A Crisis Sounds the Alarm
‘I’m sorry to bring bad news, Joe. Ron has suffered a stroke.’ Ron McMahon, chairman of A3 (formerly known as the Asian Access), was in his early sixties. While Ron survived the stroke, it clearly took much of his active life away.
This tragic incident raised an alarm for me (Joe). While we were fortunate to have someone waiting in the wings who could step in and serve as chair, we were not prepared should something happen to others. This new-found awareness sparked a journey that provided a way forward—to prepare key leaders to be waiting in the wings.
A step in the journey was asking one of my mentors, a university president, to help me consider ways to plan for the future. He shared with me his system: Every year he handed six names to the chairman of his board, three of them were people outside the university. He called each year to see if they would be open to being a candidate should something happen to him. Every year this group could change, depending on the circumstances that year.
At the same time, he came alongside three younger leaders. ‘You seem like someone who could do my job someday,’ he told them. ‘Would you be interested in walking with me so we could learn from one another?’ Those three names were also given to the chair each year.
Several years ago, I adopted my mentor’s model. Today there are five to seven people that I engage on a quarterly basis who could serve as president of our mission, head other senior posts, or lead in another NGO someday. And when Lausanne’s Younger Leaders Group asked for mentors a few years ago, I signed up. The Lord has given me some rich relationships and tremendous learning opportunities.
There is an undeniable shift taking place among the younger generation. In a world where lives are saturated by social media and a person’s worth is measured by ‘likes’ and ‘views’, there has been a shift in ones’ views of self, purpose, and understanding of our world. Social media promotes a seemingly perfect lifestyle, portraying only the highlights and achievements, rarely showing the real and difficult sides of life and career.
While the Millennials and Generation Z (Gen Z) are the most technologically advanced and virtually connected generation the world has ever seen, research found that the younger generation needs our care and attention and is feeling desperately lost and lonely.
Dr. Sam Kim, who has conducted extensive studies about the loneliness epidemic in today’s society, points out that Gen Z is now the loneliest generation in history. He highlights a study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles, that shows Gen Zers scored the highest on the loneliness scale. The pandemic exacerbated these feelings of loneliness, isolating people and causing further disconnect in social interactions.
The Cigna study reported that Gen Zers rarely had a meaningful social interaction in their week. Suicide has shown alarming trends (up 33 percent in the last 23 years) and incidences of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are rapidly increasing. The WHO suggests that 51 percent of the population now battles mental health issues.
Life and business are moving at a hectic pace, leaving little time for human connection. As the job market demands more and more skills and speed, it seems impossible to keep up. The ‘perfect’ lifestyles portrayed in social media add to this. The global pandemic and subsequent economic uncertainty have magnified an already poisoned atmosphere. We are left with generations that are starving for love, connection, and the human touch.
Younger generations around the world are moving away from church community. The rising cost of living demands more hours at work, leaving them with very little time for church involvement. And the rapidly evolving and changing cultures among younger generations are struggling to find common ground with the existing church culture.
Classic church culture seems less tolerant and less gracious towards the needs and brokenness of the younger generation, resulting in an entire generation disillusioned with church. The church’s attempt to draw the younger generation to church falls short because they lack the willingness or readiness to intentionally disciple and mentor on a one-on-one basis—the very thing this generation is desperate and hungry for.
Significant challenges are paralleled with great opportunities in our current situation. While these generations are among the loneliest, the most depressed, and dealing with enormous mental health needs, they are teeming with potential.
Millennials and Gen Zers are cause driven. Their hearts break for the things that break the heart of God. They long for justice and fairness in the world and they want to tackle bigger problems in society. In addition, because of their access to the internet and a plethora of information, this generation is highly educated and knowledgeable.
Millennials and Gen Zers have both broad and advanced knowledge. They are eager to engage in careers that align with their passions, rather than being locked down to a nine-to-five job. Their hearts are driven towards volunteerism, community, and philanthropy.
The church has a massive opportunity to harness this potential and disciple these hearts to be in alignment with the gospel and kingdom causes by simply being available to provide meaningful connections and intentional mentorship. To a generation that is starving for human connection, the greatest gift the church can offer is relationship. As Dr. Sam Kim emphasizes, ‘We don’t need more innovative or cool missiological schemes to reach the younger generation—what we need is to return to simplicity.’
Authentic Community: Examples from Scripture
From the Biblical record, the relationship between Moses and Joshua comes to mind. Moses walked with God, but the people he led were prone to wander. They were a stiff-necked people following the neighbors’ gods. Leading the Israelites required a lot of energy and attention. Yet, Moses can be seen intentionally making time to invest in Joshua, his mentee. And Joshua seemed eager to listen and lead. Watch the unfolding relationship in Exodus 17:8-16 (see also Exodus 24, especially v. 13, and Exodus 33, note verse 11).
Similarly, Jesus was intentional about providing meaningful relationship and spiritual guidance to his disciples. Particularly with Peter, James and John, Jesus invited them to experience his ministry and the power of God at work through him (eg raising Jairus daughter from the dead). He invited them to witness both his transfiguration on the mountain and his vulnerable moment before God at the garden of Gethsemane. He modeled for his disciples what it meant to connect with God, to be vulnerable before him, and to demonstrate God’s power at work through signs and wonders.
Moses and Jesus both knew that they were not going to be around forever. They knew that they needed to prepare a next generation to carry forward the work of God. But more importantly, they were aware that they needed to teach that generation how to connect with God and be in a committed and radical relationship with him. Their intentionality in spending time with their mentees was not to simply have a helping hand; it was because they cared about the work of God being carried forward. They cared about adequately preparing the next generation to reap the harvest of the future.
We must intentionally develop the Millenials and Gen Zers. If we don’t, we will leave a generation that may accomplish a lot of good in the world, but may never know God because they were never taught how to connect with him.
From Generation to Generation
With the support of its leadership team, the Young Professionals of A3 launched a discipleship and mentorship program. Identifying the fact that more and more young people are drawn to pursue their God-given gifts within the professional arena, we designed a program that offers the necessary tools to enable these young professionals to be effective witnesses within their sphere of influence.
The Young Professionals program fosters a close Christian community, providing opportunity to discuss shared experiences and challenges in the professional workplace. Like Moses did with Joshua, we guide these young professionals to develop a radical love relationship with God, to know what it is to have close and constant communion with Him. At the same time, we equip them to be effective witnesses and powerful agents of change in the marketplace.
As these young professionals begin to realize and experience that ministry is not limited to the four walls of the church, that their mission field is where they work, they undergo a fundamental shift in their understanding of God, of themselves, and of their calling.
How to Develop and Sustain a Modeling and Mentoring Environment
Some of the key attributes we seek to model for the younger leaders are:
- Lead by example
- Talk with, listen to, genuinely get to know one another
- Provide a challenging environment (both collaborative and creative)
- Respect their intelligence
- Provide guidance towards purpose and significance
- Be a coach
- Leverage technology – appreciate and learn to multitask
- Foster a culture of innovation
- Support the passions for social responsibility and entrepreneurship
- Appreciate one another’s worlds
- Explain the ‘why’ behind decisions and strategy
- Promote an open, honest, authentic, direct, and transparent environment
- Accommodate workstyles and open workspaces
- Embrace difference, motivations, and attitudes
- Provide regular feedback and gives one another a voice
We invite you to join us in learning from each other and learning together, both the older and younger leaders. The principles we are trying to live out and apply are taken from Scripture and from best practices in developing others.
- See Lausanne’s Listening Call Report highlighting the importance of engaging the next generation: https://lausanne.org/l4/global-listening/the-evangelical-church-interacting-between-the-global-and-the-local. Also see article entitled, ‘Engaging an Emerging Generation of Global Mission Leaders: Embracing the challenge of partnerships’ by Nana Yaw Offei Awuku in the November 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2016-11/engaging-an-emerging-generation-of-global-mission-leaders.
- Editor’s Note: See article entitled, ‘Engaging Younger Generations in Church Ministry: Disconnects and approaches for passing the baton’ by Victor Lee in the January 2023 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2023-01/engaging-younger-generations-in-church-ministry.
- Sam Kim, ‘A Historic Gospel Opportunity: Why loneliness reminds us that we all need God’, Seminary Now, https://seminarynow.com/pages/blog?p=a-historic-gospel-opportunity.
- ‘2018 Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index’, Cigna, accessed September 19, 2023, https://www.multivu.com/players/English/8294451-cigna-us-loneliness-survey/docs/IndexReport_1524069371598-173525450.pdf.
- Kessler RC, Angermeyer M, Anthony JC, et al. ‘Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of mental disorders in the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative’, World Psychiatry, 2007 6(3): 168-176. See also: CDC About Mental Health – https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm#print.
- Sam Kim, ‘A Historic Gospel Opportunity: Why loneliness reminds us that we all need God’, Seminary Now, 9 January 2023, https://seminarynow.com/pages/blog?p=a-historic-gospel-opportunity.
Joseph W. Handley is the President of A3 (formerly Asian Access). He was the founding director for Azusa Pacific University’s Office of World Mission and lead mission pastor at Rolling Hills Covenant Church. Joe serves on the advisory boards for the Nozomi Project and DualReach, as well as on the boards of BiblicalTraining.org and ReIgnite Hope. Joe holds a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary in Intercultural Studies.
Thilini De Visser serves on the staff of A3 (formerly known as Asian Access), an evangelical organization dedicated to the development of Christian leaders of the church and marketplace throughout Asia. She currently co-directs and oversees the Asian Access Young Professionals, equipping young Christian leaders in the marketplace to be the salt and light and agents of change in their spheres of influence. She also recently took on the role as country leader for Operation Mobilization Sri Lanka.