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Millennials and Mission: A Generation Faces a Global Challenge. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2014. 136 pp. Paperback. $12.48..
Jim and Judy Raymo end Millennials and Mission by rehearsing a variety of questions raised throughout the preceding seven chapters. Then they conclude, “These questions and others remain unanswered at present” (108). The authors do not intend the statement to be a commentary on their own work, yet it has the ring of an admission, since the slender volume begins and ends with questions while providing few answers in between. Indeed, the judicious reader may wonder whether the book is asking the right questions in the first place. Nonetheless, the Raymos write from significant experience and offer a perspective worthy of consideration.
The book is an adaptation of material from Jim’s doctoral dissertation, written primarily in his voice but made more accessible with Judy’s help. Though there is some ambiguity regarding the intended audience, the bulk of the book seems to be directed at missions organization recruiters, particularly Baby Boomers prone to misunderstand generational differences with Millennials. One finds in chapter four what appears to be the book’s occasion: the decline of North American evangelical missions organizations and, therefore, the need to connect with “the ministry aspirations of potential new workers” (39). This sheds light on the aim Jim states in chapter one, to explain what he has learned about generational differences in the process of training and working with Millennials (1). Unfortunately, this intention does not provide the focus that a thesis would, and as a result the reader is left with a more or less organized compilation of questions, observations, and suggestions.
The first three chapters introduce Millennial generation characteristics. Chapter four pivots to “consider how these directly connect in regard to missions/ministry” (38), specifically considering their general fit for missions, the role of fear in their decision to serve cross-culturally, their preference for holistic ministries, and their potential relationship with established missions organizations. The final chapter briefly recapitulates various concerns and questions from the preceding chapters.
Two issues dominate the authors’ understanding of Millennials: self-interest and fear. The former appears to be a riff on Jim’s 1996 book, Marching to a Different Drummer: Rediscovering Missions in an Age of Affluence and Self-Interest. The reader may suspect that the authors would identify self-interest as an abiding concern regardless of the particular generation in view. Millennials have been characterized as entitled, certainly, but the authors do not parse the conflicting data with new insight. At one point they quote a source labeling Millennials as “narcissistic” followed immediately by another that describes them as “generally very self-critical” (10)—with no hint that these are contradictory by definition. The authors’ solution to this and other interpretive dilemmas is to identify paradoxical as the one word they would choose to describe the generation (16). Millennials are, for the Raymos, “self-absorbed, but generous” (16). What is most peculiar about their insistence that Millennials are characteristically self-interested is that many of the blog excerpts from Millennials sprinkled throughout the book clearly suggest otherwise.
The book’s most inconsistent argument, however, is that fear is a major concern for Millennials considering mission work. Chapter five, the longest of the book, is dedicated to this idea. Despite citing surveys that indicate Millennials are not prone to the prejudicial fears that characterize older generations, and despite quoting Millennials who state they are willing to live with the consequences of potentially dangerous foreign work, the Raymos insist that fear is a major concern for motivating and recruiting Millennial missionaries. At times, it seems as though they can’t decide which case they want to make: Millennials are fearful, or Millennials are naive about how costly and difficult cross-cultural work can be. Ultimately, it is difficult to see how the authors reach their conclusion that “fear is indeed a factor, especially in regard to comfort, security, and family” (76). Yet, given how closely this description of fear resembles self-interest, it is perhaps not a conclusion for the authors but a presupposition.
The book’s seventh chapter is its strongest, as it settles squarely into coaching older missions organizations how to adapt for Millennial workers. Though the authors have not presented an especially convincing portrayal of Millennials, they do a better job identifying issues for established organizational leadership that must deal with Millennials’ unique expectations. The authors give an interesting overview of what Millennials are looking for in a ministry context, which manages not to focus on self-interest. They chart both points of fit and potential difficulties with typical missions organizations. The chapter is unfortunately marred by redundancy, as the next section, on Millennials’ ideal missions agency, rehashes much of the first part of the chapter, and the following section deals with “ministry deal breakers” that are essentially the inverse of the same material. The chapter’s final section offers recommendations for integrating Millennials, which is again repetitive, though it also pulls a couple of points from previous chapters. Despite its redundancy, the chapter still lands nearest the book’s purpose. The Raymos’ experience in the organizational context is evident, and they share practical insights that leave the reader with the impression of legitimacy.
Millennials and Mission advances a conversation the church needs to have. The need, however, is not to prop up organizations that have failed to appeal to the next generation of workers. It is rather to understand how to adapt for the next phase of global mission, as God sends natively postmodern, thoroughly globalized Christians for his purposes. The Raymos’ basic impulse, to convince existing organizations and older generations that they should adapt rather than insisting that Millennials conform, is wise. Because the question is not whether Millennials can fit into such structures but who will be the next generation of courageous, self-sacrificial Western missionaries regardless of whether they fit into old molds.
Fuller Theological Seminary
Pasadena, California, USA