Updated: Sep 14, 2019
Delivered at Fairmount UMC, Nineveh UMC, & Union Valley UMC. Just a reminder, this is pretty much a transcript of the sermon, so it's written as I spoke it, not how it would be written it for publication
Scripture: 1 Samuel 17:31-37 & Matthew 18: 1-5
I was super lucky to have this one recorded. You can listen here
Hello everyone. So, first things first let me introduce myself. My name is Trent Somes. I am currently in the candidacy process in the UMC with the eventual goal of becoming a military chaplain. I’m a student at W&J studying political science and religion. I am an infantryman in the Marine Corps Reserves, and I am a candidate for Washington City Council. So, I have a full plate, but I love bringing this message – which is about youth – because the church has been one of the best outlets for me, personally to express my gifts in leadership and my passion for service, even as a young person. I want to preface that this has a message with it, but it’s more teaching oriented – I’m not sure how Reverend Scott normally does this, but I don’t want you to be in shock.
I believe that knowledge is power, and the first thing I want to do is go over what a youth is. Because this is an ambiguous and overused term, and its often hard to conceptualize that some millennials aren’t youth anymore – and some Gen Zs are old enough to vote. Often the term “millennial” is used interchangeably with “youth.” But straight up, it’s more complicated than that.
So, what is a millennial? Whereas previous generations have been pretty easy to define because of defining trends in culture, such as WWII for the Greatest Generation, and the Cold War era for Baby Boomers, Millennials (Aka “Generation Y”) are kind of hard to define because a whole lot has happened – especially in changes in government and technology in the time where we generally place their birth. Currently, millennials are the most populous in the United States. Most researchers put millennials starting in mid - 1980s to mid-1990s to as late as the early 2000s. My personal definition: if they were born after 1985 and remember 9/11 then they are probably millennials. And I recognize this differs in certain socio-economic communities, but if they had smartphones while they were in middle or elementary school, they are not millennials. This generally puts them between the ages of 34 and 20.
Millennials tend to be more community minded than previous generations. They aren’t buying things that would be considered markers of wealth to previous generations like expensive jewelry, cars, and homes. They’ve invested heavily in technology and education, and they see markers of wealth as things that make living more comfortable, healthy and convenient – for example eating out, doing fitness classes, and traveling. They also grew up in an increasingly globalized and interconnected era, which has made them more tolerant and globally driven.
Now Gen-Zs are a bit different they are generally viewed as the individuals who grew up in the 2000s. There have not been a lot of studies on them as a generation, mostly because they are probably still being born. What researches have been able to observe is that because they grew up in the Great Recession, they are personally more fiscally responsible. They are also entrepreneurial, and they are big on individuality and they are likely the most globally driven generation in history. They are also multitaskers and where millennials learned to use technology as children or teens, GenZs were born with iPads in hand, making their generation completely driven by tech.
I should also note, that we are nearing the end of GenZ. My guess is that 2016 marked the beginning of a new generation, but time will only tell if my assessment is correct, or if 2019 or 2020 will prove to be more significant.
So to be clear here are the generations currently living in the United States:
Greatest Generation (b. ~1901 - 1924)
Silent Generation “Lucky Few” (b. ~1925 - 1941)
Baby Boomers (b. 1946 - ~ 1964)
Gen X (b. 1970s - 80s)
Millennials (b. Mid 80s - 90s)
Gen Z (born after Millennials)
Let’s do a pop quiz: I am the son of a Baby Boomer and a Gen Xer (my mom and dad are 8 years apart) one of my first coherent memories is 9/11 and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, I grew up with technology in the classroom and I got a smart phone when I was in 8th grade. I have a strong sense of community and am very tolerant. I grew up during the Great Recession. I regularly use coupons to save money, I shop on Amazon, and I love Starbucks. I was born in 1998. What am I?
The answer is that I fit neither generation’s description perfectly. These descriptors are just there to give you a general feeling when it comes to doing mass outreach, or maybe trying to figure out what a certain demographic is feeling or trying to design an advertisement. It doesn’t exist to be a catch all - be all guide to your outreach. Which I’ll talk about later. The bottom line is that I probably am more millennial than Gen Z, but I still carry a lot of the qualities of a Gen Zer. We need to intentionally work to understand individuals when doing outreach to people in person.
So why is it important for these people to be in the church?
I have 3 main reasons:
They have skills that are required for church growth and their inclusion will benefit the church greatly
The church is unsustainable without full inclusion of youth in church leadership
They need Jesus now more than ever
Allow me to elaborate on the first point. Technology is a great equalizer. At this point, the internet is accessible to almost everyone. Anyone can have a platform where there wasn’t one before – including the church – in other words, where we have lost a cultural battle, effectively losing our place as an integral center of community, we can gain back influence and social capital using social media, make evangelism easier through the use of technology, and reaching people that we never would have been able to do so before. The bottom line is that youth know how to use this to the church’s advantage than anyone else – and the proper stewardship of their talents will give us an advantage when it comes to reaching people.
The second point – I’ll break down. The first part of this is a statement of fact. The church is unsustainable without full inclusion of youth. Take a look at this graph for a second. It shows that the baby boomers, GenXers, etc. are all dying off, while millennials and GenZs are taking over.
In other words, means that youth outreach can no longer be a secondary ministry. In order for our church to survive at all – we need to be doing conscious and directed youth outreach, with the intent of making actual youth disciples. The second part is specific and demanding. We need young church leaders. There are 37 pastors under the age of 35 in WPAUMC and there are 82 churches in the Washington District alone. We need to be trusting young people with leadership positions and encouraging them to carry on the work of the church. Friends, this is a crisis that cannot be averted except through the work of the Holy Spirit - and I have confidence that we will carry on – except we have to do his work.
The last part of this is that youth need Jesus too. As wealthy as our generation is with technology, it can be used for un-Godly things too. Instead of bullying in school, kids now have to deal with it through their phones and online – constantly. Luckily for them our God says, “blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
As entrepreneurial, resourceful, and thrifty these youth are, many of their parents’ wages haven’t gone up in years to the point that data shows millennials are the first in our history to, on average, have less worldly possessions than their parents. Luckily our God says that it doesn’t matter and instead says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Beyond that, the church was designed from the beginning to be a mutual assistance organization that thrived on giving. --- Perfect for my generation.
And even though social media is great, can we just acknowledge that it is impersonal? And as much as we are community oriented - I have not been able to find better relationships than the one that I have with Jesus. It is absolutely amazing to me that our God referred to his followers as “friend.” This generation needs genuine relationships – and Jesus – and you for that matter – can offer them.
For nearly every single one of my generation’s problems Jesus is the answer – and if we genuinely believe in the Church that we hold the truth to salvation – which I do – we cannot fail our young people by not giving them this message of salvation.
I hope that I have convinced you that youth should be a part of the church and now I am going to very quickly give you some ideas using examples that Jesus provided for us. So if you’re taking notes here are the highlights:
Form genuine relationships with youth
Make a conscious effort to reach out to youth
Give youth stuff to do
For my first point: youth value genuine relationships. Jesus didn’t just preach to the lost he made friends with them. Look at the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the blind, the leopards. Youth value genuine relationships, and the church has a perfect example.
My second point: Jesus didn’t wait for people to come up to him. He went where the people were. On this Palm Sunday we recognize a humble Lord riding on a donkey into the crowds of Jerusalem. We need to take the same philosophy with youth. We need to make a conscious effort to reach youth, or else we can’t expect them to come.
My third point: Youth are only going to stay if they are given stuff to do, and why not give it to them – it’s free labor. If we’ve already established that youth have tendencies towards valuing communities, why not invite them into this one?
The last thing I want to say is this. I am standing before you today. A 20-year-old man completely in love with Jesus. I want more people with my passion and my age to be in leadership. The bottom line is I wouldn’t have been here if it weren’t for adults doing those things for me. It’s time to bring more youth in and keep them, and it starts with you. -TS