The jury is out on the Millenials (the generation born between 1982-2000 roughly). Some people are calling them slackers who spend all of their time with their heads in their phones, texting, glued to computer screens, and devoid of social skills. They are highly dependent on their parents, now (because of the economy) often live at home, are socially very liberal, and need to be programmed to be effective. Other's say that they are great multi-taskers, inherently global, have a wide array of knowledge having grown up in the google/wikipedia internet world, and that they have a strong social conscience and are likely to be great innovators (think of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook).
So which is it? Well, there seems to be truth in both of those things---as early descriptions of Gen-X (the slackers) seemed to be pretty accurate about our sensibility. But in the end, rumors of Gen-X (my generation) being total losers didn't hold up. Our generation has turned out to be pretty responsible, great at family, and were part of the revolutionary tech boom that has transformed our world. In other words, some of those weaknesses disappeared as we grew up.
Each generation has its strengths and weaknesses. Although I've heard of the Millenials weaknesses---I have to say, I haven't encountered them very much. Our millenial 3W interns and emerging leaders have all been extremely sharp, responsible, and brave. They have a strong Christian social conscience, they seem to be very globally minded, and they have a lot of knowledge at their fingertips. The Christian millenials that I meet with that are interested in missions tend to be extremely sharp, have had a lot of experience overseas, and in general, just kind of blow me away. I've really had nothing but good experiences with this generation.
While it is true that as a generation they are less religious, more socially liberal in their beliefs, and are having a tough time getting a job--when they are serious about their faith, they seem to be very serious. They dislike division and superficiality intensely. They like to see leaders be authentic. Status seems to mean less to them. I don't detect that they are out to make a name for themselves as with one generation I can think of (you don't know who you are). So while there are Christian commentators out there panicking about the drop in Christian millenials, I for one, am not panicking. The ones that are out there seem to be high capacity--with the power to influence many.
You don't have to be a Millenial to be on the Three World Team. The bulk of our team is currently made up of Gen-Xers and Boomers. I'd say, overall, the team has a Gen-X sensibility to it. But we have structured Three Worlds in a way to really appeal to the Millenials. Why? Because the mission-field can't afford to lose this young generation. They are the ones that have stayed away from missions and ministry in droves. If we want a future, we have to gear ourselves to be open to Millenials.
I think at 3W we have done this in a number of ways that millenials are responding to. These are:
1) Unity: We value team unity more than anything. Millenials hate in-fighting between Christians (so do I) and so we've created a team of people with people-skills and E.Q. (Emotional Intelligence) that are high enough that we avoid the kind of conflicts that bring other teams down. Millenials love that.
2) Teamwork: Millenials really value working on teams. At 3W we process together. Just because Jamie and I are the leaders, doesn't mean that we just sit removed from the team. Quite the opposite, through our 3W Staff Meetings and the 3W Roundtable we seek to bring as many voices to the table as possible. Even just today with one issue I'm dealing with, I wrote to two of our families for advice on how to handle a particular situation. Nobody is out to make a name for themselves at 3w. It's all about team. We want others to succeed more than us. It's always been my dream to work at a place where that was really the case. Real Selflessness.
3) Open System: Much like teamwork, 3W is just open. We're open to working with other non-profits, with people for a short time, for a long time, and to get advice from multiple people including mission-pastors and donors. We don't feel we know everything. On the contrary, we are always looking for good advice. When we size up a new project or mission-field, we take outsiders with us to offer a fresh perspective; and that is also what the 3W Roundtable does.
4) Clear Leadership: Millenials don't like organizations that are poorly run, unclear, or just have no vision and guidance. They have grown up with coaches, teachers, and parents that were very pro-active in leading them. Three Worlds does have a very clear vision, clear DNA, and clear leadership coming from Jamie and me. But it's not authoritarian which stifles innovation. That would defeat the purpose of having a tight team.
5) Freedom to Create: Millenials are creative. At 3W our missionaries are part of a system that has a common DNA, with strong leadership---but all of our missionaries are able to configure their mission-fields in a way that fits them best. As they work with people they will come up with all sorts of out-of-the-box ideas and provided that they are not damaging to the country or the team, we are anxious to see them move forward. Pretty much all of the super cool ministry successes that 3W has had have come from the inventive ideas of our 3W missionaries. We love inventive people.
6) Authentic: Sometimes missionaries are idolized or put up on a pedestal. Actually, that happens a lot. But nobody on our team buys into that. We are all open about our struggles, our deficiencies, our pains. We're just real flesh and blood people with all the usual limitations. We have a high level of transparency and everyone can feel free to express how they really feel. I think we all admire each other, but also realize that we're all the same. No heroes on this team. Just people trying to make it in what is an unusually stressful job. Yes, it is unusually stressful for a number of reasons. And that's why it's so great to have a team.
While we are open to all generations, we do hope to see the millenials be the one that take Three Worlds to next level in the near future. It's what has to happen if the church is to remain strong and relevant. We're so excited to be adding our 2 new millennial couples: Zach and Audrey Langford and Daniel and Christy Kihm. The four of them are all very emblematic of what makes this generation so special.