“The look.” If you’re a parent, a teacher or a mentor, you’ve seen it on young faces.
I’m not talking about the exasperated eye roll or the heavy-lidded look of indifference. I’m talking about that yearning stare into the middle distance, the look of someone in search of direction.
If you’re a disciple maker or mission mobilizer, look for that look.
It’s not that hard to find. Don’t let all the gloom and doom about Millennials leaving the church (or never attending) get you down. There are plenty of teens, college students and young adults — Christian or not — searching for deeper purpose in their lives and eager for someone to point them in the right direction.
I’ve encountered lots of them. And backing me up is research about faith, work and “calling” among American adults. Last year the Barna Group reported that three out of four adults are “looking for ways to live a more meaningful life. Whether such meaning is found in family, career, church, side projects or elsewhere, these are all questions of vocation — that is, the way in which people feel ‘called’ to certain types of work and life choices. … [T]hese questions remain as strong as ever for millions of Americans.”
Christians have an additional question: “What does God want me to do with my life?”
According to the Barna Group’s report, “only 40 percent of practicing Christians say they have a clear sense of God’s calling on their lives. Christian Millennials are especially sensitive to this divine prompting; nearly half (48 percent) say they believe God is calling them to different work, yet they haven’t yet made such a change.”
What’s stopping them? Fear of stepping out of the safety zone, perhaps. Finances, student debt or conflicting commitments and priorities might be holding them back. Then there’s the “quarter-life crisis” — that anxious and increasingly extended period between completing school and hitting a stride, professionally and/or relationally, when 20-somethings wander in a bewildering world of countless options and no firm decisions. It’s not a new thing. Bob Dylan captured it perfectly 50 years ago in his classic song, “Like a Rolling Stone”:
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?
But perhaps the only thing many 20-somethings lack is a nudge, an encouraging word, a coach in their corner. Christians in particular crave “more direction and discipleship when it comes to the theology of calling, especially as it relates to work,” the Barna report found.
Many young Americans are following a multi-career path or working multiple jobs, whether by choice or economic necessity. The traditional 40-hour week for a single employer has changed for millions into a series of temporary jobs, freelance assignments, passion projects and startups. It’s harder to make ends meet, but the new environment affords the flexibility for people to seek something more than just a paycheck.
“A new kind of economy is taking shape, in part because it would seem today’s workforce has decided for itself that making a living is not enough if that living lacks purpose, meaning and impact,” said the Barna report. “[A]dults today are deeply concerned with getting work ‘right’ — nearly six out of 10 say they want to make a difference in the world.”
This represents a huge opportunity for Christians who want to lead a rising generation toward God and His global purposes. The secular facade that covers American culture is just that, a facade. Young adults are just as hungry for God today as ever, whether they realize it or not, and they’ll never know peace and purpose until they follow Him. Seek them out. If you can’t find them at church, look for them in the workplace, or join a school mentoring program.
They’re out there, hoping for a guide. Don’t keep them waiting.
— Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Bridges recommends http://www.marketplaceadvance.com as a resource for Millennials seeking direction.