Pastoring Millennials

This moment is all too familiar to local pastors: you are standing in front of the congregation, giving your best sermon and you look out to see that millennial in the pews. Someone’s daughter home for the summer or someone’s grandson who came to church as a birthday gift. You can tell by their body language & their facial expression that they would rather be anywhere else but there. This moment frustrates some leaders and discourages others. The disengaged millennial gets under your skin because you really want to reach them. You’re the kind of leader that wants to make space for them in the church. How are you supposed to do that when you can’t get them to simply raise their eyebrows during your message? Some keep trying to reach them (and I applaud you for that). Others just give up (and I get you too).

Hoping that the following words may help.

There are many reasons why millennials aren’t listening to older-generation leaders. It’s a decent sized list that includes irrelevance, judgmental rhetoric and condescension. There are many blogs and articles out there; google millennials and you’ll find them. I would like to offer one more that I think gets overlooked. It’s less an action and more of an assumption. It is the assumption of trust.

Once upon a time, a leader could assume that their congregation trusted them. Their education, their ordination or even their track record was all that was needed to win the attribute ‘trustworthy’. It isn’t that way anymore, and it definitely isn’t that way when it comes to millennials.

For this generation, trust is not an entitlement – it is earned. That might be a shock to some of you because you were raised to respect your leaders and take their word for it. And yet, in our own country we have a crisis of leadership and its root is trust. From classrooms to Congress, our leaders have made too light of the trust we placed in them. They can no longer assume that 20 years of experience or political incumbency is enough.

I can tell when a pastor is walking into the pulpit assuming that we trust them – and they will be wrong every time.  If pastors want millennials to listen, they are gonna have to do the hard work of cultivating their trust. You can waste time complaining about adding this to your long list of pastoral demands, or you can reconcile your heart and mind to reality: if you want millennials to trust you, you’re gonna have to earn it. But wait, there’s more!

Earning trust is not like getting a degree. There isn’t a certain number of meetings or kind words or likes on Facebook that give you long-term trust. With millennials, you earn trust everyday. Yes, every time you step into the pulpit, you have to earn it all over again. Granted, it gets easier when you are consistent. Trust with this age group is fragile and short-lived. You can spend time trying to figure out why this is case and who is to blame, and (in my opinion) you’ll be wasting valuable time doing that. With millennials, you are always earning the right to speak into their lives and point them in the right direction. And here me on this – millennials want to be led. But they also need to know that you genuinely want to lead them. The only way that message is heard is by earning their trust, little by little, every time you see them.

As a campus minister, this is my life. Every message, every one-on-one meeting, every weekend trip is an opportunity for me to earn the chance of pastoring college students. It’s hard work and it comes with a lot of listening, responding, more listening, serving, a little more listening, absorbing pain, some more listening and a few humble apologies. These students owe me nothing and I owe them everything. They do not have to listen to me, they do not have to follow me – but I am obligated to pour my life out for them regardless. After 5 years of CCW, I think it’s working. And guess what, I’ll spend the next 5 years earning their trust. I believe it to my bones that this is the most effective mindset for pastoring millennials.

So if you have read this far, you may be asking ‘how do I build trust with millennials?’ And I’ll respond with two points. One is not so charitable, and the other is more practical.

1. Really? Have we devolved this much as a culture that we no longer know the basic steps of building trust? Have we become so entitled to it that we view it as a transaction where I give you 30 minutes of a coffee chat for 5oz of your trust? Forgive my anger, but come on people! Trust is not a commodity to be purchased.

2. How do we build trust with millennials? It looks like listening. It sounds like honoring their journey and it feels like humility. It grows by asking for permission to speak into their life and remaining open to hearing their opinions without judgment. It becomes consistent when you thank them for the pleasure of knowing them and make genuine efforts to support them.

I’ve directed these thoughts at pastors, but it easily applies to all leaders of millennials – even parents of adult millennials. And let’s get real honest now – it’s not just millennials whose trust has to be earned right? I’m not sure why we played the game so long in church. I cannot figure out why we let decades go by letting the pastors (and other leaders) assume that simply showing up was enough to garner our trust. We are a society that longs to be led, and yet find so few leaders willing to prove they’ll treat our trust as more precious than their title. Regardless, today is the day to start afresh. So the next time you look at those seemingly disengaged millennials, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the courage and compassion to humbly offer yourself to them by earning their trust. You never know friends – doing this could make a positive change in a millennial’s life.

Pastoring Millennials

Steps of Faith

Let’s get right to it – this post is about church membership. And as it is with most things, this is about that. When I was 17, I left the church I grew up in (Tabernacle Baptist Institutional Church) to participate in a growing United Methodist congregation in the Baymeadows area of Jacksonville. It was my love for Jesus and commitment to His mission that catalyzed that move. Tabernacle raised me, baptized me, gave me opportunities to lead from age 9 and created an environment where the Word of God could live inside of me. My spiritual roots are deep because of the women and men (mostly the women to be honest) of that church. However, there was a day that my faith led me to leave, and I think God blessed that decision. I would spend the next several years at CrossRoad UMC.

FB_IMG_1469620468389I was raised at Tabernacle, but I matured at CrossRoad. I started leading worship at CRC before I joined the church. Gee, Sandy, Mike and Cathy gave me opportunities to explore my calling and my gifts. They hired me and gave me room to dream and innovate. They tolerated me as I was learning (sometimes reluctantly) how to make a positive contribution to the team. CRC Roadies believed in me, supported me, prayed for me and even wrestled with me. Today, I am in campus ministry because the leaders at this church saw something in me that I didn’t see. If you think I am an effective leader, it’s only because of the lessons that I learned at CrossRoad. I will always love the House that built me.

Once again, I sense Jesus inviting me to employ my faith and continue on the journey of pouring my life out for God’s mission.

This summer, I am moving my membership to Swaim UMC in the San Marco area. It’s a bit weird for me to be honest. Changing churches has always been a tough subject for me. I can remember having issues with family when they were thinking about leaving Tabernacle and friends when they were struggling with membership at CrossRoad. In fact, I’m sure there are some old blogs and fb posts on this subject that I might have to roll back. Again, church membership, I have found, is often about more than where you hang out on Sundays and even worship style. What I didn’t know when I was 17 was that I’d be a different person almost 20 years later, and those changes affect every area of life – including church membership.

UrbanSoulJuly28(4)I am joining Swaim for similar reasons that I joined CrossRoad – my role in the mission of Jesus. In the last 5 years, I have poured my life into building Campus to City, but I’ve also been living in the Avondale area. Not surprisingly, I have made beautiful friendships with the folks I have met in the urban core neighborhoods of Jacksonville. It’s been these relationships that led me to start Urban Soul.

So when I felt the Spirit’s challenge to consider worshipping in my own area versus driving across town, Swaim UMC made sense. Their support of CCW and their ministry to the homeless were compelling. The sense of community and use of liturgy during worship rang true for me. And their openness to young leadership (reminiscent of my days at Tabernacle and CrossRoad) inspired me. But most of all, I really believe Jesus has led me to Swaim for what I can give this faith community, not really what they might give me. This point is a huge shift in my thinking around church membership.

I spent the first half of 2016 praying about this decision. I sought counsel from trusted friends. When I made the decision, I made space to talk to Gee and a couple of the leaders at CRC. I’m gonna miss being a part of CrossRoad as they continue their work in the Deerwood/Windy Hill area. But I am excited about what lies ahead.

I am blogging about this for a few reasons. One is just to make it clear why I am changing churches. I’m not mad or hurt by anyone at CRC. If anything, I am indebted with gratitude to them. I wanted to fill the vacuum as friends and colleagues learned that I was changing churches. But there’s another reason I published this post.

I want to encourage all who are reading this to continue to allow the Spirit of Jesus to lead you. Following Jesus is active and dynamic. If you pay close attention to the major characters of the New Testament, you’ll find that they were constantly on a journey. Faith in Jesus does that – it continues to move you from place to place. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll change churches. But something has to change from year to year right? There must be some outward sign that we are moving, like Peter, from fishing in the Sea of Galilee to preaching in the middle of Jerusalem. If we’re gonna follow Jesus over decades, there has to be some tangible sign that we are moving from faith to faith and glory to glory.

In response to a question about risk taking, Andy Stanley once replied, “Do the thing that requires the most faith in Jesus.” For me, moving to Swaim is one of a few faith steps I am taking as I follow Jesus. I hope you’ll also hear Jesus’ invitation to follow Him on your faith journey.

Steps of Faith

CCW, Free Meals, and a Bold Ask

“Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God.” – Mark Batterson

dinner2fallretreatIt is amazing what can happen over a meal — especially when the meal was FREE. I have had the most honest of conversations with college students over the last 12 years of college/young adult ministry because we served these young adults a free home-cooked meal with no strings attached. A plate of food turns into a means of grace and the potential for deeper connections. I have seen the power of what can happen over a meal, and that is why I am writing this particular blog post.
CCW (the campus ministry I lead with a great team) is spending the next 2 weeks on an effort to raise $12,000 by Giving Tuesday (December 2). Giving Tuesday is the International Day of giving back. It falls on the Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This year, CCW is using this special day to believe big for our ministry to college students at University of North Florida, Jacksonville University and Flagler College. The 12K is the budgeted amount that covers the cost of all the free meals we offer at our gatherings and events to college students for the entire 2015 calendar year. If we are able to raise this amount, we can then put more money into scholarships for mission trips and leadership development for our students. It is a big goal, and our students are more than worth the effort.
The CCW Staff (5 young adults all under the age of 35) has already committed to give a total of $614 (related to our key verse, Isaiah 61:4) to get the campaign started. We have also challenged our leadership team of 34 student leaders and young adult volunteers to match the staff’s commitment. All in all, we already have over $1200 pledged. Not a bad start for a bunch of young adults. Our hope is that through word of mouth, support letters and social media, our friends, parents, pastors and others would be moved to join us. It is the boldest step CCW has ever taken, but we believe this is a worthy cause.
givingtuesda1So friends, would you consider joining our effort? I have encouraged many of my friends to consider matching one or more of our student leaders’ pledge ($20/leader). Such a gift will motivate our students to invest in their own ministry. I have asked others to consider donating $220 which is about the cost of a week’s worth of meals at all of our gatherings. There may be some who would consider matching the CCW Staff’s combined gift of $614. Or maybe you could simply give $5. Every gift helps us towards our goal. If you are interested in donating, you can check out
Thanks for considering this opportunity. Every meal counts because every student counts. A goal of $12,000 over the next few days is a huge one, but completely worth the effort when compared to chance we have to make a positive, Jesus-honoring impact on the lives of college students.
With much love,
CCW, Free Meals, and a Bold Ask

Blessed in Zimbabwe

AUsignI had the privilege of traveling with a team to Africa University in Old Mutare, Zimbabwe. I am still trying to put words to my experience. One thing is for certain — my first trip to Africa has left an unforgettable impression on my soul. I am looking forward to visiting this continent many more times over the course of my life.

One of the abundant blessings I received during this trip was meeting the people of Africa University and Zimbabwe. The “Shona” people, native to the country, are some of the most welcoming and hospitable folks on the planet..super generous and open-hearted. Also,  hearing the stories of the students of AU was inspiring. I can honestly say that I have made some life-long friends. Thank God for Facebook!

The national politics of Zimbabwe was of particular interest to me. The current president is Robert Mugabe, whose picture has to be displayed by law in every store, restaurant, school, etc. The people are eagerly waiting for Mugabe to set a date for presidential elections. I wish I could have had some deep conversations about this and other issues related to the nation’s government, economy, and policies. The little bit that I picked up from newspaper stories left me intrigued and longing for more.

There are so many things I could tell you about my trip: experiencing the deep faith of the AU students, the impact of being a black man in the Motherland, the ways my preconceived ideas about Africa were challenged, learning the rich history of the UMC’s mission in the nation, and so much more. I will probably spend the next several years processing my time there. It has been said, “When you visit Africa, you depart leaving half of your heart behind.” Friends, that is a true statement.

Blessed in Zimbabwe