taking the words of Jesus seriously


If you’re a Baby Boomer reading this article, you might be thinking: Why is she telling millennials not to quit their jobs? Most of them don’t even have jobs. One of them is sleeping on my couch at this very moment.


These are the kind of biases millennials have to put up with all the time.


I’m 29, in case you were wondering.


Like any other generation in history, millennials are diverse: from wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg to your neighbor’s son who has to be reminded to rinse off his dinner dishes at age 25.


This week, attending a church conference about Making Room for Millennials, I heard that 91 percent of millennials plan to change jobs in less than three years. Attending a church conference about millennials as a millennial pastor was sort of like inviting a teenager to a conference about why teenagers don’t listen to their parents. When I heard the statistic about job changing I looked over at my friend, Matt. We smiled.


The stat was nothing new–and it holds for pastors, too. We find ourselves wondering how to make room for commitment to a church among a generation that has resisted both the church and commitment. We see in ourselves that same resistance to status quo church and the kinds of commitment it assumes.


I wondered what Jesus might have to say in the midst of it all.


He didn’t answer me right away, but the question stuck with me the next day as I listened to a seasoned pastor – an expert in transition of pastoral leadership – tell a room full of Baby Boomer and Millennial preachers that he was convinced his church didn’t really trust him until about year 7 or 8.


We’d heard it said before, but we also came into congregations full of anxiety – our own and theirs. Budgets that had been bleeding red for decades and members who were dying. Buildings in states of disrepair. A whole generation of our peers who needed to come to church now or – or else …


The church was dying. The Church is Dying! We’d heard it in seminary and in sermons – in the newspaper and on TV. We didn’t have eight years. We didn’t have one year. We could feel their anxiety as we came in, and we could feel our own, too–heaped on our backs with tens of thousands of student loans and the prospect of no health insurance.


A millennial pastor at the age of 29 who bucked the trends,  got married, had a baby andbought a house, you’d think I’d feel content. Instead, I felt that same old restless itch that has become characteristic of my generation.


Why do millennials have trouble settling down? Quitting jobs? Waiting to get married? Committing to a church?


  1. We sense limitless opportunity.

    Growing up as the Internet grew with us gave us a sense of unlimited possibilities. We wanted to see the Great Wall of China? Click on Google Earth! Want to apply to Duke, Harvard, and Princeton in 35 minutes? Use the online Common Application. Meet a friend in Stockholm? Book a flight to Timbuktu? Find the answer to just about any question you have?
    As we’ve graduated high school and college and entered the working world, we still have that sense of limitless opportunity. There’s the Peace Corps or Teach for America: just apply online. My husband, a mechanical engineer, gets several messages from recruiters every single day. As most millennials know, our sense of opportunity doesn’t equal real job prospects. Most of the recruiters who contact my husband give him leads for jobs that don’t at all fit his experience or education. But the Internet gives us a sense that we could always be doing something else. We’ve seen the Wide World, and we sense that we can grasp it if only we make the right choices of the seemingly limitless opportunities before us.


  2. Nobody gets promoted or raises anymore.

    When’s the last time you heard of a millennial friend or relative getting a raise or a promotion in their current job, excluding a new degree or new job? Almost never, right? Employers rarely give raises anymore, outside perhaps a standard cost-of-living adjustment. If we want a new opportunity, we’re told we need a new degree or certification. Most often, we have to switch jobs.
    Job hopping is often the only way for us to move ahead. I know friends who are waiting a backlog of managers or supervisors who (might) retire in 5-10 years. The choice is clear: wait out a long retirement or force their hand by getting a different job. This is by no means only true in the secular world. Pastors have been hearing for decades about the wave of Baby Boomer retirement that will open up calls in churches across the country. Mostly, we’re still waiting.


    My husband, the engineer – you know, that recession-proof field – got his first significant raise and promotion last year. He got it because he had been made a similar offer at another firm, so his company matched it to keep him. But even stories of raises and promotions like that are rare among millennials.



  3. Social Media doesn’t allow us to take a break, so we become frenetic.

    Here is, I think, one of the biggest reasons for millennials’ struggle to commit – to work, to relationships, to religion. Committing means stopping: being where you are in the moment even if sometimes it hurts. In a narcissistic world of constantly publicizing our lives – see: “selfie culture” – we’re afraid of being left behind when we commit. We won’t have anything new to share.

    I’m almost 30 now. I can almost sort of 
    see beyond the blind flight from one passion to the next that sometimes overtook my 20s. I can see in myself when that restless itch comes over me, and I know it’s partly from Facebook.
    Sometimes, fellow millennials and millennial pastors, your first job or your first call is not particularly photogenic all the time. Sometimes what you’re doing is not selfie-worthy or performance-worthy.


    But sometimes it’s worthy nonetheless.


    Being together – making a commitment to trust one another and listening in the quiet – is perhaps not worthy of a status update. I would not tweet to my followers: I’ve decided to keep doing what I’m doing!


    But maybe sometimes we should, to show each other that it’s OK to decide to stay: to commit to a job, to a relationship, to a church – even if it’s not perfect.


    It’s OK to take breaks, too. There are seasons of change and activity and seasons of patience and preparation. Ecclesiastes 3 says that for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time for war and a time for peace. A time to go and a time to stay. Sometimes what we need is not a major life change: an application to Teach for America; raising chickens; brewing beer – sometimes what we need is not to Go but to Stop.


    Jesus knew that breaks – perhaps not worthy of a sermon soundbite or placed on a Bible bumper sticker – were nonetheless essential to his ministry. He had to retreat or he could not continue his mission, and he knew his mission and he was committed to it.


    We millennials are so devoted, so focused on determining our mission that sometimes when it finds us we have trouble committing to it because we don’t know how to take breaks. We’re finally there: the mission is upon us – and we don’t know how to stop searching.


    Jesus often bids me forward, but today I feel him telling me, telling you, to stop.


    He keeps pointing me to this verse and I read it anew today as I seek my own stopping place of refuge: “… for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, ” (Matthew 11:29b).


    Jesus, as Augustine once suspected, is the only complete source of respite in our world. For only a man and a God who would die and rise again is complete and humble and awe-inspiring enough to eclipse all our worry and our death-defying pursuit of the seemingly endless opportunities.


    And so we millennials desperately need churches where we can commit and be nourished and become a deep and true part of the fabric of the community, by stopping and staying and even taking breaks. Our drive and desire is needed in corporations and congregations across the country: not just as a flash in the pan year-long employee or occasional joiner for Christmas Eve services but as an integral, long-term, committed part of the culture.


    We’re tempted to leave, but it is in staying – in learning to take breaks and then recommit even more strongly – that we will most permanently change the world, and the Church, for the future Jesus has prepared for us.


About The Author


Angela Denker is a Lutheran pastor and veteran journalist. She's written for many publications, including Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and Sojourners. She is the author of "Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump" (Fortress Press).

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