I was humbled when economist/author/activist Amy Sherman recently asked to interview me about working with millennials, for the benefit of a nation-wide pastors network. She’s a hero of mine! But we are indeed learning some things about how to equip young adults to serve God and neighbor in the working world. So, glad to help. Here are a few excerpts from the longer interview.
Amy L Sherman: What would you say are the most common questions that Millennials are asking about faith and work?
Kelly Madden: The big questions relate to purpose and meaning in work. Specifically, they want to know, What is God’s calling for my work? What job should I have? How can I use my gifts, passions, and training and still make a good living? And for many, they want a better sense of what those gifts and passions are. Some are seeking greater self-understanding, including the question, What do I really want to do? These are good questions, and questions we try to help them answer. But they are not the most important questions.
ALS: What do you think are the most important questions they should be asking?
KM: Jesus almost always answered a question with a question. He reframes the question in order to say: “Here’s what you should be asking. Here’s the real issue. This is what truly matters.” I think the more basic questions for this sort of initiative are: How does God view work? What is work for? How does work relate to his kingdom, to eternity? How do I serve God now in the crappy job I already have? Who am I, beyond what I do for work? How do I discern and follow God’s will for every aspect of life?
ALS: What key messages about calling, work, etc. have been important to communicate to these Millennials? In what ways do they need to be encouraged? In what ways do they need to be challenged?
KM: Our culture has over-emphasized self-esteem and self-fulfillment with Millennials and that’s not served them well. Here’s a paradox that I have seen in my own life: pride and self-centeredness can go hand-in-hand with self-loathing and crippling doubt. Many Millennials experience that.
So, to make amends, we now need to walk with them and coach them with right thinking when life beats them up. We need to let them know: It’s not about you. Give up your life to find it. Learn to serve. You will survive these knocks. God does care about you. Find your meaning and fulfillment in him, not work or a lover or whatever.
In the Boston Fellows program we’re trying to encourage these young adults to develop good habits now. We say: “Take your spiritual formation as seriously as your professional formation.” It’s hard work, so we advise them to surround themselves with godly companions committed to the same ends.
ALS: What does your discipleship with this age group look like? What’s worked well?
KM: We try to shock the Fellows—lovingly!—with teaching and experiences designed to reform their thinking and their doing. For example, although our program is focused on work, the very first thing we do with them is take them on a weekend retreat where our focus is on the Sabbath.
ALS: That’s wonderfully counter-intuitive!
KM: We also start with an emphasis on Sabbath because my sense is that at least some of the “faith and work” movement has reduced our “regency” from the Cultural Mandate to work. It’s obviously and crucially about work—but not only about work. It includes society and family. The six days are for the sake of the seventh, not the reverse.
Read the whole interview here.
Thanks so much for praying for and supporting the Boston Fellows. It is bearing more fruit than I can detail here. And have a blessed three days remembering all that Jesus has done for us!
Kelly Alvin Madden, Ph.D., M.Div.
Director, Boston Fellows