“A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” -Benjamin Franklin
I used to think I was odd for not sharing as many inspirational Christian memes on social media.
“You can do all things through Christ.”
“You can change everything with Jesus.”
“You can overcome.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not opposed to these messages. I just don’t flood my accounts with this self-help, motivational understanding of Christianity. For some reason, it feels strange for me to do so.
I honestly thought something was wrong with me—that is, until I noticed how many of my Millennial friends were posting these types of messages.
I counted. It was only a small handful.
This is not to say older generations are going about Christianity all wrong. This is to say, I don’t think this is a coincidence. Millennials interact with Christianity differently than older generations. We are different consumers with different tastes and personalities.
Because of our differences, I believe we want different. We don’t want self-centered Christianity. We want to make it our own.
We want something different—and that’s a good thing.
We should welcome different in our churches.
Before I progress, I should note: the church is not a place for a generational war. Older generations are not wrong in their expression of faith and younger generations are not all together right.
But, it is worthy to note that younger generations are not drifting away from Biblical faith. On the contrary, what they want could be what brings us to a more genuine faith.
In a culture that has heard enough of Joel Osteen and a “you-can-do-it” gospel, different is what we need to get back to the heart of our role in society.
Christianity shouldn’t be an exclusive, membership-only group of individuals who only soothe each other with inspirational quotes once the going get tough. We shouldn’t be a group of people who go to church on Sundays and drop faith for the rest of the week unless something bad happens. We shouldn’t be a happy-clappy sect of society.
It has been like this in the past, not due to a generation’s failings, but rather a societal failing. This kind of Christianity was built around the American Dream, but as a recent study shows, more than 60% of Millennials no longer believe in the American Dream that has so profoundly influenced our society.
In a society shaped by the American Dream of climbing the corporate ladder, we needed a motivational Christianity. But now, in a society backing away from this idea, we need a selfless Christianity—one about making a difference in more than just our own life.
What Millennials want is what the church should return to: not a Christianity dishing out self-centered motivation, but a Christianity growing selfless individuals to change the world in small, daily ways.
This study from Barna states that Millennials don’t want a faith that only applies to Sunday. They want a holistic faith. And while a desire for a holistic faith is shared across many generations, Millennials are less tolerant when faith doesn’t match this ideal. They won’t see faith as relevant unless it is holistic.
What we need to understand is, a holistic faith is a selfless one.
Let me explain.
The more you make faith about self-centered motivation, the more you fracture it, divorce it from your daily life. When faith is nothing more than how it only serve your self, you only turn to it when you need it.
With a self-centered faith, you turn to faith like it’s a shot of medicine you take for the hard times.
But when faith is truly about saving the world, not just helping your self, it begins to infiltrate every aspect of daily life.
We see this work perfectly with Jesus. The reason Jesus had a holistic, un-compartmentalized faith was because He was always about meeting the needs of others. He wasn’t helping people to try and sell them on a product. He was serving people because He truly cared. And because people always had needs—because He was selfless to this degree—He was able to carry faith with Him everywhere He went.
Want Millennials to stay in church? Show them this holistic, selfless understanding of faith. Teach them to live like Jesus. That’s what our church—and the world—has always needed.
Millennials can see the phony nature of Christianity fitting in with the broader culture of “you can do anything.” Millennials are smarter about what they want in their life, and they don’t want what they get from the rest of culture. They want different.
They want Jesus.
So let’s stop making Christianity a self-centered thing. It’s not a brand or another product to make people’s personal lives better. It’s much more than that, and the more we belittle faith to be wrapped up in our own lives, the more we water down its impact.
Appealing to our self-centeredness won’t make faith survive for the coming generations.
Instead, let’s listen to the Millennials’ concerns. Let their concerns and desires carry us to how faith should be in the world.
Let’s return to the selflessness of Jesus—because that’s what we’ve always needed.
Photography by Mikaela Hamilton
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