Perhaps, because millennials are stereotyped as a generation, we tend to think our evangelical millennial pastors suffer from the same flaws that are typically assigned to the generation as a whole. Millennials take a lot of flack. (I mean, think about all the things millennials have killed!) It seems we can’t stop talking about millennials. And millennial clergy, in particular, find ourselves in an interesting position: There are fewer and fewer of us, but no one seems to know what to do about it. At the same time, well-meaning people in power assume things about millennial pastors that often are not true.
Last year, I launched a podcast called This Nazarene Life. I knew deep down that none of the young clergy I knew were as negative about the church as some from older generations seemed to think. Their stories needed to be told. Since then, I’ve interviewed dozens of young pastors, and even I have been surprised at how much passion and drive these young adults possess. The prophets among them are calling us back to our roots—not away from them! Here are a few myths (things I’ve actually heard) about young clergy:
Myth #1: Young clergy don’t care about tradition or the past.
There is a sense that millennials in general (and young clergy in particular) only care about what’s fresh, new, and happening now. Not surprisingly, this is a recyclable generational critique that every up-and-coming generation deals with when they are young. What has surprised me about Nazarene millennial clergy is their passion for our denominational roots—holiness, caring for the poor, advocating against injustice. They pray for our comfortable churches that the Spirit of God would call us back to those passionate roots. Their fidelity to our denomination’s history has been both surprising and refreshing.
Myth #2: Young clergy don’t care about holiness or sanctification.
Holiness is a big deal in my context. After all, our denomination was founded on the idea that salvation is only the beginning and that God is indeed remaking us in God’s own image. I have found that young pastors, though they may not use the exact same language as their predecessors, stand firmly on the foundation of holiness, wholeness, and the sanctifying work of the Spirit. So many of them have been on a journey to understand what sanctification means for themselves that they are led to use personalized language to express what holiness means to them. They have not abandoned holiness; on the contrary, they have simply made it relevant to a new generation.
Young pastors, though they may not use the exact same language as their predecessors, stand firmly on the foundation of holiness, wholeness, and the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
Myth #3: Young clergy don’t care about denominational administration.
This myth is a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. According to the records of the General Secretary’s Office of the Church of the Nazarene, only about a quarter of young Nazarene pastors in the U.S. and Canada are lead pastors; the other three quarters serve in various other roles. As a result, these associate pastors often feel left out by denominational administration. Many publications speak to pastors in a way that seems to indicate that lead pastors are the only “real” pastors. District denominational events often communicate a preference for lead pastors by only subsidizing a lead pastor’s admission, or by choosing topics that are relevant only to lead pastors. So perhaps millennials aren’t attending denominational events because it seems like these events are not for them, or no one seems to notice they are there when they do show up. Even millennial lead pastors have told me their voices are often discounted or ignored when they have attempted to engage the larger denomination.
Perhaps district and denominational administration could make more of an effort to recognize the contributions of young pastors. District leadership, ask your young pastors what you can do for them. Nominate more young clergy to leadership positions! Invite them to speak or lead workshops at district events. I’ve even heard of districts considering more childcare at events for pastors so that more young clergy can attend. Young pastors, let’s take the time to recognize the contributions of our district leadership to our journeys. Ask your district leaders what you can contribute to your district’s mission. Even if it’s just counting ballots or sitting at a registration table, show them you’re willing to serve! We need each other.
All of us, young and old, need to engage in more conversations with and listen to the hearts of those who are different from us. If we have a space at the table, or if we are viewed as leaders at the table, we need to invite fresh clergy to join us who perhaps haven’t been invited before. If we are new to the table, we need to show up with appropriate humility toward those who have preceded us while remaining confident of our own worth. Until we learn how to hear and acknowledge one another’s contributions and inherent value, myths like these will persist, and we will have trouble recognizing that we are all on the same side—the side of the God who loves and a kingdom coming to earth. May we learn to listen and collaborate now, for the sake of the future. Amen.