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The Church, Vocation, and Millennials: Losing a Generation

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A recent study by the Barna Group examines the generation gap within various Christian traditions in the United States. The Millennial Generation (roughly anyone currently 18-29 years old) has become increasingly dissatisfied with their Christian upbringing. According to the study,

… 84% of Christian 18- to 29-year-olds admit that they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests. For example, young adults who are interested in creative or science-oriented careers often disconnect from their faith or from the church. On the creative side, this includes young musicians, artists, writers, designers, and actors. On the science-oriented side, young engineers, medical students, and science and math majors frequently struggle to see how the Bible relates to their life’s calling.

There is, it appears, an urgent need for Christian traditions to develop and employ a robust theology of vocation, especially with regards to arts and science related professions. Indeed, according to the article, “The Barna study showed that faith communities can become more effective in working with the next generation by linking vocation and faith.”

As a Millennial myself, I found the study especially fascinating. The approach when I was a teenager was that the bigger the sound system or video screen or the more “alternative” sounding the music, the more likely a church was to keep us around. Maybe I am not a good representative of my generation as a whole, but I remember finding this approach especially shallow and even a little insulting. I wanted a deeper faith, something that stands out from the world around me, not something nearly indistinguishable from it. Perhaps if more churches would take the time to show how the Gospel of Jesus Christ permeates all facets of life, especially our vocations, fewer of my peers would be leaving those churches behind.

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (14.1) contained two contributions in our Symposium section specifically on the subject of vocation. Anyone interested may read them here:

Gene Edward Veith, “Vocation: the Theology of the Christian Life”

Theology of Work Project, Inc., “Calling in the Theology of Work”

Dylan Pahman Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He earned his MTS in Historical Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to his work as an editor, Dylan has authored several peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, essays, and one book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society (Acton Institute, 2017). He has also lectured on a wide variety of topics, including Orthodox Christian social thought, the history of Christian monastic enterprise, the Reformed statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, and academic publishing, among others.


  • Joboww

    I agree with you, the whole idea of dumbing down the faith has taken a massive toll on our generation.  So much so that most people think the Blessed Sacrament is just a wafer.  Having grown up with arts and crafts catholicism one has to ask how much longer until they finally gets their heads out of their you know what and have kids learn the Catechism.  I used the word Catechism at the house the other day in a conversation and my Mom didn’t have a clue what that was….Heaven help us, and guide us!

  • Anonymous

    The American dream and the historic gospel walked together as friends for a century and a half but NOW are diverging in their paths. We are not losing the millennials because we are irrelevant in our cultural applications. We are losing them because we are IR-REVELANT. We hold up a self serving “it’s all about me” materialistic gospel and they rightly understand they can achieve these goals quite well without Church, thank you. The rigorous message of the Cross and the lifestyle of sacrificial living, following Jesus, identifying with the poor and serving missionally in our communities, humbly in both Word and Deed, has not been role modeled in our prosperity driven, building centered movement that is slowly becoming spiritually bankrupt. It takes six evangelical churches to support one missionary? Seriously! Our hearts are hardening by the increased politicization of the gospel message and now we are sycophants to the powerful and contemptuous of the marginalized: the poor,the widow,the foreigner. It is we who are adrift. Our children are just more intentional about their direction. The remedy for them and us is TO REPENT, return to our first love. Before it is too late…


  • hmm… i believe in a “higher power” and i think the bible has some good lessons (dont steal, dont cheat) but millions on millions of my generation have grown up seeing the church used for politics, discrimination and by hippocrates. i would even go as far as to say many of us are better citizens of the world then umm…. “church-ly” people who go to church. the youth generation has a lower crime rate,(lowest since the ww2 gen) spends more volunteering and uses less drugs and fewer teens giving birth.. the list goes on and on, surely their lil demons right? lol
    we serve the community, teach, protect, many many good things. then we hear from the church that we’re all going to hell unless we bow down to them (all the while molesting kids). no thanks, i’ll take care of my family and friends and pray in my home… or car.. or whenever i feel i need to “talk”.
    oh yeah… the whole “repent” and be saved thing may work for you but it comes off “cult-ish” and turns everyone away… just be a good person, not cause you’ll go to “hell” if you arent. but be a good person just…. because.  background info:: i was baptized catholic, raised in texas, became an atheist later agnostic.

    • Roger McKinney

      Victor, it’s very easy to live a good life as an atheist and be happy as long as you don’t allow your mind to ask any hard questions. For example, don’t allow your mind to dwell on the truth of atheism vs theism. Convince yourself that there is no such thing as truth or that the truth is impossible to know.

      Also, don’t allow your mind to dwell on the origins of evil or even why we talk about good vs evil. Of course, evolutionary psychologist have glib answers: ideas of morality were useful at some point in evolution to help humans survive. But all that answer tells us is that morality is a figment of our imagination and not useful today.

      And by all means don’t ever read anything that might contradict atheism, such as Edward Feser’s “The Last Superstition.”

    • rightactions

      Oh, I get it.  You’re looking for that church of perfect people and when you find it you’ll sign right up.  Bad news, Victor, you’re not perfect yourself so you wouldn’t qualify.  If you think about it this revelation kind’a puts the Church you snub in a new light.

      Give up looking for a museum of saints, Victor, and check yourself into the hospital for sinners.

  • Roger McKinney

    I think your subject is evangelism, something Protestants have debated for centuries. I’m far from a Calvinist, but neither do I think that how Christians act determines whether people believe or not.

    Take the parable of the sower and seed. Jesus did not blame the farmer for the poor response of the soil. The quality of the soil determines the response and Jesus warns the listeners to be careful how they listen to his teachings. Jesus said that men reject the light because they love darkness more, and the road is narrow and few people find it.

    Paul chimed in with the first chapter of Romans saying that people know the truth but suppress it because they prefer to live in rebellion.

    Going back to the OT, God never criticized Isaiah, Jeremiah or any of the other prophets for their massive failure to win over Israel.

    However, going back to the parable of the sower, God has ways of breaking up hard ground – wars, economic disaster, famine, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. Those may seem harsh to humans who think hold themselves in high esteem and God in low esteem, but the fact that it takes those methods to break the hard hearts of some while they still don’t break the hearts of most is merely evidence of the incredible hardness of the heart.

  • Pastor Don Ray

    Amen! Amen! And amen! This is PRECISELY why, as a pastor, I talk about and pray publicly about vocation every week…and also one of the main reasons I want our church to continue to hold high the value and depth and richness of historic traditional liturgy and worship.

    Here I am, brother, shouting your blog post from the mountaintops; I simply could not agree more! Amen and amen!

  • I think your experience becoming more and more common.

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