Monday, March 15, 2010

The Next Generation: Whatever!

Whatever! That one word is packed with significant meaning and is a frequent response heard by those of us who work with teenagers and young adults. We often hear this response when we ask a young adult to do something, or to explain perhaps why they didn't so something they were supposed to. From my perspective, sometimes it seems that the next generation lacks motivation. They do not seem motivated to excel at school. They do not seem motivated to excel at work. They do not seem motivated to excel in their chores. Some don't even put forth the maximum effort in sports! One might think the next generation is content to drift through life not caring about what happens around them.

To be fair to teens and young adults, I question if they really lack motivation or if they simply doubt that working hard would actually make a difference. Dr. Jean Twenge, who has done extensive research on the young people between the ages of 7-36, has concluded that "many young people feel that the problems of the modern world are impossible to solve anyway."

Many young adults grew up in broken homes. They often tried to "be good" so their parents would stay together, but it didn't work. Many young adults went into significant debt to get a college education with the idea that they would get a good job and be able to pay off their loans. Now that they are out of college, good jobs are hard to find and their student loans are due. Many young adults voted in the last presidential election for the very first time thinking that their vote would be a positive change to the nation. Instead the nation remains gripped in partisan politics with no meaningful change on the horizon. If we look at things from the young adults' perspective, we might be tempted to join with them when they say "Whatever!" Dr. Twenge's research revealed that there is indeed a "declining belief in personal responsibility and the efficacy of hard work and sacrifice." Young people just don't see the value of hard work. They don't see that it makes a difference. Therefore, why bother trying?

Those of us who are pastors and youth ministry volunteers must help young people rediscover the value of hard work. We need to help young adults put Colossians 3:22-24 into practice. Those verses say: "Don't work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly for the Lord. Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord—you serve the Lord Christ." Christians should think of everything they do as being done for the Lord. When Christians take that approach to life, then their hard work has great value even if they don't see the immediate results that they had hoped for. Christians should work hard and they should finish what they start. Christians should not quit just because the results are not exactly what we had hoped for. When we don't put forth the maximum effort, or when we quit part way through a task, we leave the job half done. A half done job not only makes an individual look bad, but when that individual is a Christian, it makes Christ look bad. That is why Paul wrote in First Corinthians 10:31, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God's glory." Let's help the next generation learn to value hard work for the Lord's sake. The rewards for hard work are more than just immediate earthly results, sometimes they are eternal results. And those are worth waiting for.


  1. Whatever = I'm angry because you're right. Rather than being grateful to you for plainly laying out for me a more accurate perception, I'm going to try and use rage as a way to avoid obvious humiliation. Or at least...that's how people usually seem to use it...

  2. I found your article to be very good, & on target. In fact, I though enough of the article, I ahve forwarded it to my own 19 year old grandson. He will read it, & then email me what he thinks about it. Keep up the good work.

  3. It's time for middle aged and older adults to stop trying to "project" their personal philosophies, ideals, and goals onto young adults. Our ministry to understand and reach young adults must become more like reaching into a people group who has little understanding of Biblical truth (from the Bible directly or from culture indirectly).

    As a parent, "floating" is hard to take since I am goal oriented and driven. An interesting development is, when a young adult experiences a spiritual "call", they answer with passion.

  4. Good work, Terry. My wife and I are reading two books on the current generation: "Generation Me" by Jean W Twenge, and "The Narcissism Epidemic" by the same author. Recently I disussed the lack of emphasis on corporate worship in some contemporary worship services with a trusted Chinese friend. He amazed me by stating that not only was this true, but this concept is no longer taught in seminaries and is not an objective in most churches. Do you find this to be true, and if so, how do we reconcile this with the New Testament's teaching on the body of Christ?

  5. A good book to read in relation to these subjects is, “Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation”, by Sarah Cunningham. I recall from reading this book that the younger generation does, in fact, want to help/work, etc. It is just a matter of others recognizing their gifts, asking them to use them, giving them the freedom to express themselves, and encouraging them along the way. This entire discussion should not be about why young people are the way they are, because we will never figure that out, but instead, how we (parents, pastors, teachers, etc.) can alter our approach to bring out the best in them. It is a type of evolution. Times have changed, attitudes have changed, people have changed… but has our approach to things (evangelism, parenting, teaching) changed? I don’t think it has as much as it needs to.