I have served with young adults in different capacities over the years, and I work with many on our EFCA ReachGlobal team in Berlin. In fact, the majority of our inter-generational team in Berlin right now is composed of millennials. That’s a deliberate choice, because we are convinced that they are key to the expansion of the Church.
Every generation has something to offer, and we consider it our responsibility to steward the gifts of emerging adults, speak into their development, and ask them to share their skills and insights.
We also believe it is possible to do this while seeing incredible kingdom impact. Some of my peers and colleagues in the ministry world have told us we are crazy to integrate so many inexperienced 20-somethings into our vision for reaching a city—and that we will not get anything done with all the time required to invest in young adults.
Yet we have found the opposite to be true. We have seen emerging adults reach out to prostituted women in ways that a 50-something pastor never could. We have seen them share the gospel through music and hospitality, and disciple those new to the faith. We have even seen them restore partnerships through their willingness to serve. And they have moved our team vision forward through their unique gifts, insights and leadership.
Every generation (including yours and mine) has its blind spots. If we don’t recognize our own generational weaknesses, we will not have the compassion or patience we need to work with the next generation. Personal humility and a commitment to personal growth must start with us.
So are we ready to leverage all that this generation has to offer?
Unconventionality. This generation defines stability differently and is not looking for the financial security of a lifetime career. If I were to ask most 20-somethings to serve with us in Berlin long-term, they would say no (in fact, they have!). But they are not scared of approaching work in new ways and want to invest their time in something meaningful. So we’ve learned to start with building a connection rather than asking for a commitment. When we offer shorter opportunities to connect with us—two-week projects, a summer of serving, a year-long ministry lab, or a two-year language and ministry lab—suddenly the personal connections and ministry opportunities they discover begin to overshadow their hesitancy of long-term commitment.
Community. Connectedness over shared interests, concerns or experiences ties this generation together. We try to build on this innate value for community by creating intentional rhythms for them to support one another and learn from one another. In addition to building community with each other, it has been significant to pull them into the team at large and invite them into casual environments where they can get to know those outside their age or life stage. Natural relationships form among those we never would’ve paired together, and the pressure is off of the supervisor or even mentor to meet all of the relational needs.
Experimentation. “Learn by doing” is their modus operandi—a natural way to discover millennials’ gifts, personalities and wiring in a ministry context. It means we need to be ready to let them lead and explore various experiences, and encourage them to step into opportunities that arise. Last winter I was preparing to lead a team from Berlin that would recruit at a large missions conference. When I was unexpectedly unable to attend, we asked one of our 20-something, two-year staff members to lead the team instead. She had never before stepped into something so visible and so significant for the future of our team, but she did an incredible job and felt valued that we saw her potential.
Yet not every time you give ministry away will it be done well. Another time, we asked a highly relational short-term staff member to do logistics and provide practical support for a two-week team, and she readily agreed. After the two weeks, we learned that she had not done much besides go to dinner with the group a few times, and that they had had to figure out all of the details on their own. Her gift set was less of a fit than either of us recognized, and it led to a poor experience with a significant partnering church. But it is all part of living out our value for developing young leaders, showing grace to one another and learning together.
Passion. Young adults are passionate about lots of things, one of them being the justice and compassion needed for a broken world. The good-intentioned, big-hearted—and often naïve—young adults arrive in an urban center like Berlin without a lot of discernment in how to channel their passions. Our job, then, is to come alongside them and instill a healthy view of the local church and sustainable ministry practices, especially in the areas of anti-human trafficking and ministry to refugees. When we can introduce them to best practices and mentors, or simply provide regular coaching so that they learn to make good decisions, we benefit from the incredible perspective they bring.
Multiculturalism. Emerging adults are better equipped than previous American generations to work with people of diverse cultural backgrounds. In team settings, we have found that they possess an almost innate sensitivity to ethnic, racial or socioeconomic injustices. Their exposure to different cultures and their awareness of paternalism is an asset when reaching out to people groups that have been marginalized and when developing ministry that elevates human dignity.
This generation is not like other ones. And that is a good thing! God is positioning them to have influence around the world and with their peers, through their passions and intuitive perspective. And He is using them to bring the gospel and build the Church in new places that have been unreachable to previous generations. We must continue to unleash their creative, unique voice for Jesus in our communities, our cities and around the world.
Katie Dudgeon, age 38, is the assistant team leader for EFCA ReachGlobal in Berlin and served with an EFCA church in Fullerton, California, before moving to Europe. Equipping and mobilizing young adults has been an integral part of her ministry over the last 15 years, and she continues to be amazed by the impact they have in the United States and around the world.