If our churches are going to reach Millennials, we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,” (Hebrews 10:23). Only those churches founded upon God’s Word will promote spiritual maturity and strengthening. Churches built on the solid rock of biblical truth – confessional churches – will weather social and cultural changes in such a way so as to glorify God and to remain relevant.
Confessionalists value unity; Millennials celebrate individualism. Confessionalists cherish tradition; Millennials love innovation. Confessionalists are guardians; Millennials are liberators. The combination of these words seems like an oxymoron. But does it make sense to completely separate the categories “Confessional” and “Millennial?” To answer that question, we need to reach down through the porous layer of cultural stereotypes, and hit theological bedrock worth building upon.
A Confessional Millennial is no oxymoron. I believe that we will see more men and women, over the years ahead, who fit this description in our churches as my peers continue to come under the formative influence of biblical teaching. Subsequently, they will express themselves in confessional language. At least three issues – identity, community, and aspiration – are at play, and worth exploring.
Analysts typically identify as millennial anyone born between 1980 and 1997. Consider the stereotypical “millennial identity.” If one word comes to mind to describe the millennials that you know, it is probably “individualistic.”
Millennials generally start families later, go to college in greater numbers, and enter the workforce with a more earnest “change the world” attitude than prior generations. These shifts provide more time to consider identity, aspiration, and vocation. Higher education marketers have figured this out. University marketing campaigns almost always contain words like “self,” “mission,” “find,” “transform,” “change,” “champion,” and “called.”
If this individualism persists past the twenty-something years, we might expect resistance to comprehensive theological systems like what we find in our confessions. But the thoroughgoing individualist runs into a problem. “Whatever exists has already been named” (Ecclesiastes 6:10). The desire for the absolutely unique will be left unsatisfied. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). In my own experience, the desire at the heart of the pursuit of the Unique or Authentic is actually a desire for the True.
Sin has corrupted this desire, but Millennials – like all human beings – were made in the image of the God of Truth. One nineteenth-century Presbyterian pastor wrote, “Stamped with the divine image as being made ‘a living soul,’ man’s high prerogative is to catch upon the mirror of his own nature the glory of the Creator, and to reflect it back upon him in intelligent and holy worship.” God is true, and we were made to reflect His truth.
The regenerate man cannot ultimately turn away from the truth. Insofar as our Reformed and Presbyterian confessional documents distill the truth of God’s Word, they will attract regenerate people from every generation. We discover truth in God’s Word, which was “given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life” (WCF 1.2). The quest for authenticity, expressed in individualism, is fulfilled only in the discovery of the truth.