Whether you are a near-retirement baby boomer, a Gen-Xer at the zenith of your career, or a uniquely driven millennial still fresh in the ministry, there’s probably one thing you all agree on—your millennial staff drives you crazy at times.
In 2009, authors Neil Howe and William Strauss published their book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. Seven years later, those they interviewed for their book still live at home except for when they’re camping outside of Best Buy in order to be the first to buy the next Call of Duty game. Oh, and they’re still waiting for the book to be offered for $0.99 at the iTunes store before they read it.
Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but sometimes you feel that way, don’t you, about the young people on your staff and leadership team? The truth is, millennials and the idiosyncrasies surrounding them that make church ministry more difficult for you than you expected, are oftentimes a result of the casual relationship they had with their parents and other authority figures growing up. Out of fear of their children not liking them, their parents would refuse to make a public scene or say no or take stands that would make things uncomfortable. Hence the generation oftentimes has a learned entitlement and difficulty working under authority.
But now they are on your staff and don’t always do well with things like high expectations, office hours, organization, and leadership. What can you do to kick-start some motivation into them and help them finally learn how to work under someone’s leadership?
Stop trying to manage them. Lead them instead. Because of their upbringings, many millennials have never seen what true leadership is like. Their parents managed them so that they stayed out of jail. Their teachers managed them so that no child was “left behind.” Their youth leaders managed them so that they wouldn’t leave the church thinking it was uncool. So it’s up to you to inspire them as a leader, perhaps for the first time in their life.
You will succeed in doing this with millennials by worrying less about the “what” and more about the “why.” Before your hard-to-motivate millennial will pick up a pen, power up her tablet, or work at his desk longer than it takes to check his fantasy football team, he needs to be sold on the “why” of everything you’re doing. Even the gung-ho young Billy Grahams who simply want to go preach on the street corner every day need to understand the whys behind the ministry work of the day-to-day. Don’t give them a list of “whats” to do. Share with them a list of “whys.” Be the first leader to invest in them this way, as opposed to all the managers they’ve had until now.
Build off of their ideas and suggestions. Millennials have been affirmed all of their lives, perhaps to a fault, by every authority figure they ever had—parents, teachers, coaches. But you can’t go back and take away their participation trophies or tell them their “science project” of which cell phone provider gave them the most bars in the neighboring counties was not a worthwhile venture. And you definitely cannot straight-up shoot down their ideas, because it’s very likely that has never happened before and they won’t know how to deal with that.
Continue to affirm their ideas and their desire to add to the ministry. They truly do want to set the world on fire and make their mark in God’s ministry at your church. But build off of their suggestions and challenge them to take their ideas further. Discuss what will work from their plan and where you believe tweaks need to be made. Again, it comes down to leading them in a way perhaps that has never been done for them before.
Allow them to work in teams or to form teams of their own. Millennials are not lone rangers who get things done by themselves. That may be more your style, but you can’t force your independence upon them. They are used to doing things by way of team, bouncing off ideas of each other and allowing others to use their strengths to help out their own weaknesses. To get the most production from your millennial staff, you must allow this to continue.
What better way to teach them leadership than to allow them to form a “think-tank” of their own to lead? Whatever their responsibilities are at the church, encourage them to form worship teams, student leadership teams, children’s ministry teams, missional teams, etc. for them to work in. In fact, isn’t working in this way biblical, a picture of how the body of Christ was intended to relate with one another?
The truth is, there is no “greater” generation than another. They are merely different, and intended to be used in their unique time and culture to glorify our great Savior. And that is all the commonality the different generations need.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Want to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.