This month, we asked our bloggers what it’s like to be the youngest Presbyterian in the room. Here’s what they shared.
Several years ago I was signed up for a mission trip to a Muslim country. In preparation for our trip, we were trained by a mission worker who had lived in that country for eight years and was now on sabbatical. His stated aim was to convince us that this particular culture was wholly foreign to our own; in fact, he suggested we suspend all of our cultural expectations.
By the end of the first training session, he had broken down our cultural expectations to such an extent that, in the subsequent training sessions, he could’ve told us anything and we would’ve believed him. We were putty. We were ready to believe whatever he wanted us to believe.
By being the youngest Presbyterian in the room, I often feel like that mission worker. I routinely find myself in a room among older generations who believe (rightly, I think) that millennials bring a radically different culture. Believing this, they look to me, the token young adult, to be the de facto expert on all-things-millennial. I feel like I could tell the group anything about young adults – we’re all vegans; we universally reject substitutionary atonement; we hate marriage – and it would be recorded as fact.
What a strange power to be given! On the one hand, I am deeply grateful to be granted such an opportunity to influence, and I greatly admire their humility to be so teachable. On the other hand, this ability to influence in any way I want surfaces an ugly temptation.
Suppose there is, as has been said, a large chasm between millennial culture and the cultures of previous generations. As the de facto expert on millennials, my charge is to design a bridge that connects the two sides of the chasm. It’s a straightforward task, but it includes an intrinsic question: Having built the bridge, who moves?
This is the point at which my ego wants to take control. My temptation is to believe the bridge is for “them,” those older generations who, perhaps, are less enlightened. I’m tempted to insist that millennials have a superior perspective, that ours is the “right” side. It’s as if our ability to intuitively understand smartphones or to save files to the cloud trumps the years of wisdom and experience of those before us. Given such a significant opportunity to influence, and with so little accountability, my ego swells and I pretend I, the de facto expert, have all the right answers.
To be the youngest Presbyterian in the room is to be powerful. This is a wonderful privilege, but it comes with pitfalls. It’s good for Presbyterian churches to give young people the opportunity to influence, but we who are nominated must resist the temptation to insist on our own way. We don’t have all the right answers. We (at least, I) can be arrogant, close-minded and dismissive of wisdom. Forgive us, Lord, for our youthful arrogance! And church: Listen to what we have to say, but don’t listen so closely that we drown out your wisdom. If we are the future of the church, it is only because you selflessly taught us, called us, rebuked us and led us into maturity. May the millennial generation be so humble.
BRANDON GAIDE serves as associate pastor of next generation ministries at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston. Brandon loves the church and clings to the audacious belief that a church committed to Christ is the hope of the world.