These two words, “Millennial” and “Missionary”, mostly contradict one another. When contradictory words are put together, it forms a figure of speech called an oxymoron, kinda like “jumbo shrimp” and “disgustingly delicious” ….it don’t make a whole lotta sense.
Sorry to disappoint you, the millennial missionary doesn’t exist, at least, not in the way we think they do.
Minorities, on the other hand, do exist, yet among the mission community they are underrepresented and among the church at large, they are hardly noticed. In certain places in our current society the only time we notice minorities is when we call the cops on minorities…ouch.
Some definitions for clarification:
Millennials: the demographics of adults who are now between their mid-20’s and late 30’s
Missionaries: people who cross-cultural, socio, linguistic, and geographical barriers to catalyze Kingdom communities in places where they barely exist and among peoples who are largely unreached
Minorities: people of color who have multi-cultural backgrounds and are part of historical narratives where other ethnic groups have been in dominant positions of power
Putting all three of these words together, you get this rarely ever used, written about or talked about description, the “Millennial Minority Missionary” (MMM/Triple M).
I’d argue that it’s probably easier to find ninja assassins than to find millennials who are serving cross-culturally and are minorities. Why? Why is it easier to find a ninja than a Triple M? As a millennial, missionary and minority, I don’t have all the answers but I’m hoping to start a discussion, so here are a few insights I have to offer.
- Authenticity is the Killer of Accountability
I’m authentic, it’s part of my millennial DNA. I don’t mind telling you that I tweet on the toilet, binge watch tv shows, am proud of my ghetto Asian refugee background and love making disciples. We millennials are moved by real issues and want to live purposely for causes that matter – but that search for purpose and authenticity has ironically left us floating in a perpetual state of purposelessness. The search for meaning has been a subtle pretext for, “don’t commit your life to anything”.
We millennials suck at following through. We don’t stick around long enough to see results. It’s rare to find millennials who commit to long-term mission and those who do, don’t make it past a few years. The short-term mission trend has not helped the matter either. We think that we can jump on a plane and serve and make a difference while exploring our life options, but I’m telling you that lasting change doesn’t happen overnight and all life options were placed on the altar the moment we decided to follow Jesus. Gospel transformation takes time and the glory of God is worth our every focus. We need to finish what we start, focus on the end vision, and hold ourselves accountable for our actions.
- Mediocracy is the Killer of Mission
Millennials witnessed the rise of the internet and were the first social media generation to plug in and now we can’t unplug. We value transparent and authentic communities and can spot inauthenticity a mile away. We love to be around people without masks and without agendas – transparent enough to chat and grab a drink anytime without feeling the need to schedule an appointment.
I sometimes find it annoying when people (mostly older folks) try to schedule an appointment or phone call with me. I’m thinking, “Bro, this smartphone is glued to my chest like Iron Man’s arc reactor, or like Kanye and Kim at the Grammys, message me anytime cause I’m always available!”
But…availability and transparency don’t make a community authentic, mission does. A community without mission is mediocre at best. People are most real when they work together, live life together, serve together, and suffer together. Jesus led a small group of friends on mission, with a Kingdom agenda, to announce the Kingdom of God – he didn’t go church hopping looking for the best speakers, music, and coffee. If we pursue relationships for the sake of community than all we will find is mediocracy. But if we pursue mission for the sake of God’s glory than we will find true community.
- Independence is the Killer of Dependence
There are the millennials who are still walking around in their underwear in their mom’s basement (like most of my friends) and there are others who are traveling the world giving TED Talks on entrepreneurship or social change. No matter where we are on the scale of drive, ambition, and money, we all want to be independent. Millennials, more than any other generation, often do whatever it is they want to do in life – even if it’s walking around in your underwear drinking Red Bull. This millennial independence is a strength but also a weakness because we fail to depend on God for our needs.
When it comes to global missions, millennials are no longer following the traditional approach of raising financial support from Christian networks and churches. Some are using their skills and creativity to impact the marketplace, start justice projects, and enter creative access countries where foreign religious workers are not allowed. This is awesome and I believe that more millennial creativity is needed…but in our drive for independence, we fail to understand Kingdom stewardship.
We need to realize that support raising is not about weakness and dependency, it’s about Kingdom community. It’s about seeing the blessing of God reciprocated across cultural boundaries. It’s about mobilizing the people of God to live for the glory of God. We must be good stewards of all our experiences and stories – depending on God for all our needs and not just our money.
- Justice is the Killer of Judgment
Millennials are known for self-entitlement and acting without thinking, like impulse buying on Amazon. We are quick to seek digital justice without calculating the true cost of our tweets. We think loving mercy applies to our personal preferences, callings, and talents. We jump on the bandwagon of justice issues without sacrificing our lives for the issue.
Judgment sounds like a bad word, it’s not. Judgment means to think carefully about something before deciding its value, importance, or quality. How often do we think carefully about human trafficking, immigration, refugees, unreached people groups, or God’s glory before deciding its value?
The truth is there are millennial missioners in there 20’s and 30’s all throughout the world using their faith, passions, gifts, and talents, making an incredible impact for the Kingdom – but there’s not nearly enough of them nor are they in places where they’re needed the most, among the unreached. I’m afraid we are misdirecting our missional energy. It’s not enough for millennials to “do something”, but we must ask ourselves, “Are we doing the right thing”? We must think strategically and concentrate our millennial passions among peoples and places that are both unengaged and unreached.
- Inclusiveness is the Killer of Identity
In the not too distant future minorities will become the majority. Multi-cultural millennials will one day rule the U.S. We are one of the most diverse and inclusive generations in our country’s history and see ourselves – despite all the racism – as one human race. We millennials don’t care for labels but at the same time want to be labeled correctly. In our desire to be inclusive we would rather identify with humanity rather than identify with Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth.
The Apostle Paul wasn’t ashamed of who he was or the message he proclaimed…being labeled came with the territory (Rom. 1:16). In countries where it’s dangerous to plant churches we usually do away with sensitive labels like missionary and Christian for cross-cultural worker or Jesus follower. But this serves a missional purpose, not a political one.
As a minority I’m used to being labeled and underrepresented. Our churches and mission agencies have not caught on to the beauty and value that multi-cultural millennials can add. To actually become a cross-cultural worker, we minorities need a little extra love, as we don’t have the relational cushions, networks, and church support that millennial whites do. I would also add that it’s damned near impossible for minorities to become full-time missionaries according to the old/current model of “join a mission agency” and “raise support”. Despite this, we must recognize that our calling and identity is not based in a particular people or place but based in a particular Person.
I’m looking around and trying to understand the motivations behind Kingdom-minded people of my generation. I see a cultural landscape that is shifting and many millennials are being swallowed up only to be spit out wearing skinny jeans, holding a latte. Yet every once and a while God spits out a ninja, with sword and everything. Someone who makes history and not just becomes history. The millennial minority missionary has potential to change the world because the word is changing.