I consider myself a reasonably experienced dad of four, but I admit, I have done it. I have said it more than once—well, more than a dozen times—at least. After all, it is perhaps a responsibility of every dad to, every so often, launch into the “when I was your age…” speech. These new generations have it easier and far less prepared for the world than parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Right?
It is easy to think of a new generation as somehow being less than the generations before. It is easy to look at students and label them as lazy, unconcerned with the future, unmotivated, not as smart, soft, etc. And over the last year or so, I have read countless articles and plenty of books raising concern about today’s students. Much of it valid and informative about the state of our youth in light of the gospel and the future of Christianity. But I often think it is far too easy to focus in on the negative that we forget about the positive. I sincerely believe there is an incredible hope with the rising generation. Here’s why.
They are after authenticity
If you work with students then you know. You know they see right through us adults when we are trying too hard. The older I get, the more I can see that students really just want real. They want authentic, original, credible, and trustworthy adults they can count on. They are constantly surrounded by fake news, misinformation, conflicting reports, and opinions expressed as fact. The more information, the more confusion—and they are starting to see right through it. Give them real, and you will gain their trust.
They desire close communities
There is a lot of discussion and research trying to determine whether or not the world of social media is creating greater connections or a greater chasm in interpersonal relationships. Only a generation ago, we had to learn how to communicate in a digital world, today students need to learn how to communicate in the physical world. But regardless of how our methods of communications have changed, our need to be connected is still very much a thing. And just from what I have seen over the last few years, the shift in how our students communicate and relate to one another has highlighted this need maybe more than in previous generations. In other words, I think students are starting to see the need for what most of us grew up with—close community interaction. A tribe.
They are multi-cultural
Growing up, I understood diversity as an abnormality that I only saw in textbooks. I lived with, played with, and went to school with people just like me. Diversity was intentional and out of the ordinary. But our students today are growing up in a more diverse culture than any previous generation before them. So much so, that there is a new normal. Multi-cultural communities, families, schools, etc. are not only expected, it is normal.
They may not consider themselves ready for adulthood, but they are looking for us to show them what it looks like
This almost seems counterintuitive, but the more I look at it, the more I see this as true. Students are taking less risk, more dependent on parental involvement prolonged often through college, and based on when they are getting married and starting families are far less in a hurry to enter into what Americans traditionally think of as adulthood. However, they are looking to adults to give them a clear and positive picture of what adulthood looks like—from family responsibility, jobs, integrity, marriages, parenting, even what we wear.
They want to be successful
Millennials became well known for their desire to do work that mattered. They didn’t just want a job, they wanted a career that had a purpose greater than themselves. And that birthed an explosion of start-up companies focused more on giving back than a big bottom line—and their contributions have continued to have a lasting socio-economic impact. While GenZ may not have the same philanthropic focus as Millennials, they still have their sights set on success. Yes, it is true. It might seem like a miraculous act of God to unglue their eyes from their gaming and social media, but our students are seeking financial success—and that success can be useful for business growth, churches and non-profits, and the overall economy.
They are willing to work
Work may look a little different, but that does not mean they are not ready to get their hands dirty. My dad has always been a machinist. Which means, growing up, I learned the trade—be it ever so brief. Those days taught me incredible lessons of hard work, determination, meeting deadlines, working a whole 8-hour day, and problem-solving. While I doubt many students are flooding the oily floors of the local machine shop, many of these same lessons are being learned in their digital world. It looks different, but the lessons often translate.
They are open to conversations about spirituality, Jesus, and truth
I have a few talks on truth that I have had the opportunity from time-to-time to give to a group of students. It never fails, every time I do, students are completely engaged and captivated. We talk about truth, relativism, and our post-truth culture. It always ends in a flood of questions and further discussion—sometimes for an hour or more after the event. I am pretty sure it is not me but their desire to know more than what culture or even the church has taught them about truth and reality.
They are genuinely seeking ways to love others
Given the world they are connected with, the diversity they experience daily, and the moral uncertainty of our culture, this is a group of youth determined to love others. They may not be entirely sure what that looks like or how to express the love of Christ to those we disagree with, but they are determined to figure it out.
They want a voice and know how to use social media to leverage it
Each morning I open my social media feeds to catch up with the world, see what is trending, and how I might engage. Pick your platform of choice, and there is no shortage of students making their opinions known. In their minds, the world is not going to be theirs soon. It already is. They have the means of having a voice, and they know how to use it.
These are opportunities, not guarantees. As leaders and mentors of the next generation it is our job to leverage these opportunities to grow their faith and move the gospel forward by allowing students the space to experience Christ in a way that not only changes their lives, but the lives of those around them.