While some of this could be chalked up to maturity, it really goes deeper than that. Generations Y and Z have grown up in a postmodern world, and with it a hyper focus on the individual. Rather than being detrimental to the church, however, a better understanding of this trend and what next generations are really looking for can actually catapult the church forward in a big way.
In an article written in early 2015, Tim Keller describes postmodern individualism as “expressive individualism – the belief that identity comes through self-expression, through discovering one’s most authentic desires and being free to be one’s authentic self.”
Millennials are often made fun of for believing that they can all be superstars and hotshots; in the real world, what’s really happening is that the next generations firmly believe they have a special, individual purpose that is meaningful to the community and world at large, and that their life short- and long-term is to discover and execute that individual purpose. Maybe all young generations feel this way, but the internet and technology has especially sharpened it.
If you’re working with a young person who believes they should be working or serving at a higher level or handed greater responsibilities right away, it’s because they believe they are destined to do something meaningful and valuable and are restless with the process.
It truly is a double-edged sword.
Our churches and leadership can accelerate the best of individualism, while curbing its dark side, by saying to young people: “This is a place where you can discover and launch your authentic God-given calling, together in community and through collaboration together.”
1. Authentic Calling
Next Generations who have grown up in a postmodern and individualistic world have a strong loyalty to organizations that are intentional about providing resources and assistance in discovering their authentic calling and capacity.
And is this really so bad? The Bible is laden with individual experiences, where God speaks clearly into individual lives for community benefit. Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Samuel are a few examples right off the bat.
A church that is firmly invested in being a platform for helping young people discern their call and launching it will do well. Note: much of the time this calling will not be vocational ministry. More and more young people are taking their faith and applying it to the humanities and sciences, and are feeling a disconnect between their purpose and the support of the church in that area.
2. Together in Community
The key thing to understand about NextGen individualism is that it doesn’t mean soloism. Young people intrinsically believe that what they are meant to do personally is best fulfilled while in a learning community together. If they aren’t in your faith community, it’s probably not a reflection on them.
3. Through Collaboration
This is the greatest untapped resource the church has- the ability to pool people and resources from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Churches that invest deeply in matching and connecting people and resources together to further purposes and callings will create win-win-wins.
The church that creates this organizational culture will not have to shift its own purpose or philosophy- merely how it conveys what it has always done to a new generation that sees and thinks and dreams differently. And in the process experience intergenerational growth and impact.
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