My name is Seth Vopat, I am a husband and father of two boys, who happens to work in ministry as well.
At age 33, I belong to the millennial generation which continues to make headline news. I continue to be a constant source of tension for the church. I stir up arguments and blame games of whether it’s progressives or conservatives which are contributing to my generation and younger ones leaving the church. For this is what was clear from the latest research. More and more define themselves as “nones” or no religious affiliation.
Kid you not, even now as I write this article in a local coffee shop, there is a conversation going on at the next table beside me about how we, the church, best connect with this confounding generation – millennials. The tables are set up right next to each other in a row, so short of sticking headphones in my ears, which I left at home, I can’t help but hear what they are saying. For over an hour they strategize about how to reach out to this group, me.
And it’s not just them. I have no desire to throw these strangers sitting beside me under the bus. For the past week I have been watching the conversations unfold all over social media about what this latest round of research means for the church going forward. It’s a strange place to be in the spot light, and yet, feel like something is missing.
As I half listened to their conversation, read numerous headlines and articles, and wrote this essay; I felt my humanity slipping away. I am a spiritual jigsaw puzzle which needs to be figured out. I have become a consumer market which needs it’s own spiritual marketing – as soon as we can figure out what that looks like successfully.
I am not sure who these articles are talking about. I keep hearing how different this group is, and yet, at the end of the day, I share the same concerns, stresses, and joys as a lot of people I know.
At 33, I worry about finances like a lot of people. With politics bogged down in lobbying, positioning, and blame games, I wonder what retirement will look like for me and my partner in life. Unless things drastically change, our politics will never grow up to handle the huge issues we face, like the decades-in-the-making problem of the dwindling social security. Am I putting enough back in retirement so I am not a burden to my children? I worry about job security in a changing landscape as I hear from multiple sources this is not a good time to be in ministry full-time with churches shrinking. I worry about the boundaries between work and home as technology makes it easier to blur the lines between them.
As a father I lay awake at night wondering what the future holds for my children. Have I selected the best school I can to help them mature and thrive? Have I taught them the value of life in and of itself, not simply what can be consumed? Are the activities they participate in helping them build self-confidence? With the loss of biodiversity taking place, what will their experience and children’s experience be of hikes through the mountains, along the rivers? Will I leave my children a planet they can enjoy and thrive on? And what truly is the impact of my oldest child’s magnetism towards the iPad? Am I a bad parent for using said iPad and movies as a digital baby-sitter so I can get my work done? Have I instilled in them compassion, love, and integrity towards others?
To work hard. To have fun. To rest on the Sabbath. To celebrate the gift of life God has given us.
And yes, there are times I have doubts when it comes to faith. I confess there are times I read the scriptures more for what it seems to capture so well about human nature than I do for what it tells me about God. Who hasn’t felt the insecurity of Cain or Joseph’s brothers when a sibling or peer is praised greater, favored, or identified as more of a success? Who hasn’t felt abandoned like the Psalmist in the midst of a crisis?
These are some of the concerns which keep me up at night. Concerns which are not unique to my generation. I know they are some of the same concerns my parents faced in doing their best to raise my sister and I. I know, because I’ve asked them. They are the same concerns my friends face as we talk over a cup of coffee or share a meal.
From where I stand, we are not so different from previous generations. I carry similar concerns.
More than anything, in my vocational call, I hope when I encounter someone on the street or we arrange to meet over a cup of coffee, the person standing or sitting opposite of me will know he or she is valued simply for who he or she is as a person. Not a consumer or target audience to be marketed to. Not a puzzle which needs figuring out.
I am a human being who loves, plays, works, struggles, dreams, hopes, worries, stresses, and seeks meaning in life. Pretty much like every person who has gone before me.