Over at the Action Institute Power Blog, Anthony Bradley writes that the Millennial generation is being shamed into being extraordinary by the ‘radical’ and ‘missional’ jargon being tossed to and fro in Christian circles:
I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and youth adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not being doing something unique and special. Today’s Millennial generation is being fed the message that if they don’t do something extraordinary in this life they are wasting their gifts and potential. The sad result is that many young adults feel ashamed if they “settle” into ordinary jobs, get married early and start families, live in small towns, or as 1 Thess 4:11 says, “aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] affairs, and to work with [their] hands.” For too many Millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about.
He, then, provides a brief historical reconstruction on ‘how we got here.’ Embedded within that construction are brief analyses on anti-suburban Christianity and Missional Narcissism.
The combination of anti-suburbanism with new categories like “missional” and “radical” has positioned a generation of youth and young adults to experience an intense amount of shame for simply being ordinary Christians who desire to love God and love their neighbors (Matt 22:36-40). In fact, missional, radical Christianity could easily be called “the new legalism.” A few decades ago, an entire generation of Baby Boomers walked away from traditional churches to escape the legalistic moralism of “being good” but what their Millennial children received in exchange, in an individualistic American Christian culture, was shamed-driven pressure to be awesome and extraordinary young adults expected to tangibly make a difference in the world immediately. But this cycle of reaction and counter-reaction, inaugurated by the Baby Boomers, does not seem to be producing faithful young adults. Instead, many are simply burning out.
I can attest to sensing some ‘shame’ employed in Platt’s “Follow Me” (see my chapter by chapter review: intro, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9), though my impression would be that Platt would probably deduce that if you feel shamed, then it is the doing of the Holy Spirit. I came away from the book disappointed and continually desiring him to speak towards the day-to-day walk with/after the Lord. With regard to Platt, Bradley states:
To make matters worse, some religious leaders have added a new category to Christianity called “radical Christianity” in an effort to trade-off suburban Christianity for mission. This movement is based on a book by David Platt and is fashioned around “an idea that we were created for far more than a nice, comfortable Christian spin on the American dream. An idea that we were created to follow One who demands radical risk and promises radical reward.” Again, this was a well-intentioned attempt to address lukewarm Christians in the suburbs but because it is primarily reactionary, and does not provide a positive construction for the good life from God’s perspective, it misses “radical” ideas in Jesus’ own teachings like “love.”
It remains to be seen how Millennials will ultimately react to these tactics. Nevertheless, it may help
explain the trend of young Christians leaving the church after age 15 currently at a rate of 60 percent. Being a Christian in a shame-driven “missional,” “radical” church does not sound like rest for the weary. Perhaps the best antidote to these pendulum swings and fads is simply to recover an mature understanding of vocation so that youth and youth adults understand that they can make important contributions to human flourishing in any sphere of life because there are no little people or insignificant callings in the Kingdom.
I’m not sure I would label this as legalistic (I personally am leery when I see that word thrown around in Christian circles, especially since it is often used to misrepresent the Pharisees, or more broadly the Jews), but it sure is a movement that is rapidly picking up steam in the Millennial generation. To be honest, that’s in part why I reviewed Platt’s book. Why has this ‘radical/missional’ stuff gained so much momentum? I can honestly see a Millennial reading that book and finding it to be ‘solid’ stuff, being super ‘biblical’. Though I was encouraged by his missional-minded emphases and his goal to light a fire under the butts of lukewarm Christians, he did swing the pendulum too far. Throughout the book, the picture replaying in my head was someone pouring a ‘radical/missional’ shot, throwing it back, and then charging into the battlefield (mission field [primarily foreign]) as if this were true, courageous Christianity. Anything less was nominal Christianity.
As a Millennial, I can say that I’ve had this shot (sorry if that metaphor is offensive) placed before me, and was strongly encouraged to take it (though it wasn’t as intense as Platt’s platitudes). On the cusp of graduating college, I was asked what my future ‘plans’ were after graduation. Having dated my girlfriend for a 3 years and feeling a push to go to seminary, I notified this person that I was going to seminary to pursue further education and marry my fiance.
I was pressed: “That’s a terrific idea. However, have you considered doing full-time ministry and proclaiming the gospel everyday? You are well equipped.”
A genuine question, no doubt. But, I responded by saying that I felt like the Lord was leading me to seminary, my wife had an established job, and I could preach the gospel in whatever setting I was in, albeit a sandwich shop (which at that time I was working in) or in my neighborhood.
I was flabbergasted by the following comment (paraphrased): “Well, consider the influence you can have as a full time missionary as opposed to someone working in a secular job (such as a sandwich shop). At best, you can share the gospel with a handful of people in a given year at that work environment, where as a full time missionary you can share it with thousands of people in a year.”
This person continued to say that many Christians work secular jobs that can be done just as well by non-Christians, and the fear was that many Christians were limiting their impact for the kingdom. I, of course, found that appalling, and we butted heads on this issue (and several others).
What if, however, real courage involves being ordinary instead of extraordinary? What if God wants to use ordinary people in extraordinary ways? What if you try your best to love God and neighbor wholeheartedly in whatever profession/occupation you are in? I think that would be extraordinary.