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working with Gen Y/Millenials

July 8, 2010

Aidan: Well Mike, you are taking a few weeks off for some much needed “holiday” as you fancy English call it and it’s given me a little break as well. But before you left we were able to discuss your time on Accelerate, a 5-day, 3DM Learning Community with 21-29 year olds from across the globe.

Before we get into that, you want to share a few photos of what you’re up to on vacation right now?

Mike: Certainly!

Sally and I are spending time with some good friends, the LaMunyons, in the Pacific Northwest of the States. It’s been absolutely breathtaking. We were kayaking yesterday and literally were paddling by three Orcas…a little meet and greet. Amazing.

We don’t have many good kayak shots on the phones, have to share more of those later, but here are some quick shots before we get into our discussion.

So obviously, Mike, I’m a Millenial and in that 21-29 year old bracket for Accelerate, though I wasn’t part of that group. When I heard you were spending 5 days with people “my age,” I was curious what you learned. My observation is that you’ve always been a student of culture…sort of a roaming cultural anthropologist. I’m curious to see what rose up to the top of your mind after this concentrated time with this group of people.

Mike: Well this was the second time we’ve hosted an Accelerate retreat and so we had some time to get feedback from the last time we were with some of these young leaders.

Now I knew that Millenials, in sharp contrast to Gen X and Boomers, really long for the voices that have gone before them. But we were really surprised at the level they wanted to engage with Sally and I. We ended up staking out a lot more of the content than we had in some of the others based on their request.

Some of our favorite times were in the evenings when we’d do fireside chats next to a bonfire and we’d just talk about our lives and what we’ve learned and walking them through the artifacts of our culture, from the past all the way through today. That’s what anthropologists do. But I wanted to start teaching them how to do this for themselves, how to read an ever-shifting culture.

Aidan: What’s an example of one you did with them?

Mike: There’s a Denzel Washington movie that came out late last year called “The Book of Eli.” And I kid you not, it is like a spiritual tract for Millenials. A story about a man on a mission with enormous spiritual overtones, including massive warfare that could cost him everything. It references a level of spiritual awareness we probably haven’t seen since movies like Ben Hur or The Robe.

The question it seems to raise is one that Millenials ask over and over: How can I be a spiritual warrior in the 21st Century?

And I don’t think this is just a question Christian Millenials are asking. This movie wasn’t written by a Christian. It’s what this generation is asking. Most seem to believe that there is a reality beyond what we can simply see, taste or touch. There is a spiritual dimension to this life and there is a battle going on, whether they recognize that as one between Jesus and the Prince of this World doesn’t matter. They are aware of the effects of this battle and will acknowledge it. This is completely different than the past two generations.

Aidan: Yeah, learning to observe the artifacts of our culture is really interesting, be it books, music, film, web design, etc. I remember when There Will Be Blood, Sweeney Todd and No Country for Old Men all came out within 3 weeks of each other. It was like a Zeitgeist moment in American culture. It perfectly described the current mood of the country.

So what else came out during this week together?

Mike: I thought the most fascinating thing was what emerged in the issue of parenting and what this has created for this generation.

What we have seen young boomers and older Gen X’ers become is something called “Helicopter Parents.” They are always hovering, always trying to help their kids, trying to be their friends, solving their problems, giving them both what they want and what they need as if there was no difference.

Aidan: My guess is that this is reactive.

Mike: Exactly.

These parents had absentee parents, particularly the Fathers. The dads worked, primarily found their identities through work, so even when they were home around the kids they were absent. Kids are to be seen and not heard.

Well it’s gone from ditch to ditch. Now these early Boomer/late Gen X parents are around all the time and do everything for their kids. They rarely let them feel consequences and thus they never have learned to maneuver through life in even the most basic ways. They are acting out of the guilt that they could become like their absentee parents. For Millenials, it’s not so much a “failure to launch” so much as they have never been ejected. Their parents couldn’t do it. Too much guilt. As you can imagine, this has shaped these Millenial kids in a pretty profound way.

I recently read an article on how HR policies are having to change because of Helicopter Parents.

Aidan: I was actually just talking to my dad about this! He’s worked in HR since the early 1980’s and was the global staffing director for a Fortune 100 company. He was saying how unbelievable it is to deal with kids who have just graduated from college and, get this…the parents come to the interviews with the kids!

The parents negotiate their kids’ salaries.

The parents negotiate benefits and vacation time.

It was absolutely mindblowing (and I’m a Millenial!). He was having to create new policies and train his people to deal with this!

So what do you think the effects are in terms of leadership for Millenials?

Mike: Well there’s the rub.

Many Millenials are the first generation of truly missional disciples in quite some time. In reality, they are the first that really had to be in American culture. It wasn’t until the last 20 years that American has shifted to an unchurched country, and their generation was the first to have more people grow up outside of church than inside it.

So within this generation of missional leaders is a deep hunger for spiritual adventure and a willingness to pay the price for engaging in this battle…like we see in the Book of Eli.

The problem, though, is because of the pervasiveness of culture and their parents, for the entirety of their lives, they have been overindulged and overparented. Basically, because they have rarely dealt with consequences (and thus real adversity)…they don’t have the strength to see it to the end.

There is a real lack of character that is needed.

There is such a strong sense of entitlement and the belief that results will come quickly and easily. They are a generation that doesn’t understand one of the fundamental teachings found in scripture: Persevere!

Millenials want a high level of responsibility but they rarely have what it takes to see it through to the end. In my estimation, this will be one of the foundational issues Millenials will have to reconcile in how they lead as disciples of Jesus.

I wasn’t discipled to have the kind of character and perseverance needed to do this. How can I get it? What will it take?

If they can do this…well the Kingdom breakthrough will be massive.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2010 2:48 pm

    really helpful reflections, thanks. had recognised the positive side before – so many of the guys a little younger that me are sure they will be world changers and are eager for big battles. never thought about the responsibility/character/perseverence side… that explains a lot.


  1. Millenials « in search of a movement

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