Unity, relationship and the future of mission – Part 2
by John Hall
Many churches and mission organizations are asking tough questions about the future participation of the Canadian church in mission. There’s good reason, too. The Canadian church and mission agencies are waking up to some of the massive changes going on around us.
How will we deal with a society that is increasingly secular and apparently hostile to religion of any flavour (Quebec, for example)? How do we deal with an increasingly globalized world with all the positives and negatives that come with it? How do we respond to a declining Christian community in Canada, and a growing Christian community in the two-thirds world? How do we invite young generations like Millennials and Gen Z to follow Christ, when truth is perceived to be relative?
Jesus had a simple, yet profound solution. He prayed for unity in his Body – the Church. He said, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:23
In Part 1 of this article, we presented the idea that unity and relationship are closely connected. Unity isn’t simply about agreement; it flows out of the loving relationship or union of the Trinity. This union – which we’re invited into – is the cornerstone of mission, because it’s the method through which God is revealed, and it’s a joy-filled message that the world needs to hear.
Even though Christian unity is a spiritual reality, practical unity is a lot more challenging, especially in our current cultural moment. But there seems to be an exciting silver lining embedded in the generational characteristics of Millennials.
A Millennial, according to Pew Research, is anyone who was 18-34 years old in 2015. This generation is now the largest living generation in North America. Among the notable characteristics that should be signs of hope in our church’s quest for practical unity are Millennials’ optimism, willingness to collaborate, comfort with diversity, and integration of technology (Understanding the Millennial Generation, Smith & Nichols). Millennials, more than the previous two generations of Gen X or Boomers, report that they want to use their gifts and talents for the benefit of others (Millennials Bring a Sense of Optimism to their Work, Barna).
What does this have to do with mission? It’s been said that the future of mission is in networks. The characteristics of Millennials are ideally suited to building networks that participate in Christ’s mission. A network is a collaborative team that tackles a challenge at the intersection of need and passion. It invites the creative use of skill and gifts of the diverse members of the group. Networks can be made of individuals, organizations, and churches. They often lack clear organizational structure, making them nimble as they rely more on relationship and a common passion. Networks span borders and are great vehicles to usher in the participation of the majority world church.
Networks sound like a hopeful platform for a resurgence in missional engagement, but only if Millennials are around to participate. As the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) study, Hemorrhaging Faith revealed, young people are leaving local churches, and many are not returning. The question we need to ask, then, is not so much about how Millennials will contribute to unity and mission, but how we can increase Millennial engagement in our missional communities (churches)? Here are some things to consider:
Relationship & cultural engagement
Barna research, 5 Ways to Connect with Millennials, and the Canadian research called Renegotiating Faith from the EFC, agree that Millennials who have a meaningful relationship with others in the church, particularly an adult, helps them to engage and persist in their faith.
Because the 18–30 year-old young adult of today often experiences a delay in “identity formation”, the younger generation connect with their faith better when they have an intergenerational mentor who “uses their status in the community to help young adults forge new roles.” When that happens, they “were more than three times as likely to connect with new churches or parishes after moving out of their parents’ home and to connect with a Christian campus group after starting post-secondary studies.” (Renegotiating Faith) When we don’t provide authentic missional opportunities for youth, we risk slowing down “identity formation, goal setting, and commitment” and the purpose that comes with knowing who you are and what you are called to do. If space is made by missional mentors for initiative and creativity, a wave of transformation may be the result.
There has never been a generation that can see more of the world around them than the Millennial generation. At the same time, there may never have been a generation that is as confused by it.
When churches, through meaningful relationships, help Millennials make a difference in the world around them in an integrated Christ-centred way, the result is what Barna calls an “active Christian”. Loving our neighbours is the beginning. For too long, the church has been concerned with discipleship that focuses on morality and has left out the call to every disciple to participate in the mission of making disciples and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded (Mt 28:18-20).
Tragically, research points out that “less than half (of Millennials) say their church gives them a vision for living out their faith at work.” Identifying gifts and calling is something that needs to be taken seriously in our churches. As Christians, we’re called to love God with our whole being. Our service to God is supposed to be our highest calling, but we let schools and the quest for a career take priority over God’s calling. The Renegotiating Faith study points out that “young adults whose giftings and talents were identified and who were encouraged to consider a career that made use of those talents were often able to see a trajectory for their lives.” This trajectory can be a life lived for the glory of Jesus.
If all disciples are called to be missional disciples, then the church needs to consider how to identify the gifts of all members and present a missional worldview that releases gifts and passion to change the world with the love of Christ. If our churches are not making room for young leaders, then we’re missing a massive opportunity for the expansion of Christ’s mission in the future.
John Hall is the Executive Director of Mission Central and Missions Fest Vancouver, which exist to foster collaboration and networking of people who are passionate about serving Christ in His mission. Join us on August 18 for our Jesus at Work potluck. For more information, visit www.missioncentral.ca.