As part of the Jubilee Fellows program at Calvin College, I get to meet every week over dinner and engage in a seminar-style class with other pre-ministry students. One of the greatest joys of my time as a student has been getting to know professors and pastors who have shaped my life with their wisdom and care. In the midst of a discussion about young people and the church, Rev. Dale Cooper asked, “How could someone like me, in this later season of my life, be of service to young people like you in the church?" As students wrestling with our own calls to various types of ministry, we care deeply about both the churches that raised many of us and the churches in which we are all active now. The following is my response to Dale Cooper’s question.
Why would I, a millennial, want you, a pastor, to ask me out to coffee next Sunday?
It occurs to me that I never told you why this is so important to me, and why it meant so much that you asked. Forgive me, I hadn’t yet gotten to the bottom of it, but I think have now.
It’s love. When I say I want you to ask me to coffee, it’s because I long for relationships and community. Which are really just fancy ways of saying that I long for love from other people.
As an average millennial, I don’t honestly know that much about love. Facebook doesn’t love me. Neither does my church’s Twitter feed, or my Netflix addiction, or my textbooks, or my overloaded schedule, or the stuff I buy. Teach me how to love. Please. The television I grew up watching while my parents were in the room next door arguing about their divorce couldn’t teach me that. The mishmash of schools and churches I attended in all the displaced places I’ve lived didn’t teach me either. Neither did my resume of extracurricular activities or community service experiences.
You want me to come to church. But I, a millennial, don’t love it.
I might like it, or be accustomed to it, or appreciate it, or tolerate it, or be interested in it. But I don’t really love it. Yet. Because, chances are, it didn’t love me first. It offered me programs and small groups and pizza and games and a new website and songs for my generation and podcasts and mission trips and comfy seats and sex ed and a worldview and a vocabulary and good theology and parking spaces and books and more books and maybe even a whole education. Good things.
But it never taught me the first thing.
You, though, can. You can love me first. God showed you how. He loved us first, took the initiative, won our hearts. So take the initiative. Ask me to coffee. This Sunday. And no, I don’t need you to love me perfectly—you can’t. I have God for that. Love covers a multitude of sins, and it will cover ours. But I need you teach me what love looks like in person. In the church. To break through the barriers of my technology and trust issues and anxiety and debt and depression.
And, by the way, if you do this, you better believe I’ll be back next Sunday. Win my heart for Christ and his church and you’ve given birth to something that will go on forever even after you die. Teach me to love, and I’ll know what to fall back on when I have to deal with my college debt and the national debt crisis and whatever comes my way. Because even when my faith fails me and my hope turns to despair, that love will still be there. I will fall back on it—I will have to. It will remain, because it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Love is not passive. Or disinterested, or disengaged. It overcame death, and it can certainly overcome my apathy and cut through my fear of making choices.
So ask me to coffee. The conversation might be awkward. Some of us millennials aren’t always the best at talking to older people. Or people in general, for that matter. T.V. and daycare didn’t teach us that either. Vulnerability in relationships is awkward and hard. It’s part of the reason I want to put off getting married or putting down roots or having kids. That terrifies me. It’s part of the reason I travel around to different churches and get my fix of whatever I think I need by tinkering with truth. That feels like enough, or at least all there is. To be “rooted and grounded” in love that is deep and wide and high is something I most likely haven’t seen modeled (or fully realized and engaged with, even if it was there). It’s a bit of a foreign concept. So, this going-out-for-coffee thing might very well be a bit uncomfortable for both of us. Risky things generally are.
And, to be clear, I don’t need you to impart some kind of perfect wisdom or healing in this conversation. I know you’re not God, so the pressure’s off. In fact, it might be kind of nice just to sit with you. To share in one of your moments in between the big, trying, Hebrews 11-y moments when your faithfulness is something simple that could otherwise be mistaken for a mundane waste of time. Let’s be together, before we do together. I don’t know what we’ll talk about or where the relationship will go next. Maybe we can teach each other.
But you taking that first simple step, that risk, that initiative, would mean the world to me.
I don’t want you to do this. I live in a world that caters to my wants and manipulates them in every commercial. I know that game. No, I need you to do this. And I need you to do it without any strings attached. In my over-committed, over-caffeinated world, it’s hard for me to receive love when I feel like I have to immediately make room in my schedule to return the favor. I will give back. Trust me. But it will be oh-so-much richer for all of us when I can give back the true love that I have received. Without guilt, from the abundance of my heart.
You showing me love might be the introduction I need to the God who so desires to win my heart. Or, if I already know and love God, it might be the love I need to receive again before I can go forward and disciple the freshmen in my dorm, the eighth graders in my church, or my family members who don’t yet know Christ. Regardless of where I am in this journey, I need my church to show me love. So that I can love it back, and so you and I can both go into the world and make disciples.
I’m a millennial. I’m over here, in the church lobby, by the books. I’m the one glancing at my smartphone, holding program pamphlets, chatting with other people my age. Maybe I look closed off. Don’t let that scare you. Come say hi.
Ask me out for coffee.