Reaching the Millennials (And Everyone Else)
Still thinking about Scott McKnight’s article on reaching the Millennials. His purpose in pondering the manner in which this coming generation thinks was to figure out how to reach them – how to present the gospel to them in a manner that suits their worldview. His usual tactics, which he implies had been generally successful for twenty years, were no longer effective in convincing these young people of the significance of the gospel message.
I won’t quibble with where he eventually lands, but what he presented briefly as his means of approaching people for twenty years is somewhat frustrating to me. It’s a mentality and approach that I have had told to me by missionaries several times over the years, and now I’m hearing its application in youth ministry settings. The approach is two-pronged:
- Demonstrate, often using the decalogue, though not necessarily, the person’s sin and guilt
- Point to Christ’s work on the cross as the solution to this problem
Here are my concerns about this technique: first, we have to generate a problem before we create a solution. That, to me, sounds like a marketing strategy more than pastoral care. Create a need, then fill it. Yes, there really is a problem; they really are guilty, but they may not relate to that issue. We have to force our way into that issue using this method before we can tell them that it’s okay, and as McKnight pointed out, some people, particularly the Millennials, seem to be impervious to guilt anyway.
A second concern is that this reduces the gospel to eradication of guilt. Please do not misunderstand me on this point. I am in no way saying that the gospel is not about dealing with guilt or sin. But this cannot be the whole gospel. Jesus called Israel to “repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15, NASB) The Israelites had the temple at this point and therefore were making sacrifices. So far as they knew, their sins were forgiven already; their guilt was taken care of. If the gospel were that guilt were eliminated, then he would have been stating what was obvious to that culture, and no one would have bothered to listen.
The gospel, then must be more than the remission of sin. And God does more than forgive guilt. He walks among His people, He teaches, He enlivens, He speaks, He heals, He cares for us, He judges, He protects; all these are elements of the gospel.
This idea that we must convince people that they are guilty before we can tell them the gospel is faulty. The reality is that Jesus taught people the gospel and rarely mentioned sin or forgiveness. His primary method of preaching the gospel was to relate with people and meet their needs. Our evangelism should be no different. Jesus rarely told people that their sins were forgiven directly. The only time I can find this happening was with the paralytic lowered through the roof and the woman anointing him with perfume. Jesus instead taught people to love one another, healed their diseases, asked and discerned their needs and met them, and ate and lived with them.
It’s the third piece there that I specifically want to note. People turn to God because they need Him. We’re all finite. We’re all broken. The crowds followed Jesus because He seemed to (and did!) offer something that met a need within them. For some, perhaps that was a sense of guilt. For others, maybe it was emptiness, loneliness, fear, shame, helplessness, inability to escape their lot, a life they couldn’t control, sheer misery… Who knows the reasons that so many followed Him? Surely they were myriad! And surely they still are.
We will reach the iGens not by convincing them of their guilt, but by pointing them to the God that is capable of meeting the needs that they are already aware of. McKnight notes that the Millennials suffer often from depression. There’s a need, and God can bring healing and hope to that. (Not that I’m barring medication or therapy. God has lots of tools He works with.) That depression may suggest emptiness or hopelessness at a deeper level. Jesus can meet that need. They perhaps won’t believe it if you just tell them, but maybe they can be shown this through patience, love, and attention.
But who’s to say this approach is merely for the Millennials? The gospel remains true for every person, and thus the needs of every person is met ultimately through God and the cross. Evangelization, then, is a matter of discerning the needs of others and telling and showing them how those needs are met by the Father who created them. (Interestingly, this implies that the gospel and evanglization is not merely for the unbelieving… Perhaps I should ponder that in another post.)
So please stop badgering people with their guilt in order to preach the good news to them. That may not be the good news they need. Find out what they do need; then the gospel falls into their laps.