Millennials Long for a Vocation
During the month of May there was a notable controversy surrounding Global Degree, an organization that advocates for education through travel rather than traditional means like colleges, universities, and trade schools. They specifically target millennials.
Those visiting all 193 states in the United Nations are eligible for a Global Degree, and joining their community is fairly simple. Global Degree will connect you with financiers, cheap travel options, discounts, and a community that is pursuing the same goals. We have noted that recent polls have found millennials idealize travel as part of the American Dream.
Jules Schroeder interviewed Michael Graziano, founder of Global Degree, for the Unconventional Life Podcast, and wrote about her conversation at Forbes. Schroeder sees Global Degree as a prime example of millennials pursuing a very different vision of life from previous generations, and seems to resonate with their vision. Schroeder spoke to Graziano after Global Degree’s release of a viral video which accrued over seven million views in just ten days, titled, “A Message to Older Generations from Millennial Travelers.”
I’m sure the message was well intended, but in the end the video was not well received. You can probably guess why.
According to this Australian news outlet the video featured wondrous travel footage with a message addressed to older generations. A voiceover declared, “Sorry for being unable to sit still in an office. The cubicle is a wooden box,” and, “Sorry for not buying into the whole society expectation of a mortgage, a family, and kids.”
Without irony, the video is reported to have said, “You may call these desires selfish, but we believe that being in a relationship or raising kids while regretting not doing all these things is also selfish.”
The video has since been pulled from the web, removed due to negative backlash. Global Degree has issued an apology of sorts on Facebook, and shared a response video made by Susan Nicolai, a 53 year old woman, titled “Dear Younger Generations.” Global Degree called it “a learning experience.”
Schroeder’s coverage of Global Degree is positive, supporting the idea that travel is a conduit for learning, and she is dismissive of the notion that millennials are lazy. Millennials just have a different way of working, and differences in methodology shouldn’t be perceived negatively so long as the work gets done. She notes that travel can provide millennials with a vision for social impact entrepreneurship, which may be true, and that Global Degree’s video could open a conversation between generations which she claims is “long overdue.”
Global Degree’s video garnered millions of view. The response video from Nicolai, shared on Facebook, has been seen around 35,000 times. This controversy reveals (and in some measure reinforces) the generation gap, entrenches the prevailing narrative about millennials, and, in light of the response, shows that the human search for meaning is a constant across different age demographics.
What can church leaders learn from this?
First, millennials strongly believe that encounters with other people groups and cultures can be educational and transformative. How can your church foster these kinds of connections and opportunities? Mission efforts are still powerful avenues for sharing the gospel and tangibly meeting needs in the name of Christ. Millennials may be able to help you conceive of a vision for missions marked by empowering and sustainable partnerships in gospel ministry.
If your church does not have a vision for sharing the good news of Jesus beyond the four walls of your church, you’re probably not connecting with succeeding generations. If you do not have the resources to plan a mission initiative that would include travel, figure out ways to partner with your community. Millennials want to serve and see how their faith makes a difference.
Second, getting outside Sunday worship and experiencing something new together can create connections, stories, and stronger bonds across generations. If you have a youth mission trip, recruit older saints in the congregation to be a part of the effort, rather than restricting leadership to a handful of parents or college interns. If you have a trip that is predominantly composed of older people, make it a public goal to include younger people in what you are doing.
Schroeder believes that older generations and millennials need to talk. Swapping video messages won’t get it done. But creating a common ground would help us make headway. Think creatively about how your congregation can foster connections with one another while being active in service to the world. Then, as members of your congregation increase in their understanding of one another, share those stories of transformation.
Lastly, experiences in mission can teach millennials and all members of your congregation that life is not about the satisfaction of desires for things like travel and adventure, but is instead about sacrifice and love.
Those lessons translate to being in a relationship, having a family, or being part of a congregation. Forsaking one experience for another, greater experience can lead to an incredible amount of good, such as when Christ put aside the privileges of deity and took on human form (Phil. 2:5-11). We’re called to that kind of life.
Millennials long for travel, adventure, and meaning. The church can meet that longing and reframe it around vocation and pursuing Jesus Christ.
It is up to cast that vision, and to help succeeding generations see the good that can result in our personal spiritualities and in the world at large, all to the glory of God.