December 1, 2015

Millennials and Spiritual Formation

I often speak with baby boomers deeply impacted by certain spiritual practices that long for young adults to participate in their labyrinth walks, silent retreats or whichever weekend away spiritual discipline experience you favor. Yet, they frequently come to me disappointed in the young adult turn out for such events. I have a few thoughts about this:

Desperation is not attractive
First off, when you approach millennials don't beg. Begging sounds desperate. Would you buy something off of someone because they were pleading with you to buy it? No. Millennials are young but they are not stupid.

Not all millennials are the same
Studies have shown that while millennials are not as religious as their parents they are equally as spiritual. While they are seeking, they do not find the way spirituality is often framed attractive. This doesn't mean we should abandon all that distinguishes the Christian tradition. In fact, another study has shown millennials value traditional Christian spaces over more nondescript spaces. But know this: not all young adults are the same! These studies are broad strokes. You need to understand the young adults you hope to work with. Spend time with them. Listen to them. Understand how they experience the divine and then explain the spiritual work you do in their context.

Specificity matters
More millennials than previous generations have checked out of church. But this doesn't mean you should be afraid to draw from your own tradition and speak specifically from it. Spiritually neutral language is simply not captivating. To be specific does not equal being exclusive. It's okay to use Scripture. It's okay to speak of Jesus. Even more than okay, you ought to. A cogent, rooted expression of faith is a compelling thing.

Take life experience into consideration
After being an adult for a few decades you begin to discover a new kind of tired. There are more demands on your time. Mortgages, debt, spouses, kids, people reporting to you at work, etc. etc. The more demands, the more you crave places and practices of rejuvenation. You cannot expect a 20-something to relate to this! They don't have the life experience to have the same hunger, the same craving for spiritual practices.

Take a holistic approach
Spiritual practices impact other areas of life. Medical studies show the health benefits of practices like meditation. We now know that activities like centering prayer make us healthier. Spiritual practices should be integrated into your life; shaping it, changing it, and drawing you closer to God. If this not happening, well, why bother?

The historic connection between spiritual depth and social justice
Some of the greatest movements for justice throughout history have been led by people with deep spiritual experiences and practices. Dorothy Day, MLK, Ghandi, Cesar Chavez, Mother Teresa, Malcolm X. Share with the young adults you work with how spiritual practices are connected to empowering them for action that creates justice. It's all connected.

Share your own experience
Nothing is more convincing than your personal experience. If you truly believe in the transformative effects of the particular practices you engage, share it with confidence. Share your own story. Tell them how it has changed your life. If you can not say that your ae not only wasting their time, you're wasting your own!

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