Whether or not you identify yourself with the social justice movement, as Christians, we are all for social justice because Jesus represents all that is truly just. No other institution on earth has a greater interest in justice and human flourishing than the church.
Social justice advocates are focused on fighting poverty from all sectors of society, especially through the church and the government. Whether it’s volunteering with a homeless outreach project with your church or protesting in front of the Capitol for economic justice, advocates recognize they must fight poverty from all sectors of society to be effective.
Different institutions can accomplish different things for poverty. If we want to be good stewards of our resources and meet the needs of the poor in the most effective way possible, we must deeply consider who does poverty relief best.
The answer to this question is exactly what the modern social justice movement is missing.
Who Does It Best?
How we do something matters just as much as what we’re doing. When it comes to issues of poverty and hunger, we seem to have the “what” down, but the “how” questions are much more difficult to answer.
If we want to take seriously our Christian call to love thy neighbor, we must ask, “Who does it best?” while considering three different institutions: church, government, and business.
The church, government, and business are all ordained by God and each have a very important role to play in poverty relief. But each exists for a much different purpose than the other. It’s important to take a close look at the strengths and limitations of each institution to understand the best way to promote the common good.
The Forgotten Institution (and Source of Prosperity)
Between 1981 and 2005, the World Bank reported the number of people living on $1.25 per day or less decreased from 52% to 26%. That’s amazing. In one generation, extreme poverty was cut in half. How did that happen?
Peter Greer, president of HOPE International, says this was not due to church charity or government programs, but business and job creation. Business is often the forgotten institution when the church comes together to fight poverty. In For the Least of These, he says,
For too long, capitalism was treated as a bystander in poverty alleviation and human development. Rock stars and air activists were calling for more charity and a greater response from the global community, but few were calling for investment in entrepreneurship and policies that promote economic development.
Why are activists coming together promoting business as a more effective solution to worldwide poverty than church charity or government aid? Only because business can do something neither the church nor the government can do: create economic prosperity over the long haul.
The church, private charities, and the government can transfer wealth from one person to another – a church through donations and a government through taxes. This can be a short-term solution to poverty. But only business offers a sustainable solution because it can generate the prosperity needed to reduce poverty over the long-term.
However, business can’t do everything for poverty. Just like any other system or institution on earth, it’s flawed. And that’s when we look to the help of charities and government programs.
The Most Effective Charity
The government plays an important role in securing individual rights and rule of law that make a just, free, and flourishing society possible. But one resource the government will never have is a personal relationship.
Your church can know a person’s needs in a way the government cannot because your church is closer to the problem. Your church can love a person in a way that a government cannot because your church is closer to the person.
We cannot forget the unique role God has given his church to reach out and actively care for the spiritual and physical needs of everyone—especially those in need—in ways that business and government will never be able to.
We need the church, the government, and business involved in alleviating poverty. Realizing the capabilities and limitations of each institution will help us better understand how to do that more effectively.
Is Poverty Too Big for the Church?
Poverty is too big for the church as a stand-alone institution, but poverty is not too big for the body of Christ.
The body of Christ is made up of legislators, entrepreneurs, and volunteers; courts, businesses, and charities. Each institution, each organization, and each person has a unique role to play in God’s Kingdom. Then who does poverty relief best? We do poverty relief best.
The church today is equipped now more than ever to take God’s call to help others flourish. The social justice movement is fueling the charge with energy and enthusiasm, but it will ultimately fall short without seriously thinking about who does poverty relief best.
Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of our institutions will change the way we fight poverty. Our efforts will be more effective. Our methods will be more dignifying. And the results will be unprecedented.
So what if we thought of entrepreneurs as someone God has called to create prosperity to lift their community out of poverty? And legislators as someone God has called to preserve justice for the vulnerable? What if we thought of the church as the primary social safety net?
That would be a taller order. But it would also look a lot more like social justice.
*Originally published on the IFWE blog.
Each generation leaves its mark. The Greatest Generation is famous for their relentless work ethic, pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps in the face of extreme economic depression. The Boomer generation is known for political activism and social change forever changed American history. Each generation will be known for something.
What will the Millennial generation be remembered for? For always looking down at their smart phones and camping out in their parents’ basements for too long? Or will be they known for changing the world for good?
One of the most significant events affecting the Millennial generation is the Great Recession. In 2013, they were more likely to report economic difficulties than any other age cohorts in America. Burdensome student loans and lack of job opportunities are forcing many to delay marriage, buying a house, and starting a family. There is deep concern about economic opportunity among young people today, yet also an optimism.
In North America, 46% of Millennials said the economy is the most pressing issue of the day, and only 43% believe the economy is on the right track. However, despite concern for their economic future, 77% believe they have opportunities to become entrepreneurs.
Of course, our teachers told us we could be anything we wanted to be, but after experiencing the greatest economic down-turn since the Great Depression, how can such optimism persist?
Young people today seek a life of meaning and believe they can change the world. 87% of Millennials in the U.S. surveyed by Barna said they want to find a life full of meaning. Another study by Telefonica found that 52% of U.S. Millennials believe they can make a global difference. Many delay higher-paying jobs to work for Teach for America or the Peace Corps, and corporate giants like IBM know that if they want to attract Millennials, they need to make it clear they’re “in the business of making the world work better.”
Millennials are certainly a generation concerned about economic issues, passionate about change, and incredibly optimistic given our circumstances. Perhaps we can attribute this to our doting parents, the gold stars and soccer trophies, but it seems to be much more powerful than a childhood mantra. Such optimism for change amidst the ever-settling dust of the Great Recession will be the characteristic that sets this generation apart from the rest.
Young people today are ripe for affecting a huge economic change in their lifetime, and that’s exactly what they want to do.
That huge economic change is the end of abject poverty. Earlier this year, Hugh Whelchel wrote about the decline of extreme poverty, reporting that:
Based on current data from the World Bank, the percent of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has decreased from 52% to 21% over the last thirty years. If this trajectory continues, extreme poverty will be eliminated by 2030.
What will be key to oversee eliminating extreme poverty by 2030? There are a few things that are essential for Millennials to understand if they want this to be their legacy.
The first thing to recognize is that the task at hand is to cultivate a world where humans and nature thrive together. God wants us to harvest crops. He wants us to build cities. He wants us to enjoy the great outdoors. He wants us to create culture. He wants us to develop economies and lift full nations out of poverty.
If God’s plan for his people is flourishing here and now—for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven—that means we aren’t meant to stay in subsistence poverty. It means we are to leave our community, our world, better than how we found it.
Second, Millennials need to understand that God created us dependent on him and dependent on one another. That means we need each other to flourish, and we flourish more in a global community.
He has also given us the tools to flourish and alleviate extreme global poverty: our minds to understand how prosperity is created, our bodies to carry out the work of his hands, and our souls to enter into loving relationships with our neighbors. We are far more effective when we come together and leverage the resources God has given us to fight poverty as one global church.
Another thing to understand is who we are as a people made in the image of God.
If we are made uniquely…
If we are made to create value…
If we are made to be in personal relationships…
If we are made to be free…
If we were made to be fulfilled…
If we were made to flourish…
…we will fight poverty differently. Our efforts will be more effective. Our methods will be more dignifying. And the results will be unprecedented. That just might be what the Millennial generation will be known for.
*Originally published on the IFWE blog.
Many studies show that Millennials are less religious today. However, this might not mean they have deserted their faith more than members of previous generations when they were young.
Pew Research found that in some ways, young people today are not much different from youth of the past when it comes to certain aspects of religion:
- Importance of religion: “In Gallup surveys in the late 2000s, 40% of Millennials said religion is very important, as did 48% of Gen Xers in the late 1990s. However, young people today look very much like Baby Boomers did at a similar point in their life cycle; in a 1978 Gallup poll, 39% of Boomers said religion was very important to them.”
- Prayer: “Although Millennials report praying less often than their elders do today, […] Millennials are in sync with Generation X and Baby Boomers when members of those generations were younger.”
- Belief in God: “Millennials’ level of belief in God resembles that seen among Gen Xers when they were roughly the same age. Just over half of Millennials in the 2008 GSS survey (53%) say they have no doubt that God exists, a figure that is very similar to that among Gen Xers in the late 1990s (55%).”
- Believing the Bible is the word of God: “Millennials display beliefs that closely resemble those of Generation X in the late 1990s. In the 2008 GSS survey, roughly a quarter of Millennials (27%) said the Bible is the literal word of God, compared with 28% among Gen Xers when they were young.”
- Faith among those affiliated with a religion: “[While] young people are less likely than their elders to be affiliated with a religion, among those who are affiliated, generational differences in worship attendance are fairly small. […] More than one-third of religiously affiliated Millennials (37%) say they are a ‘strong’ member of their faith, the same as the 37% of Gen Xers who said this at a similar age and not significantly different than among Baby Boomers when they were young (31%).”
It is likely that Millennials will grow more faithful as they grow older, just as previous generational trends indicate. But there remains a concerning question for churches today: why are fewer Millennials claiming to attend worship services?
Even though Millennials are less likely to claim a specific religious affiliation than Gen X, Boomers, the Silent, and the Greatest generations, this may not be because they have completely abandoned their faith. There may be several other reasons for this:
- Lack of trust in institutions: Millennials overall are less trusting of political and religious institutions and therefore less likely to prescribe to a specific religious denomination. Many might call themselves Christians (65%), but if someone asks them if they are Protestant or Catholic, or Episcopalian or Methodist, they will likely say neither.
- Changing social climate: Young people are also in a stage of life with many more disruptions. They are moving around and changing social networks. For those who would otherwise attend church, life circumstances are presenting challenges to settling down in a church community. Millennials are also delaying marriage more than previous generations, so if they return to church, it will likely be later in life than previous generations.
- Spiritual, but not religious: Nearly three out of four Millennials say that they are more spiritual than religious, which may be rooted in their growing distrust in the institution of the church. This might mean they are attending a “home church” where they gather independently with a group of Christians for worship at a friend’s house or they might watch a sermon livestreamed online from their bed on Sunday morning instead. For many Millennials, they don’t believe their faith should be dependent on a physical church building.
Millennials are less religious than previous generations were when they were of similar age, but only if that means that fewer Millennials are claiming a church affiliation. But Millennials aren’t less religious if it means completely abandoning their religious beliefs. Only time will tell if Millennials will return to church as they grow older, but as for now, they at least seem to be holding on to their faith.
*Originally published on the IFWE blog.
Young people today don’t just want to change the world, but they firmly believe they can. One study shows the 74% of Millennial leaders believe they will make a global difference.
Relevant magazine recently published “How to Change the World: Advice from Seven Leaders” in their July/August print issue. They interviewed leaders making a difference in their field – from business, to ministry, to music, to non-profit work – to get an inside look at what it takes to affect real change.
Here are some highlights:
It Will Be Harder than You Expect
“No matter what man’s idea of success looks like, you never know what God is working out in your heart in the process, and that counts for a lot more than the world’s applause.” – Tyler Merrick, founder, Project7
“You’ll probably overestimate what God wants to do through you in the short run. But you’ll also likely underestimate what God could do through a lifetime of faithfulness.” – Craig Groeschel, senior pastor, lifechurch.tv
It Won’t Be Comfortable
“[Go] way outside your comfort zone and [establish] relationships with people you normally wouldn’t. […] Rather than sitting on the sidelines, you have to get out there, create your own luck and make it happen.” – Debbie Sterling, chief executive officer, Goldieblox, Inc.
Admit You Don’t Know Everything
“In the pursuit of justice, we sometimes try so hard to be a voice for the voiceless that we forget they already have a voice – often-times, we just aren’t listening. We unknowingly trample over those we are trying to serve. […] As we collaboratively pursue our vocation, let us listen better to the stories of those around us.” – Nikole Lim, co-founder and international director of Freely in Hope
Break the Mold
“…be bold, break some rules and throw out traditional playbooks in service of chasing God’s creative impulses whenever they might lead.” – Joshua Dubois, head of Values Partnerships and former presidential advisor
Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin
“One mistake I made was growing too fast…my eyes were bigger than my stomach – and it cost me. It cost me a lot. There is a reason you train for a marathon.” – Debbie Sterling
“[One] mistake I made was trying to be all things to all people – this is a niche economy, and by trying to appeal to everyone you really limit yourself. People go to Chick-fil-A because they have great chicken – not burgers, fish, etc. but chicken.” – Tyler Merrick
Every Little Moment Matters
“Don’t discount what you can do locally, regionally or for just one person. We’re people who have a passion to change the world, and that naturally has a really big scope and vision, but it’s a lot. Jesus taught us to be faithful with the little things. Check your ego and steward things and wee what happens after that.” – Tyler Merrick
“Every day you’re alive you change the world. […] No matter who you are, your actions and thoughts every moment of every day have powerful implications for not only your life but the lives of those around you.” – Jon Foreman, lead singer and guitarist, Switchfoot
Changing the World Is Boring
Of all the advice from these leaders, “every moment matters” resonated with me the most. That’s when I realized that changing the world might actually be pretty boring.
We should all have a strong sense of hope and optimism about making a real difference in the world through our vocation, no matter what our age might be. But we shouldn’t expect “changing the world” to feel like we’re on top of a mountain. Most moments will feel ordinary. In My Utmost for his Highest, Oswald Chambers says,
We all have moments when we feel better than ever before, and we say, “I feel fit for anything; if only I could always be like this!” We are not meant to be. Those moments are moments of insight which we have to live up to even when we do not feel like it. Many of us are no good for the everyday world when we are not on the mountaintop. Yet we must bring our everyday life up to the standard revealed to us on the mountaintop when we were there. […] We must learn to live in the ordinary “gray” day according to what we saw on the mountain.
Changing the world might not feel like we think it will, but maybe that should encourage us even more. Perhaps we are already changing the world more than we know, just by faithfully following God in our most ordinary moments.
*Originally published on the IFWE blog.
Entrepreneurship has been in a slow decline over the past thirty years in America, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution. Today, more businesses are failing than being created, as this graph shows.
But Millennials may be the generation to change this decline.
The National Journal reports that in 2011, 29% of all entrepreneurs were between twenty and thirty-four years old, and Millennials launched nearly 160,000 start-ups each month that year.
Is it possible that Millennials might bring back the entrepreneurial spirit?
Millennials and the Entrepreneurial Spirit
William Deresiewicz writes in the New York Times that the hero of the Millennial generation is the entrepreneur. He explains why:
The small business is the idealized social form of our time. Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity.) Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan.
Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms.
Every generation of youth culture has defining characteristics, and for today’s youth, one characteristic is a strong passion for creativity in the form of entrepreneurship, with the statistics to back it up.
According to data published in Relevant magazine’s June/July print issue,
- 51% of Millennials plan to start a business within five years.
- 42% of college freshman in 2012 said “influencing social values” was “essential” or “very important.
- 5,000 + courses in entrepreneurism were offered in 2012, compared with only 100 offered in 1970.
Other sources report similar findings:
- Entrepreneurism and marketing are the top majors for Millennials (Payscale’s 2013 Generation at Work Report).
- Millennials rate working for themselves as an important career priority—higher than any other generation (Barna FRAMES).
- Nearly one-third of Millennials say the freedom to take risks in their work as important to them (32%) compared to an average of 25% among all generations (Barna FRAMES).
Why the shift? Some attribute a change in career values. Twenty-somethings today are more interested in meeting personal goals in their careers over salary, benefits, and job security, and starting a business can help them do that. Technological advances and online crowdfunding resources like Kickstarter also encourage the entrepreneurial culture of young adults across the world.
A Spirit We Can All Embrace
The entrepreneurial spirit of the Millennial generation celebrates values Christianity holds dear: risk taking (leaps of faith), creativity (Imago Dei), and impacting the world for greater good (kingdom advancing). But of course, not all Millennials can or will be self-employed, and not all of us are Millennials. However, we can all learn something from this innovative trend if we recognize that the entrepreneurial spirit can part of any job.
We always have opportunities at work (and outside of work) to trust God in taking more calculated risks, to create something where there was once nothing, to initiate a project, to improve a process, or to solve problems. This is the entrepreneurial spirit that God has designed us for. How can you be more entrepreneurial in your day to day life? How can you encourage others around your to be more innovative?
The entrepreneurial spirit of the Millennial generation is something we are all meant to embrace.
*Originally published at the IFWE blog.
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.
*Originally published at the IFWE blog.
Twentieth Century Fox recently released the first trailer for Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Exodus: Gods and Kings, starring Christian Bale as Moses.
Exodus will join other biblically-inspired movies released in 2014, such as Son of God, Noah, Heaven is For Real, and God’s Not Dead.
Some are calling 2014 the “year of the Bible” in film. Upcoming Bible movies include a movie about the life of King David, also by Scott, a Pontius Pilate epic starring Brad Pitt, and Left Behind starring Nicolas Cage (set to release in October).
The comeback of biblical films in Hollywood is certainly worth celebrating. Ted Baehr, founder and publisher of MOVIEGUIDE®, says Christians have made the mistake of abandoning mass media in the past, but we are called to engage it and transform it. In an interview with me, Baehr says he loves working in Hollywood because film has a profound way of impacting our culture and individuals on a personal level. In the movie business, he says, “you deal with the soul.”
But as the controversy surrounding Darren Aronofsky’s Noah illustrates, not all Christians are willing to call these movies “Christian” movies. Others films like God is Not Dead were praised by many Christians yet received poor reviews by others for poor screenwriting.
This raises the question: what makes a “Christian” film anyway?
What Makes a Film “Christian”?
Sometimes when we call a movie Christian, we mean that the content is biblical and historically accurate, or maybe the director intends to send a message of Christian values or gear the movie towards a Christian audience. There is typically more emphasis on the content and less on the acting, screenwriting, and theatrical components when deciding whether or not a movie should be branded “Christian.” But Millennial Christians are beginning to think differently about what the faith label means.
Millennial Christians today don’t want movies that are so obviously Christian-agenda driven at the expense of depth and artistic appeal. They want movies that speak to the human soul. They just want good movies. Scott Nehring says in a Relevant article,
If a film claims to be Christian, it was supposedly done for the glory of God, but we do not glorify God by making lousy movies. We need great films.
Making great films means rediscovering the value of honestly portraying reality. James Tillman, in reviewing Noah, says,
Good art helps you see reality how it is. Thus, to make good art, you must first attend to what is; the artist must try to look at how the world is as carefully and deeply as possible. Naturally, this includes attending to those parts that make the artist uncomfortable, as the silence of God does many Christians. […] [T]his requires that one be willing to endure one’s own discomfort; it requires that one be willing to stay within a problem that is painful and for which there are rarely easy answers, because to do that is to remain true to reality. Many Christians seem unwilling to do this. Aronofsky is not a Christian, but his willingness to connect Noah’s story to our own difficult experience is part of what makes Noah good art. It is because Noah’s experience is a universal one that Methuselah addresses us as well as Noah when he says, “You must trust that He speaks in a way that you can understand.”
Some Christian commentators argue that Christians are afraid of art. Cole Nesmith, pastor of City Beautiful Church in Orlando, says Christians fear art because art explores the unknown. It’s also about believing a different reality is possible. Great art dives into the reality of the world’s problems and brokenness, even if it means asking questions without providing a clear answer. Andrew Witmer shares the same view:
For one thing, the commitment to “the true” often requires artists to explore ugliness as well as beauty, since the world clearly possesses both. One of the most important Christian beliefs, in fact, is that things are not how they are supposed to be. […] Christians, of all people, should be able to see clearly how messed up the world is, and their art should tell the truth about this brokenness, lament it, and offer a vision of something better and more beautiful.
Confronting reality in film involves communicating truth. And if Christian screenwriters, cinematographers, actors, directors, and producers communicate truth, they glorify God in their work. That’s what makes a film “Christian.”
Let’s scrap the label
If a “Christian” movie is simply a good movie, it doesn’t need the Christian label. Millennials today want to toss the concept of a “Christian” movie. Nehring says,
The product itself should not carry the label […] His fruit will bear His name.
Maybe Hollywood will remember 2014 as the year of Christian films, but will Christians remember 2014 as the year of great films? That would be something greater to celebrate.