By Josiah Hoagland
As a Millennial pastor, I know I have much to learn, but at the tender age of 31, I’ve witnessed some of the good, the bad, and the ugly of church attempts at engaging with the Millennial generation. Please hear me out; what I want to contribute to the conversation is just a piece to a very complex puzzle. That being said — I believe one of the more “seeker friendly” models of church engagement is flawed in its premise. Pastors who change their preaching style to be more topical and culturally relevant — while straying from biblical engagement — are doing so at the cost of the Millennials they’re seeking to attract.
George Barna’s recent book America at the Crossroads reveals a body of research showing that churchless Americans aren’t engaging with churches because they consider them to be “spiritually shallow.” Two-thirds of active members in churches want more engagement with the biblical text and specifically what the Bible has to say about cultural and moral issues in society. By promoting a style of church that costs nothing, asks nothing, and preaches low content, we pastors need to consider the benefit we are providing to those coming to listen.
In Paul’s advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16–17, we read, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul’s advice to Timothy is just as applicable to the modern Millennial pastor. As young men of God, we need not shy away from the difficult truths of Scripture, but rather courageously engage with Scripture. The temptation to ignore the difficult aspects of the Word or to preach topical sermons with lip service given to Biblical passages is immense. The temptation isn’t grounded in research, however, as the research itself points that both young and old want to engage with these difficult passages. The temptation stems from a variety of influences, including many of the insecurities that come with being a Millennial preaching to peers and elders.
God’s encouragement to Joshua in Joshua 1 is a word of encouragement to us as Millennial pastors. In Joshua 1:5–6 we read, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” My encouragement to you as one Millennial pastor to another is to be strong and courageous. Don’t bow to the temptation to preach a message without biblical relevance and passionate conviction to the Word of God.
Josiah Hoagland is lead pastor of New Journey Church in Fosston, Minn. (www.newjourneyfosston.com) and an Army National Guard chaplain. He is also a student at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. working on a doctor of ministry degree in biblical and theological engagement.