At Work

Millennials and the Biblical Doctrine of Work

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I was raised up believing I was somehow unique/Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes/Unique in each way you can see…/What’s my name, what’s my station?/Oh, just tell me what I should do…/And I don’t, I don’t know who to believe…/If I know only one thing/It’s that everything that I see/Of the world outside is so inconceivable/Often I barely can speak.

– “Helplessness Blues,”  written  and performed by the Fleet Foxes

This week I’ll be traveling to the Catalyst conference in Atlanta, GA. Catalyst is a conference geared towards inspiring and equipping young Christian leaders. Its website reads,

Catalyst is more than just an event. It is a movement founded in the hearts of young leaders who see things differently and feel a burden for the fate of an entire generation. Catalyst attracts the leaders and change agents who are making a major difference; the influencers and cultural architects who have the power and influence to change our communities and culture, and lead with a new set of lenses.

The “generation” Catalyst is attempting to engage are, for the most part, the Millennials, a group described by both popular and scholarly literature as “emerging adults.”

This is my generation. I’m interested to see how Catalyst engages with us. I’m interested in discovering how I can reach my peers with both the gospel message and its implications for faith and work. In this way I hope I can even modestly follow in the footsteps of the men of Issachar found in 1 Chronicles 12:32:

From Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.

I often find works of art helpful in understanding our times and how to speak the gospel into them. For example, I think the lyrics to the song “Helplessness Blues,” by the Fleet Foxes, offer insight into the mindset of the Millennial generation.

“What’s my name? What’s my station?/Oh, just tell me what I should do.”

Hugh Whelchel states in a recent post that 97% of Millennials are looking for work which allows them to have a unique impact on the world. They’re just not sure what that work is, or how to find it.

Sociologist Christian Smith told Christianity Today in an interview that an unpredictable job market,

…puts young people on edge, wanting to keep their options open when it comes to work.

Finding meaningful work is a major anxiety for Millennials. The New York Times quoted one woman who said,

It’s somewhat terrifying to think about all the things I’m supposed to be doing in order to get somewhere successful.

This hunger for work that makes an impact offers an opportunity for Christians to share a biblical perspective on work. The question is how to best share this message of hope.

“Everything I see of the outside world is so inconceivable/Often I barely can speak.”

This past summer, USA Today reported on a study of Millennials that revealed the following statistics about this generation:

  • 56% feel anxious.
  • 33% feel depressed.
  • 60% said they believe adulthood will be more enjoyable than their life is now.
  • 65% said that “this time of my life is full of uncertainty.”

Anxiety. Fear. Depression. All these are elements that comprise the Millennials’ psychological make-up. They are trying to make sense of everything they see in the outside world. They are struggling to understand the world they want so desperately to change.

In fact, Millennials may be changing the world without even realizing it. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, MA, told The New York Times that just as the emergence of the teenager forced social institutions like law, health care, and education  to adapt, the rise of Millennials and their peculiar lifestyles are bringing about similar social change.

The concepts of career and retirement are different for Millennials. They are unlikely to stay with one company or one job for their entire working life. Also, life cycles are alterting, as many Millennials are putting off marriage and family to a later age than previous generations.

All this change and uncertainty makes it all the more important for Christians to discern the times and engage the existing culture. These changes are taking place without vision. The need for leaders with vision to guide our culture through these times is great.

What a critical moment to help people rediscover the biblical doctrine of work! This doctrine teaches us that visionaries and change agents can exist in all vocations – among the micro-financiers who do development work in poor countries and among less trendy occupations, such as dentists or engineers, for instance. Work in either kind of vocation is equally meaningful, and equally needed.

With all this in mind, I’m excited to see what Catalyst has to say to Millennial leaders and their generation. Will their message incorporate a biblical perspective on work? I’ll discuss these issues more when I return from the conference.

Until then, let me know what you think! What is your impression of Millennials, and how do you think both the gospel and the biblical doctrine of work can be spoken into their lives? Leave your comments here.

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Further readings on At Work

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Taking Our Faith to Work

By: Russell Gehrlein

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Editor’s note: Russell Gehrlein reappeared on the syndicated radio program The Plumb Line, hosted by Jay Rudolph, on Tuesday, March…

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Debunking Four Retirement Myths

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There’s a growing movement among millennials who are dreaming about (and achieving) financial independence and early retirement. The movement calls…

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