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Thoughts to my fellow parents of millennials

December 13, 2017

For some time now I have been thinking about putting these thoughts down.   My main audience is my fellow Christ following, parents of millennial children.  We all know who we are and the rest of you can read along.  First of all, I have not, do not, and will not join the chorus of those who “bash” the millennial generation.  Since my wife and I have reared three millennials, it seems counter-intuitive and just plain wrong to bash children who are the products of boomer parents like me.  If I have any critiques in how a generation has been reared, I have no further to look than in the mirror.   The fact is I not only love my own children I love the millennial generation.  And, going out on a limb here,  God does too.   

Lately, I have been thinking about a generation of children who grew up in church, went to Sunday School, youth group, retreats, youth camp, missions trips, and all the typical stuff associated with American conservative Christianity.  But now they seem to be “drifting” and we boomer Christian parents who only wanted the best of our children are in different stages of freaking out.  Our millennial offspring are not really going to church.  They are asking hard questions.  They are searching for answers in places that don’t square with all we have been taught.  In a word, I believe they are trying to make sense of their faith, in terms that they can understand and not just willing to settle for platitudes, formulae, and pat answers.  So, my friends, may I make a suggestion?  Relax.  “It’s okay.”   Let me put it more to the point: You are not bad parents.  You have not failed.  You have not lost your kids.  I know it is unnerving to hear their questions and to see where they are searching for answers. But I urge you to simply be a listener and a constant affirmer of your love for them and trust God with them.  And yes pray for them.   

How can I say all this? Well, one thing that I have noticed in conversations and by observation is that in many cases, there is a lot of communication going on between boomer parents and millennial children.  One thing many boomer parents have done well is to create a safe atmosphere for conversation.   I know parents who have had substantive conversations with their children.  They have listened.  They have assured their children that they love them and nothing will get in the way of that.  In a word, they have been safe.  How much better can it get than when parents give their children room to find God in an atmosphere of safety and love?  It is important that young people make their faith their own.  That will mean that the path they take will be very different than the path I took.  That may mean that their path could get a bit messy.  It may mean that their path could even look like they are straying from God, and in fact, they may stray from God for a while.  But I for one believe God is big enough and aware enough to handle that. 

 As we relax we may need to take a hard look at ourselves and actually repent.  What?! How can I say that?!  As I think back on the focus of a lot of our teaching in the past 30 years (and I point to myself as a pastor for all that time) we have often presented a sanitized version of the Godhead.  We emphasized God’s goodness, provision, protection, and love.  We often focused on a holiness of God that looked like a list of activities.  We tended to put people into categories and it often seemed that God disliked the same people we disliked. How convenient.  The message that was often heard, even if not spoken was, people who agree with us theologically, politically, socially, etc. are the people of God.  Everyone else is an “outsider” who needs saving.   What happened to our kids?  Life.  Our children grew up.  They went through the motions that were supposed to result in Christian bliss and then their friend from the youth group overdosed.  The kindest most authentic person they knew told them she was gay, and she was kicked out of the youth group.  They realized that sometimes church leaders do sin.  They started caring about the environment, and the poor, and the foreigner and all too often the church in which they grew up didn’t embrace them or their concerns. And sadly, when they did ask questions they often were treated not as honest inquirers but as rebellious kids who needed to repent.   

Unfortunately, we can’t change the past, so what now?  First of all,  rest in the fact that you have done the best you knew how with the knowledge and resources available to rear your children.  Trust your parenting.  Secondly, keep the lines of communication open.  It is important to keep talking.  Thirdly, rest in the fact that God is not shocked by the questions and paths that our children may be exploring.  If you and I still believe God is able, then that ability extends to his being able to speak into the lives of our children.  

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