, to do slow research work in a library and have also experienced the quick research accomplished via the Internet. As a child, you may have seen someone coming to your door to sell your parents a set of encyclopedias. Now, you get the same information, for free, through Wikipedia. When I give talks and seminars, listeners are checking my facts in real-time with their smartphones. And they multi-task as they check Facebook news, text a classmate, and scroll through Twitter feeds.

You’ve always known your food to be instant. Banking is instant. Communication is always in real-time. News comes immediately. Information flows at 200mbps. Technology has made you accustomed to getting what you need swiftly and effortlessly. You can process information at a breath-taking rate. You can make concise statements using 140 characters or less. You have a speed of cognitive ability beyond the last generation. Your brain is physically different.

Yet, Annette Liska, an emerging-technologies expert, observed, “The idea that rapidity is a [cure-all] for improved cognitive, behavioural, and social function is in direct conflict with topical movements that believe time serves as a critical ingredient in the ability to adapt, collaborate, create, gain perspective, and many other necessary (and desirable) qualities of life. Areas focusing on ‘sustainability’ make a strong case in point: slow food, traditional gardening, hands-on mechanical and artistic pursuits, environmental politics, those who eschew Facebook in favor of rich, active social networks in the ‘real’ world.”[1]

This accusation boils down to impatience. Experts think that your upbringing, and your ability to process information quicker than previous generations, affects your ability to be patient. Thus, your attention span will be diminished in meetings, planning sessions, and other leadership obligations. You may too hastily rely on the first bit of information as the “fact.”

However, the impending attention deficit that you will inevitably face, and are facing, may actually be a tool as you master the ability to understanding and share information rapidly.

Opinion #5: Millennials are disloyal.

This is a myth. The truth is, Millienials are fiercely loyal. It’s just that loyalty is not a given, it is earned. Hierarchal systems, positions, or celebrity status do not dictate loyal allegiance. They don’t respect authority “just because.”

For Millenials they may actually be anti-loyal at times. They’ve seen the way the previous generation has behaved. They witness the current collapses in the economy, environment, and politics. Skepticism and cynicism have grown.

Millennials are rumored to be a group who are quick to move from one ministry to the next, and church leaders are having a tough time keeping them. One of the biggest issues that senior pastors have with their young workers is what appears to be their “lack of loyalty.” But Millennials are very loyal. They’re just not loyal to an organization. They’re loyal to a person. Successful relationships with their leader/mentor are the number one reason why Millennials stay in once place. They don’t want a micromanager who thinks of them as just another hireling. They want someone who inspires them, values them, and partners with them.

What does this mean for you and your leadership?

You may not agree with everything said about you above. However, whether valid or not, this is how the previous generation views you. That will be both a disadvantage for you and, at times, an advantage.

Because of all of this, I am excited that you, as a Millennial, inherently possess some natural proficiency that you bring into ministry leadership.

  1. You have a tech/software proficiency that can propel the church forward. You can communicate quickly, thorough various means. You connect seamlessly. It is exciting to think of the ways you can reach unbelievers.
  1. You are independent. This may be a bad thing, but when you’re at your best you are calm and confident. So many Millennials have been raised in single-parent homes, in daycares, or have spent so much time alone, that they have the ability to thrive and survive alone – especially if all they have with them is their smartphone.
  1. You are ambitiously experimental. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is just a dare to you. You want to try new things, and failing at them doesn’t bother you very much. When time permits youthful idealism to fall away, and the realities of life temper your enthusiasm, you will be a force of unimaginable wisdom.
  1. You understand diversity. As I imagine you reading this book, I’m picturing a young white male Bible College student. That’s my default think, and it is wrong. I must deliberately remind myself of the diversity in our world. Fortunately, you haven’t been programmed that way. That makes you a benefit to any ministry organization, especially the church. You think more like Jesus thought when He lived multicultural ministry.
  1. You have natural instincts about the “market.” Your hyper-connectedness allows you to be so aware of so much. You know what needs are “trending” and where ministry opportunities are popping up. If you leverage this, you can lead your church to ripe mission fields.
  1. You think differently. Because of this you refuse to accept a business-as-usual culture in a church. Status quo won’t cut it. You will create new methods and models for reaching lost people.

You bring you to the leadership table. You deserve to be there. Sit up straight. Square your shoulders. Be confident, not cocky. Go ahead make a contribution out of all the aspects of who you are as God seasons your personhood with His excessive grace.

BONUS TIP: How To Not Be Seen As A Total Slacker At Your First Leadership Gig

Do a quick Google search for the phrase “Millennials are…” and the autocomplete adds “lazy”. They fifth search result says, “Millennials are idiots.”

  1. Write stuff down. Even if you have a great memory, writing stuff down shows your supervisor that you are serious about being a good leader and making a contribution.
  1. Don’t forget stuff. Just don’t. Be a reliable person. Stop apologizing for forgetting to do things. Just do whatever it takes to remember things.
  1. Show up early. Allow extra travel time in case of traffic or disruptions. Never be late. Never.
  1. Be ready. Whether it’s a meeting, a service, or and work project. Have everything ready to go. (Think: chargers, office supplies, tools, handouts, previous notes, etc). Communicate to other that you highly value their time.
  1. Stop thinking about hour many hours you’ve put in. You can’t do that anymore, because much of our “working” hours are interspersed with Facebook, texting, personal banking, etc. Instead, think about the contribution you have (or have not) made. Be productive.
  1. Go the second mile, and never whine about it.
  1. Be valuable. Make sure that your boss, and your colleagues, and you church would miss you if you left. Add something to the organization – even if that means exceeding the boundaries of job descriptions and expectations.
  1. Solve problems. Don’t just identify problems. Try to present options for solutions whenever you have a problem to discuss.
  1. Grow your ministry. Everyone might be happy, and in love with you, but if you haven’t grown your group/church then you have not succeeded.
  1. Ask for performance reviews, but not every week. Once or twice a year is plenty. It is often helpful to present your supervisor with an evaluation form that they can complete and return.

[1] http://thefrailestthing.com/2012/03/14/the-internet-the-youth-of-tomorrow-highlights-from-the-pew-survey/


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