More Thoughts on the Activism Generation
Have you ever studied generations? It is a confusing, ever-changing field that seems to have little agreement amongst its researchers. Though researchers seem to rarely agree on the characteristics and values of a generation there usually is a common thread that emerges that begins to define a generation. Today I want to focus on thread that most people agree defines the Millennial Generation (defined as any who is age 10-28 at the time of this blog). This common thread is activism.
On one hand, many people feel that this is a very privileged, self-centered generation, yet it is hard to argue the socially conscious side of this age group. If you don’t believe me, go back in time a couple of weeks and scour Facebook for student’s responses to Kony 2012. They care. Sometimes, they care in positive ways, and in some instances, their idealism is misguided and turns in bullying. However, the truth remains that students care about social justice. In fact, they are passionate about it.
Sitting in the Driver’s Seat
If you go back 20+ years, for the most part the church was the gate-keeper of social justice. If a student wanted to get involved in many practical social justice endeavors they had to go to through the church. In 1995 there were about 600,000 501c3 non-profit organizations in America. As of 2009 that number has exploded to over 1.2 million. America is booming with para-church or non-religious social justice driven organizations. Even in spite of a recent boom in social justice awareness in the church, students don’t need us to express their passion for advocacy and activism. Warning: I’m going to say something controversial. I think that this is a good thing.
In the old model of church-driven social justice, youth pastors and leaders would have to cast a vision, try to get students behind their vision, and mobilize them to action. It was program and adult leader driven. Fast forward to today. Students don’t need our leaders and programs to drive their passions. This is an absolutely amazing opportunity for us to connect with students and empower them at the same time. What would happen if we let students lead us?
Take a Back Seat
I have a confession to make. I do not have a passion for social justice and activism. This makes me an “undesirable” to many ministry leaders. Don’t get me wrong, I care very much about the hurting, poor, broken and lost, but I don’t wake up every morning wondering how I can help the “less fortunate” in my community and world. Again, I think this is a good thing. God has given me another passion…mentoring and discipling students. I wake up every morning thinking about things like how to counsel, empower, disciple, and show love to students. I believe that God spreads out His passions so that we don’t become about that “one thing” as a Church. So…how can I connect to a generation that values activism above almost all things if I am not passionate about it myself? Who says that is even necessary?
I feel like I had an epiphany recently. I have been watching this generation’s passion for activism from a distance wondering how to program something that will draw them in. Then it hit me. What if I shouldn’t program anything? What if, instead of attracting their passion to “my” thing, I join up with “their” thing? Essentially, this would require me to take a backseat to my students and allow them to lead me in social justice while still mentoring and teaching them Christ-honoring ways to show love and live the discipleship life.
My reason for writing this article is to throw the idea out there that maybe we don’t have to lead our students when it comes to social justice and activism. In many cases, they get this more intuitively than we do. Perhaps instead we should focus on empowering and supporting our students as the leaders for social change. Of course we need to do this with caution and wisdom. Not every cause is a good cause, but if we use our resources to show students that we value and believe in them I think we can build a lasting and powerful connection to this generation.
Thoughts? Comments? How can we empower and resource our socially-conscious students? Should we take a backseat? When should we “drive” a social justice movement?
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