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If one makes an effort to learn the language of the new generations, a bridge can be built for mutual understanding. So I propose that we not try to “fix” them by pushing, pulling or forcing them. Rather, let’s come along side them.

Millennials (20-30 somethings) are often criticized by older generations as being entitled, lazy and self-absorbed. Boomers, like myself, are known to castigate them for pushing against the status quo and tradition. Indeed many in the rising generations push hard against hierarchy. But they also yearn to do something that makes a difference. They pride themselves on being nonjudgmental, and many simply don’t want to be hemmed in. They want to create their own future.

Wouldn’t it be well for older folks to stop and consider what younger generations bring to humanity? If we took the time to better understand their hearts and stopped mischaracterizing, we would likely applaud many principles they embrace. The alternative is to continue being puzzled by them, or worse, calling them names. It may be wise to give ourselves a wakeup call and ask, who raised them?

As a former religious leader with responsibility for young adults, and an employer of over 10,000 millennials over my lifetime, I have a deep love and respect for the rising generations. Rather than adopt the negative labels used to reference them, I have gained an entirely different perspective. I want to thank millennials for so many things.

I thank them for their creativity, their concern for our world and for asking questions. I thank them for desiring to create an inclusive culture, for creating innovations in technology, for being global thinkers who are adventurous and for being motivated by meaning and purpose. I also thank them for their hunger to learn, their sense of optimism, for seeking work-life balance and for prioritizing experiences over rote education.

It is true, the rising generations (like every other generation) have challenges; some significant. One particular challenge has been active religious practice. According to studies in the United States, nearly 60 percent of Christian, 30 percent of Jewish and 25 percent of Muslim young adults enter a religious hiatus of some sort. In fact, many millennials (and increasingly Generation Z teens) characterize themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.”

Another label? Let’s stop and consider what “spiritual but not religious” means in the life of a millennial. Many are finding less fulfillment in religious worship because they believe the bureaucracy of it smothers the spiritual benefits. They don’t appreciate judgment or being judged, which they believe is more aligned with religion than spirituality. In many cases, they are simply trying to chart their own course as they consider how their own up bringing shaped them, while grappling with the world they live in today.

If one makes an effort to learn the language of the new generations, a bridge can be built for mutual understanding. So I propose that we not try to “fix” them by pushing, pulling or forcing them. Rather, let’s come along side them.

To come along side is to:

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  • Make wise and loving invitations. Help them find and choose their path.
  • Assure your invitations will help them make a difference. They don’t want to just put in their time; they want who they are, and what they do, to make a difference in the lives of others.
  • Consider the concept of empowerment. It’s an approach to take as you assist in their journey of discovery.
  • Celebrate outcomes as they embark on their endeavors, even if the outcomes are not quite what you expected.

To come along side is to walk a path together. My hope is that, together, we can find a new synergy resulting in true empowerment for all of us.

Steve Hitz is a co-founder of Launching Leaders Worldwide, www.llworldwide.org, a nonprofit organization that provides young adults with tools for personal leadership and faith. He is the author "Launching Leaders: An Empowering Journey for a New Generation."