Kriss: Millennials’ invitation to lead and learn

May 21, 2018 by

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At Casa de Esperanza, an Anabaptist/Mennonite community in Oaxaca City, Mexico, Pastor Luis Rey Matias-Cruz invited a 20-something member of his congregation to assist in setting up tables for a midweek meal. “Come, my young brother, join in the struggle with me.”

Stephen Kriss


This new congregation in a colorful city is made up of many younger people — millennials, born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s.

The group has outgrown the house where it began and meets in the pastor’s driveway. They’re looking for a new facility and a place they can assist Central American migrants.

The congregation is full of energy and possibility. After just a day together, I wanted to join in their shared struggle too.

Later in my visit, I spent time with the young man Luis invited into the struggle, Chi, and his brother Gama. I was impressed by their authenticity and conversations about music. I was impressed by how they spoke of their new worshiping community, where they said life was real and Scriptures came alive in new ways and the pastor lived the things he taught.

As a Generation Xer, I recognize my place in between the baby boomers and the millennials. I remember wanting many of the things millennials desire from a worshiping community — meaning, relevance, community, a place to contribute, a place to belong, a place to express doubts, questions, gifts.

These same hopes and dreams have been the quest of many baby boomers as well. Each generation frames these questions differently, but we have sought much of the same in grappling with faith, hope, love and trying to understand God, ourselves and our world.

I saw a hopeful reminder in Oaxaca in that gentle invitation to join the struggle. This was about more than setting up tables for a meal. The invitation had depth echoing the possibility of joining alongside the struggle of seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.

This was not an invitation to join a committee. Nor was it a theological statement or an invitation toward a belief. It was an invitation to do something practical and to do it together.

In working and walking with millennials, I have been humbled and challenged. Humbled by the trust and care I’ve experienced. I continue to be challenged by the invitation to keep leading and seeking and speaking while living authentically even in the midst of unending questions.

Millennials keep me learning — when I’m open to asking questions and moving toward places and spaces that are at times unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

Still, as a midrange Generation Xer, I am too often one of the younger people in church meetings. This is a grave challenge to our church. We need the voices, energy and questions of new generations to keep us moving humbly and boldly.

At the same time, current leaders must find ways to step out of the way and mentor in the midst of feeling overwhelmed ourselves.

The invitation I heard from Luis is one I want to be able to extend — with a commitment to keep working and walking alongside — at times to lead and at times to learn. I find much hope in working alongside young leaders. Our world needs their bright and sometimes difficult challenges.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

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