This week, I’ve written several blog posts that revolves around what it means to Disciple Millennials. This conversation is so important for the tribe of Jesus followers because everyone of us is called to not only “be disciples” but to “make disciples” – yeah, by everyone I mean everyone. Read Matthew 28:18-20 if you don’t believe me.
So this week I recounted much of what I’ve learned and continue to learn. I put more of my learning in my new book Protege: A Missio Playbook, but for now, here’s a quick recap from the week:
We must approach the conversation around calling in a different way. There are cultural dynamics and then just the human dynamics that hinder us from discovering our calling and purpose. Everyone of us needs a vision for our lives. As guides, we don’t have to have all the answers. In fact, it’s better to ask questions and in a sense equip other people with the right questions to ask.
One last thing. This isn’t only true with millennials, but it certainly IS TRUE about them too. This life is ultimately about Jesus. No really, it is. And we’re all on a journey where deep down, we long to find, know and experience God. We may live out of touch with that. We may not be open to that. We may not even really believe that. But I believe it’s true. And I believe that all the other options we pursue to make us happy, or to find fulfillment, none of it will ultimately satisfy. I have forgotten or ignored this reality WAY TOO MUCH in my life. That’s a confession, in case you’re wondering. But this is our most important task as disciple-makers – to point and keep pointing people to Jesus. Not for a one-time transaction, but he is everything. He can be our everything. And until we embrace that he is everything, we will have nothing.
Millennials, like the rest of us, can often look back on our lives and recognize the moments when our gifts started to emerge. These reflections can point each of us towards discovery of our calling, an essential part of discipleship. I remember the day when I came home from college and told my mom that I was starting to sense a “call to vocational ministry” because I wanted to help others find God and experience all that He offers. She started crying. Why? Because, as she recounted to me for the first time that day, she remembered the day when I was five years old when God spoke to her. I came home from church, grabbed a cardboard box, flipped it upside down, and started “preaching.” She told me that God told her in that moment that one day, I would be a pastor. And she had NEVER told me any of this. And there we were, having a meaningful moment. For me, I felt it. That was one of the moments of confirmation that helped me work through the fear I had in pursuing this ‘career.’ But also, my mom began to share how she saw what she deemed “gifts that pastors have” along the way in my life. These were clues to my calling and now this was coming full circle for me.
Now, before I go any further, to have a “calling” has nothing to do whether you’re going to “go into vocational ministry” or not. To have a calling is for every follower of Jesus Christ. Throughout Scripture, God indicates over and over that He places high value on calling. Moses met God through a burning bush, Esther through a crisis, Ruth through providential circumstances of one person meeting another, Samuel through a voice in the night, Paul on the side of the road, and the Apostle John through visions in a far away cave. It may be quite different how God speaks to us, or calls us, but to be sure, discovering calling is an important part of following Jesus. That brings me back to discipleship among millennials. There’s something quite different we must embrace, and help them embrace about calling or purpose.
Far too few leaders understand their purpose or calling in life. Many wander through life without a sense of where God is guiding them. In one study, only 3% said that “purpose” was their defining leadership quality. And when millennials were asked the same question (35 and under adults), the statistic fell to 1%. About 1/3 of Christians feel “called” to the work they do. And research tells us that younger Christ-followers are less likely to have even considered the idea of calling when it comes to their current role. There are a plethora of reasons for this that we don’t have ample space to cover here. That said, let’s ponder a couple things when it comes to the intersection of calling, millennials and discipleship.
At a base level, calling is not about a title, position or specific career. Rather, it’s about having a vision and purpose for your life that spans all the different seasons of one’s vocation. That means that one element of “discipling” millennials well involves helping them ask questions like these (to find their calling):
- Over the course of your life, even back to as early as 5 years old, what things have energized you and what things have drained you? (I often use the Strengths Finder Assessment to stimulate a starting point to this conversation)
- What keeps you up late at night? Or, what do you get early in the morning enthusiastic to do? What drives you? When are you motivated most?
- What do you do well quite naturally? What are you good at? What you LOVE doing? (help them pursue that)
- What or who do you care about? What are you consistently discontent about in the world around you?
- In quiet, open moments, what do you sense God saying to you? If nothing, help them pay more attention to THAT VOICE.
Questions like these can be asked to millennials. My experience shows me they haven’t given deep thought to these things more often than not. This isn’t about giving them “the answers”, but again is about guiding them to ask these kinds of questions. You can offer a frame for them, a lens through which they can move differently into their future. You’re not “telling them what to do” so much as you’re “guiding them in what questions are important to ask in their life.” People are usually open to these type of conversations.
Other obstacles that millennials face when it comes to calling involves the way that jumping from job to job over shorter periods of time than previous generations. This can confuse them, but I don’t think it should. In the past, people worked 30 years at one place. That’s so uncommon today that millennials don’t even really consider that or what that would be important. I’m not saying it isn’t, and those who choose this path are admirable in many cases. But I am saying that this is the reality of the world we live. So when it comes to making disciples of millennials, help them grow in self-awareness so that they can take their self-discoveries in and out of any job they choose. Finding ones talent and personality largely doesn’t people what to do, as if it’s a prescription. Instead, it’s a description, telling people how they will go about or ought to go about doing what they do. Talent and personality are more descriptive than prescriptive. And that very idea for millennials can free them to engage the conversation about calling, purpose and passion at a deeper level. Go on this journey with people. You can be incredibly instrumental with them “figuring things out.” And the primary application to do this for us who are “making disciples” is again through asking the right kinds of questions.
I served on staff at Mosaic for almost eight years in Los Angeles, and our Lead Pastor Erwin McManus had a profound impact on my life. Along the way, he selected a dozen of us to begin “the round table” which in essence were leadership discussions that he facilitated to help that group of us develop. It was a communal growth experience to be sure.
While I was at Mosaic, I also started a 2-year leadership development program the we called Protege. We had many different versions of our own “round table” discussions. The Protege Program was an experience crafted for young, emerging ministry leaders (i.e. millennials). Most of the proteges were compelled to do this program to “learn from Mosaic,” and that they did. In fact, the way we “did church” and “thought about church” and the way we “did mission” and “thought about mission” were revolutionary ideas that shaped all of us. Erwin was (and still is) a very innovative and effective leader. And his impact on those proteges was in a variety of ways, deeply impactful. (You can buy the book here that embeds the DNA of the Protege Program)
But along the way, what surprised me more than anything about the process of development that happened among these proteges was how deeply impacted they were by each other, not just Erwin or “Mosaic.” The “content” was impactful but at least as significant was the collaboration and community that they got to engage the content with. Our times together (every year we selected a new group of 10 to 12 proteges, and that sent them on a 2-year journey together that for almost all of them) were truly life-changing (I’m a little hesitant to use this word “life-changing” because the skeptics wonder if that’s overstated…well in this case at least, I’m telling you, “It’s Not!”). Why were they life-changing? Because these young women and men had the space to dialogue about some of the most important things in their lives: mission, purpose, destiny, character, walking with God, relationships, and all things “Kingdom-related.” There are so many memories of someone sharing something, and then another “pushes back” or “disagrees” (respectfully of course). It was stimulating conversation. Riveting at times actually. And as the “leader” of these protege groups, I found myself learning perhaps as much or even more than they did. (I wrapped much of what I learned from the Protege Program into this Protege Playbook)
I could recount so many examples here, but basically here’s what I really learned about millennials. Their learning experience dramatically improves when there is a well-facilitated and community-orientated environment to dialogue, disagree, and collaborate in. Millennials want the space to share and work out their opinions, their theology, their ideas about life and relationships. This is where the “magic” of the Protege Program happened. It was in the context of healthy community and friendships. But here’s the thing: by community and friendships I don’t just mean you gather together, although that’s a good starting point. There must be intention. Provocative, thoughtful, and relevant questions must be asked. Someone must navigate the unique dynamics. Sometimes there’s conflict and tension. You must learn how to know what to do. Some want to gloss over the conflict or pretend the tension isn’t there. Not good. Some don’t want conflict between two people happened and get worked out in a group setting. I would argue that this is what’s best sometimes. And sometimes, there’s someone in the group that has a deeply negative effect. After repeated attempts at coaching others how to be in these kinds of environments, there were actually some proteges who had to be asked to be removed from the program. I know, that sounds brutal perhaps. But I was committed to facilitating the most optimal environment for learning and growth.
To this day, I’m more convinced than ever that people transform, or “morph” in communal contexts way more than they do in isolated contexts or where monologue alone exists. Millennials want dialogue, which means too much lecture and classroom environments isn’t the best learning process for MANY of them. We ought to ponder more deeply how we “train” and “equip” young millennial leaders. For years now I’ve been giving thought to this and also reflecting on my own experiences. I wrote a book recently called Communal Morphing that recounts many of the ideas that we’ve executed on to create these kind of development environments. You can check it out here via this Leadership Network App called Leadia.
In yesterday’s blog post, I posted about entering the “self-directed learning world” of millennials. We can become a guide who strives to ask the right questions so that we stir up their longings and are able to redirect their learning by getting them in touch with their pain. This is the journey that will lead them to opening themselves more fully to God.
Today, let’s go to a letter from the Scriptures and pay attention to the Apostle Paul’s approach to his protege Timothy. There are several insights here that relate to our current context of discipleship. First, the short backstory.
Paul and Timothy initially met in Lystra (a city in Turkey) during Paul’s first missionary journey (around 47-48 AD, see Acts 16:1-5). Timothy had a Greek, non-believing father, but he heard of the coming Messiah from the teaching of his godly Jewish mother and grandmother. When Paul came to Lystra with the message of the Gospel, Timothy listened intently, and in time, submitted to and devoted his life to Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 4:17). We live in a day when millennials grow up experience different perspectives when it comes to spirituality, and everything really. Timothy’s parents had very different vantage points and he was left wondering who to listen to. Here’s the thing, although there’s much to say about the complexity of a pluralistic, multi-cultural, everyone-has-an-opinion society, I must drive us to this: that no matter what our background, no matter what our family history, no matter what our life experiences have been, God’s working to use all of it to OPEN US TO GOD. To be sure Timothy had influences in his life like we all do. Some good. Some not. But there was that moment where “Timothy listened intently, and in time, submitted to and devoted his life to Jesus Christ.” It was a moment of profound openness to God.
All of us go through different seasons of life when we’re more open to God and other seasons when we are not. We also go through different levels of openness. There’s that initial openness to God where the Gospel invades our lives and we welcome it with an abundance of gratitude, joy, and devotion. But that’s not where the Gospel stops. God’s intent for the Gospel is to permeate every dimension of our lives.
In this conversation about openness, I’ve become more convinced then ever that we cannot force growth. We can be instruments of growth to be sure, but the reality is, for someone to grow they have to WANT to grow. And, they have to be OPEN to growing. When we consider the swirl of things happening in the soul of millennials, another application is to pay attention to people’s level of openness. It comes and goes. There are windows of opportunity that we can seize. But too often, we let those moments pass. I’m as guilty as anyone.
In order to be ready for those windows of opportunity, here’s the pre-requisite: we must live connected relationally to those we want to impact the most. Does this limit our impact? Well in some ways yes because we only have so much relational energy and time. But I always remind myself of Andy Stanley’s phrase, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.” Discipleship, especially in our social media crazed, busy world, must be relationally-based. Real human contact is necessary. And although it may appear sometimes that millennials are fine with less of that human contact, it’s not true. If anything, they need it more. They aren’t always in touch with that need, but we’ve all been hardwired for relationship that involves human contact. Move towards millennials relationally. Push through the resistance. They need us to. We need each other. And it’s in this context that you can begin to look for openness to God, to the Gospel, and to the soulful desire to experience what only God can offer.
After this moment where Timothy encountered the Gospel by listening intently to Paul, for the next 15 years, Paul and Timothy spent time doing ministry together and living life together. That’s where this mentor/protégé relationship was established. That’s where authentic discipleship happened. Along the way, Paul shaped Timothy’s life in so many significant ways. We have two of his letters written to Timothy in the Scriptures (1 and 2 Timothy), where we discover the essence of what Paul sought to impart to one of his many protégés. In the Protege Playbook, I recount more than a dozen different ways that Paul “discipled” Timothy. And for the next couple of blog posts this week, I’ll delve into a few of those. I encourage to read 1 and 2 Timothy for yourself, paying attention to what values Paul was trying to pass on to Timothy.