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Twenty-somethings in the workplace. Most reactions to this picture probably aren’t positive (see the Millennials in the Workplace Training Video to learn more about why). So you might be surprised to learn that twenty-somethings are actually embracing a Christian theology of work.

Barna Group’s recent FRAME called 20 and something unpacks the complex culture of the Millennial generation from a uniquely Christian perspective coupled with thorough research. Author David Kim, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, says that twenty-somethings today value:

  • Hope and change. It’s not a coincidence President Obama used the slogan “Hope and Change” for his 2008 campaign and successfully won the votes and hearts of young people across America. Twenty-somethings today have hope for a better future and want to play a significant role in changing the world.
  • Adventure. Kim says many Millennials suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) because they know YOLO (you only live once). So if Peace Corps in Uganda is calling, a twenty-something won’t think twice about answering.
  • Meaning and fulfillment. Barna research found that an overwhelming 87% of Millennials surveyed want to find a life full of meaning. “From vocation to prayer life to Instagram feed,” Kim says, young people today are searching for meaning and fulfillment in all areas of life.

Kim also reports that when it comes to work, twenty-somethings today are:

  • Thoughtful about choosing a career. Millennials are known for job-hopping in order to experiment and explore, which shows they want to make the right career choice. Nearly half surveyed by Barna say they are anxious about choosing a career because they don’t want to make the wrong decision.
  • Serious, passionate, and ambitious. They prioritize work over getting married and starting a family which, while it might not always be seen as a good thing, it shows they are serious about their careers. Millennials ranked finding a job they are passionate about as the highest career priority (42%), even over financial security (34%). They are also ambitious in finding their dream job. 52% of young adults surveyed believe they can have their dream job in five years.
  • Not defined by their job. Even though twenty-somethings are enthusiastic about work, only 31% say that a career is central to their identity.

Of course every generation has strengths and weaknesses, but Barna’s highlighting the strengths of the Millennial generation is certainly encouraging from a Christian perspective. The values they hold dear and the characteristics they display look a lot like a biblical view of work.

Rather than prioritizing income and stability over fulfillment and meaning, twenty-somethings are embracing a higher sense of vocation. We each have a meaningful calling set out before us that we should be thoughtful and passionate about pursuing. Twenty-somethings today get this. They strive to live it out in every area of their life, especially their careers.

But churches aren’t getting much credit for this encouraging shift, even from Millennials who grew up in them. Barna’s research finds that:

  • There is a dwindling patience for the church’s segregation of secular and sacred among Millennials.
  • 45% of churchgoers said they learned to understand their gifts and passions as part of God’s calling, but 83% of church dropouts say the church has not helped them learn this.

If the church isn’t offering meaning to every area of life, Kim says, “20-somethings will go somewhere else to find it.”

Millennials want to actively engage with the world around them, and they want a church that does the same. A church that joins the sacred to the secular. A church that connects Sunday to Monday. A church that gives meaning to every aspect of life.

Thankfully, the body of Christ is beginning to rediscover the biblical doctrine of work, and the faith and work movement is growing. Let’s hope this change continues.

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Elise Amyx

About Elise Amyx

Elise Amyx is a communications associate at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. She has previously worked with the Values & Capitalism project at A.E.I. and the Acton Institute. Her articles have been published in Real Clear Religion, The Detroit News, and AFF Doublethink. She has a BBA in Economics from James Madison University. Read More...

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  • Dignan

    I apologize for this sounding this sounding sarcastic, but it’s meant to be a serious question about carefully examining consequences as opposed to living in the moment of motivations. The article states: “It’s not a coincidence President Obama used the slogan ‘Hope and Change’ for his 2008 campaign and successfully won the votes and hearts of young people across America.” So, exactly how is that Hopey-Changey stuff working out for you guys? Some of the President’s biggest drop in support since 2008 has been among young voters. So, if the Church simply appeals to young people as they follow their “hearts” (as the author says that they gave to President Obama) into the Church-of-Hope-and-Change, how long will they remain committed when things don’t work out as they planned?

  • Lance Moore

    This article connected with me. I’m a millennial who has jumped different jobs “in search of the best option.” I’m a millennial who looks for how to serve Christ in all arenas of life, especially work. We’re a generation that is desperately looking for fulfillment, and you’re right they will go where ever they can find it. It’s going to be interesting to see how the church uses millennial in the future. Do you think the church will have to adapt sooner than later?

    • Elise Amyx

      Glad to hear this article connected with you, Lance. I think the church is beginning to adapt now, especially with so much enthusiasm coming from the faith and work movement. And as Millennials grow older, and become church leaders themselves, I think this shift will naturally occur.

  • Dignan

    I remember as a young man finding a book on my bookshelf that my Dad had bought right out of his service in World War II. There was, notably highlighted with Dad’s handwritten notes, an essay about how the younger generation (think JFK and the torch has been passed to a new generation) was going to demand a distinctly different approach to religion given their Depression and Wartime experiences (and, let’s be honest, compared to what my Dad and his cohort went through, there’s almost no comparison to “Gee I’ve had a tough life” from very many of the rest of us). I remember thinking that this essay was odd because Dad’s generation ended up being the quintessential white picket fence traditional church generation that my generation, the Baby Boomers, were rebelling against. Let’s go to the Way Back Machine: “Baby Boomers are religious—perhaps very religious–but they don’t express it in traditionally institutional religious ways.” (Wade Clark Roof and Sr.Mary Johnson, “Baby Boomers and the Return to Churches). But what was my Dad’s generation rebelling against. What was said about their parents when they were turning 22, around the early 1920s? How about the following:

    “Multitudes of young men and women at this season of the year are graduating from our schools of learning, thousands of them Christians who may make older ones ashamed by their devotion to God’s will on Earth. They are not thinking in ancient terms that leaves the ideas of progress out.They cannot think in those terms…I plead thus for an intellectually hospitable, tolerant, liberty loving church, I am thinking about this new generation….The worst kind of church that can possibly be offered to the allegiance of the new generation is an intolerant church.” (Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”).

    Hmmm. Sounds like a pattern. How about the following: “How do most Gen X-ers feel about Church? Most never think about it.They view it as being out of touch with the real world….They regard the Church as irrelevant to the real needs in society…Gen X reacts abhorrently to religious dogmatism.” (Harvey Herman, Jr. “The Missing Generation in Our Churches.)

    The point is that for literally almost 100 years every generation in their 20s has seemed to think that the institutional church is intolerant, dogmatic, and out of step with what goes on on the “Monday” of their lives, yet the Church carries on. In every single case the rallying cries are “Tolerance! No dogmatism!” Yet if we have had quite literally 100 years of generations wanting ever more tolerance and less dogmatism, how did we end up with Billy Graham and neo-Evangelical movement, the packed “traditional” churches of the 1950s, the rise of megachurches of the 1980s displacing the tolerant and ever-less-orthodox mainline denominations?

    The point of all of this is that there has been, at least since Harry Emerson Fosdick, a cottage industry of people prognosticating about the next church generation. Interestingly, the prescription seems always to have been Less Dogma! More Tolerance! And, time after time, when people voted with their feet rather than answering surveys, those prescriptions have proven, if not out-and-out wrong, at least seriously misleading. Caveat Emptor.

  • Randy Kilgore

    One of the great mistakes we in the faith/work movement make is using the church as a battering ram. While the church is in the business of equipping believers and that includes understanding their work matters to God, “workfaith” is but one of many constituencies the church must serve. We’re called to read Scripture and know God ourselves, and when we do that, God opens our eyes to just how intimately He wants us involved in His Creation. The real barrier to understanding what God says about work is a general Biblical illiteracy that has permeated us. Despite this gloomy outlooks on this issue, there are exciting tools being developed to enable the everyday believer to ferret out what God wants from him/her in their lives, including their working lives. Be sure to check out the Theology of Work Project (www.theologyofwork.com), Madetomatter (www.madetomatter.org), Highcalling (www.highcalling.org) and many other terrific sites for both churches and individuals to use. But let’s stop making the church look like it’s a villain and instead carry our new discoveries back into our congregations to share with each other. It will lift a heavy load off of the staff already serving the poor, hungry, addicted, lost, new believers, personal budget/financial guidance and so very many more constituencies each charging the church with not giving it enough time or attention. Praise God for the role the churches are playing in our lives, and when they falter in some area, let’s ask God if it isn’t our turn to step up. Thanks for carrying part of the load here and at http://www.tifwe.org.

    • Elise Amyx

      Thanks for the comment, Randy. I agree. All the organizations you listed are doing great and exciting work alongside the church. Thanks for the thoughtful suggestions and for your passion in helping Christians find meaning in their work.