His text lit up my phone like a Christmas tree. “Can we meet for breakfast?” It came from one of the guys who went to Africa with me and it seemed important, so I swallowed my fatigue and lack of coherence and said sure.
Ben and I had just spent 10 days in Burkina Faso, West Africa. We went with Envision and we traveled in the bush, the wild places of Africa with no access to phone or internet. We built a church, saw some wells our church helped to dig and met some of the most incredible people. Coming home, I was looking forward to spending time with my family and catching up with them, but Ben seemed to want to meet urgently.
Ben had been an all-star. He had bounced from one activity to the next like a flash of lightning. Whether he was suspended 20 feet in the air building the church roof, or playing soccer with the kids, or holding babies, he devoured every moment. I was looking forward to having Ben join me at some point to help with the youth ministry
As we sat across each other in the diner, in the early morning hours, the silence between bites of food and sips of coffee was pregnant with energy and expectation. In that moment, Ben spoke first, “This past trip to Burkina really impacted me. I’ve been really thinking and praying that maybe I’m supposed to go back. Since studying engineering, I feel like I can do some real good there. What do you think?"
Suddenly, that diner, with sizzling bacon and soft conversation in the background became a cathedral. I sensed that I was standing on Holy Ground. Without hesitation, I said to Ben: “I knew it when I saw you there. God has made you to do something incredible. I think you need to spend an entire summer there."
And that’s what Ben did. The next summer he went all in and spent the summer in Africa. As a leader in the local church, I would have loved to have Ben stay and be part of the projects and things I’d had going on. I was a youth pastor and always needed help, but Ben, a young millennial leader, didn’t need me to make room for him in something I was already doing. Rather I needed to move out of the way. As leaders who work with millennials, I think we can miss our roles. We assume we need to make room and accommodate them so they don’t leave. It’s actually the opposite.
Don’t make room for millennials, move over!
What I mean by this is that so often we think that we need to include millennials in what we are already doing as an afterthought. Instead, we need to shift our thinking and even our processes to recalibrate how we even view ministry and develop people. They need our help to discern their God-given calling and purpose, which may lead them away from your "thing." But in the long run will be helpful for your organization if you are known as a place where millennials can find their place and their calling. Here are three ideas to begin to allow millennials to flourish in your organization.
1. Move from Management to Mentoring.
Millennials may want to run things, but they don’t know how. They have a deep desire to be developed. Managing millennials can be challenging because they may not even know all the areas they need development in, but they desire that. That is why it's important to manage less and mentor more. Mentoring means that instead of telling them what to do, you are offering them perspective, telling your life stories, what’s worked for you and what hasn’t. You are trying to help them solve their own problems through asking questions, helping them set realistic goals, and showing them how to hear God and do what He says.
2. Move from Restriction to Releasing.
Many millennials are ready to lead. And in many ways it is better to err on the side of giving them leadership they aren’t ready for, as opposed to waiting for them to be ready. If you are leading millennials, giving them a plan of development and making part of that plan releasing more responsibility and accountability to them, they will flourish. Otherwise, they may feel stifled and frustrated. Moving millennials leaders into a place of autonomy where they can develop their own voice and leadership is crucial to the health of your church and organization.
3. Move from Control to Celebration.
Working with millennials is messy. Not just because they are millennials, but because they are young, inexperienced, and still growing. They will make mistakes, and that’s a good thing. More than anything, they need older leaders who are secure enough to release control to them. Who will celebrate their successes, help them autopsy their failures without judgment and fail forward. Releasing responsibility to the next generation means you may not like how they do something. Instead focus on agreed upon results.
How is your church or organization empowering millennials?
Where do you need to grow and make changes?
Nithin Thompson is the Teaching Pastor at Liquid Church which is located in Morristown, NJ. Nithin is a graduate of Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary. When he's not pastoring you can find him hanging out with his wife Jackie and trying to catch Pokemon with his daughter Selah and son Wesley. He blogs on SojournIntoExile.com.