“No-one in the new Irish churches cares about mission!” exclaimed a mission agency representative from one organisation.
“Every year we arrange incredible evenings of interactive mission experience, with an incredible speaker from round the world and good worship, and every year we face an empty room on the night. God, awake our nation for mission! Why does no-one care like we do?“
You see, that evening I was in two places at the same time. I was on the inside of that circle, feeling frustrated that I’d ‘wasted’ another evening at a random meeting with very few people at it. I was a mission agency representative.
I would say I’m passionate about mission.
I’ve been on short-term mission teams from the age of 15.
I’ve used my holidays intentionally to explore mission.
I’ve trained teams of mission-minded students.
I’ve read several hundred books/papers on mission.
I’ve supported my church leaders seeking to shape the whole church around God’s mission.
I’ve failed endless times at living missionally in my day to day life.
I’ve lectured on mission.
But I was also on the outside of that circle that evening. Because? Because I am a millennial. Standing as the youngest mission agency representative in the circle by a long way, I felt completely baffled to why anyone was frustrated at all! Wasn’t it obvious why the evening had failed (humanly speaking)?
“You work with students, Peter! They have all the free time in the world. Why aren’t they here? Perhaps that’s why tonight failed! Where are they?!“
But much as there weren’t many students there (or anyone, for that matter), I had suspicions that the very reason I wasn’t frustrated, may be the reason that they weren’t there too. For we were all (at the time) millennials.
Now, before I get myself into trouble for stereotyping, over-generalising and repeating some unhelpful, vicious attacks on a proportion of our society known as “millennials” (those born between 1980 and 1999), let me caveat this and say that there are obvious nuances of culture, background and much else to be had. I’ll let you apply common sense to what I say. And nope, I haven’t done much research on millennials…I just speak from experience.
But there are some mission gatherings I will not go to.
It’s not because they’re not good gatherings.
It’s not because I think I already know everything (though sadly I often act that way).
It’s not even that I don’t have time (though we all love to repeat that mantra).
Here, I suggest 3 real reasons why millennials like me, don’t go to such gatherings:
- Being passionate about mission, means being embedded in community
- Being passionate for mission does not equate to being passionate for your organisation
- Being passionate about mission, means asking the right questions
- Being passionate about mission, means being embedded in community.
I choose to be involved with a number of communities in life. Church community, my sports community, a local travel community and my friendship group. There are some communities I also have no choice about, like family, though for the average millennial in my life, duty-bound ties will never trump chosen ties (though I trust family can be both of these).
Between my sports community and my church community, they have meetings 4 nights a week which I go to, and so when another meeting is scheduled (even in these communities!), I normally am reluctant to go to it, given that life is more than being in meetings. It must grab me enough, that I am persuaded it will impact my life. And that’s me as a single person with more free time than others who have family. I’ve written elsewhere about the trouble of always travelling to [Christian] meetings.
And so random meetings which I don’t see what the ‘Unique Selling Point’ is (or in Simon Sinek’s terms the “why“), will not get me out of my house, particularly if they’re at an unfamiliar venue, with people I don’t know. I may be passionate about mission, but still not attend your mission event. And I see nothing wrong with that.
2. Being passionate for mission does not equate to being passionate for your organisation
You can debate all the reasons you want, and debate whether its a good thing or a bad thing too, but the younger generation like me don’t live by loyalty to organisations. Organisations are often perceived to be hierarchical constructions of a past generation that say very little to where things are at now. Slow-moving, cumbersome, and often more frustrating to work with; my friends would often rather do something without the paperwork, and something that flows from our hearts.
We support those we know on the mission-field. I go to events or things that my friends invite me to. I value authenticity, over an institutional name. I value partnership with others, over preserving a brand-name. I value godly risk-taking and action, over perpetual conservatism and inaction, done for the sake of preservation.
And so I may be passionate about mission, but will never see that as necessitating the support of your organisation, or others. And I see nothing wrong with that.
3. Being passionate about mission, means asking the right questions
The questions of today’s millennials are different ones to the past generations. And although I quite often describe university students as “apathetic”, I don’t really mean they are apathetic to spiritual questions. It’s just that they’re apathetic to the questions that the last generation persuaded me are “the important questions”. No longer are they asking about “who is Jesus?”, “Did he rise from the dead in history?” or “is the Bible true?”. Those were the modernist’s truth-orientated questions. Yes, they are questions that are central to the gospel, that we cannot abandon, but they are questions that could be considered from other angles. (Kristi and others have better expressed this elsewhere.)
As humans, we are created thinking-beings. We will always have questions, regardless of whether we express them in words or not.
“What does it mean to be human?” invites questions that the modernist would have loved to ask about finding our identity in Christ, and who He is, our maker.
“Is there something more to life?” eventually invites us to consider the resurrection, in order to find purpose in life.
“What is the best grounds for Equality?” invites us to consider the only foundation for equality, found in the scriptures in Genesis 1-2.
“Does Christianity work?” invites us to experience Jesus first-hand in the scriptures, as he walks off the pages by the power of the Spirit.
Because Jesus is Lord over every area of life, He is always only one step away from any conversation, any topic or any question. We have no need to be afraid of other questions, and all questions will lead to Christ (ultimately…but please let’s not get there at a speed that no-one else can follow). Yes, there are some questions that like Christ, we should sidestep, in order to best answer real heart-questions, but let’s not hit people over the head with the old questions of the last generation, claiming it’s what is Biblical. Even I must teach myself this daily, as I work with students of a new generation who are not asking the questions that I was asking!
And so I may be passionate about mission, but will not attend an event or support something that asks the wrong questions. And I see nothing wrong with that.
And back to Ireland….
My prayer that night as we stood in that circle of frustration, not knowing how to escape, was that God would forgive us (who thought we were the most passionate about mission) how cold our hearts were for mission compared to His, and reveal to us afresh how abundantly good His character and gifts are to us, even past what we’ve ever found out.
Why were our hearts cold for mission? Because we forgot to ask the local churches what their questions were about mission, whether they wanted an event like this, and how we could run such things in a way that didn’t become an extra burden to everyone to attend. And when I say “forgot to ask the local churches”, I don’t mean sending them an email to ask what our event can cover. I mean listening to their members’ heartbeats from week to week and knowing them well enough to know the questions that scream from their lives. Sometimes we forget to love others.
I’ll share more concrete thoughts on a way ahead for mission agencies in just a little while. For now, I’ll leave it as the easy half – diagnosing a problem without giving solutions! Oh how easy it is to do this half!