Generation Next: Equipping Young People for Life in Turbulent Times

By Tom Sine

The world many of us grew up in is not the same world as today. Parents, youth workers, and educators are unconsciously equipping the next generation for life in a world that no longer exists. Instead, we need to imagine creative new ways that we might better prepare "generation next" for life and mission in a world that has dramatically changed.

Reimagining economic realities

When I graduated from a small Christian college in Portland, Oregon in 1958, my total cost for tuition, room, board, and books was only $700 a year. School debt was unheard of, because at the time it was possible for students to work their way through a private college education. My generation could pay a mortgage with 20 percent of a single income.

These are simply not the economic realities that millennials now face.

This generation is hardwired to have a positive impact on the lives of both local and global neighbors, but the double whammy of the highest student debt in history and high housing costs is taking many of them out of the ball game. As they start their families, many are discovering that they have very little time or money left over to invest in caring for their neighbors or God's good creation.

This generation is hardwired to have a positive impact on the lives of both local and global neighbors, but the double whammy of the highest student debt in history and high housing costs is taking many of them out of the ball game.

Reimagining parenting

These daunting new economic challenges are also an opportunity to creatively re-imagine how parents, youth workers and educators can equip this next generation in caring for God's creatures and creation.

First, we need to enable this generation to discover there is more to life than the endless pursuit of more. We need to help them discover that the "good life" of God is found in discovering how God can use their lives to make a difference in the world. This shift in life focus can significantly help young people lower their economic expectations, too.

For example, a family we'll call the Johnsons takes their annual two-week vacation in Thailand to allow their pre-teen children to discover a new reason for being. They spend the first week teaching English as a Second Language to elementary students in a rural village, and the second week the family does some touring together. Over time, the Johnson's pre-teens report deriving real satisfaction in discovering that they can make a tangible difference in the lives of these kids.

Kay Wills Wyma was struggling with a brewing storm: five kids growing up feeling entitled to a very affluent way of life, where they were not expected to take any responsibility for themselves. In her book Cleaning House, she explains how in 12 months she successfully enabled her kids, age 5 to 15, to take responsibility for cooking, cleaning house and helping others—instead of expecting their parents to do it all for them.

Here in Seattle, a father of four is helping his kids get ready for a future where they may have less resources than their parents' generation. When each child turns 10, he gives them $200 and begins the long journey of teaching them how to save, invest and give. His goal is to enable each of his children to become skilled money managers before they graduate from high school, so that even if they have less income, they will better understand how to manage it.

Reimagining youth ministries

Many youth ministry programs seem endlessly focused on "doing things" for their youth, in a very passive, receptive model of ministry. But what would youth ministry look like if instead, we challenged our children to create and launch new missional initiatives?

In The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time, I describe how one Anglican Church, instead of hiring a middle-aged couple to put on a better show for the youth, took a risk and invited their teens, 20somethings and 30somethings to plant a church within a church. The result, Essentially Grace, is a Sunday night service at Saint Mary's Church in London, which welcomes all—but older people can't mess with it. It belongs to the young people, and still offers some of the most creative worship experiences I have found.

If we are serious about wanting to keep young people in our churches, then we need to take the risk of asking for their ideas and inviting them to re-imagine and re-invent those churches. Perhaps this shared ownership will lead to a rise in attendance among other millennials.

If we are serious about wanting to keep young people in our churches, then we need to take the risk of asking for their ideas and inviting them to re-imagine and re-invent those churches.

The Toronto chapter of Youth for Christ runs a program called Youth Unlimited, which invites teens to come up with their own ideas of how to make a difference in their community and the world. If the ideas appear to have possibility, Youth Unlimited will assign the young innovator a mentor, and help them give birth to a potential new future.

Jared is a student who came up with the idea for Pocket Change Apparel, a clothing company with a heart for kids around the world. They make fair-trade clothing in Toronto and their profits help support the Freedom House Orphanages in Haiti. How about challenging the creativity and initiative of the young in your church?

Reimagining Christian education

Many K-12 educators in Mennonite and Reformed Christian Schools are preparing students for a "climate change future" through innovative courses on sustainability. But I have found very little in the way of Christian schools equipping students for an "economic change future."

Educators in Europe are focusing on entrepreneurship as one way of preparing students for life in a slower economy, with the explicit mission that they will raise a crop of young people who start new businesses to not only create more jobs, but also increase economic growth throughout Europe. A number of these secondary schools offer courses in financial stewardship as well, so these young entrepreneurs are also learning how to be skilled money managers. These programs seem to be making a difference for both the graduates and, increasingly, the larger economy.

Wouldn't it make sense for Christian schools to consider shifting their educational philosophy toward a more entrepreneurial focus?

We have a 9-year-old helper we'll call Brent, who helps his mom give us a hand in our garden. On his own initiative he has started his own on-line organic dog biscuit company. Reportedly, he is making money. Christian schools could revise their curricula to not only teach entrepreneurship, but also help students like Brent create new small businesses. Can you imagine the gift it would be to a student who graduates from Eastern or Wheaton in 2020 and can't find a job, if she knows how to start a small business because of the skills she learned in a Christian high school?

Dr. Tony Wagner, an educator from Harvard, has a new book called Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. It is an excellent resource for educators looking for ways to teach their students how to be both business and social entrepreneurs, and do good by doing well.

Parents, youth workers and educators need to re-imagine and reinvent how we equip "generation next" to live, work and make a difference in the world. What are your creative ideas? Please contact me with any ideas—or push back. I'd love to hear from you.

Tom Sine is co-founder with his wife, Christine, of Mustard Seed Associates (, a nonprofit that assists churches and Christian organizations to evaluate how the world is changing and how the church needs to change to be more effective in the future. His books include The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time (InterVarsity Press, 2008) and Mustard Seed vs. McWorld: Reinventing Life and Faith for the Future (Baker, 1999).

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2 Responses

  1. June 30, 2013

    […] In this article I will explain how the economic context into which today's young people are graduating is strikingly different from the one that many of us older folks encountered as we began our lives. I will invite you to join me in imagining creative new ways that parents, youth workers, and educators might better equip "generation next" for life and mission in a more challenging economic context than that of yesteryear…. Read this in full at… […]

  2. July 8, 2013

    […] here to read […]

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