For a good number of evangelicals, the word “missional” next to “millennial” conjures up the coffee connoisseur doing relational evangelism at upscale restaurants that cater to foodies. If millennials resist chain restaurants and opt instead for something more authentic than mass-market productions, surely those who want to reach millennials should adopt similar attitudes, right?
The problem with this idea of “missional millennials” is that it’s a caricature of both millennials and also the meaning of missional. Only a certain class of millennials frequents upscale coffee shops and sneers at Starbucks. And an essential aspect of being “missional” means you contextualize methods for the people you’re called to reach.
When I reflect on some of my favorite locations for disciple-making in the past decade, I think of McDonald’s. As an associate pastor in a rural town in the South, I led a class of young married couples. We had evening fellowships at McDonald’s because it gave the kids a place to play, it kept the food affordable for all of us, and it was in a central location that made it easy to have some good conversations about life and faith.
We weren’t the only fast-food connoisseurs in town. A group of older men from church hung out every morning at Hardee’s. Burger King is where I always ate with an older man who led disaster relief trips to New Orleans after Katrina. These people loved Jesus and their little town. And they ate fast food.
David Fitch is an Anabaptist writer with whom I have had (and still have) many disagreements about theology. But one of the things I’ve always appreciated about him is how he has sought to be a minister of reconciliation for Jesus Christ at his local McDonald’s. He recognizes the Golden Arches as a place to discover ministry opportunities, so he’s all in.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to see churches being planted in urban areas. I’m glad to see pastors who are reaching upscale millennials and having good conversation over expensive lattes. We need all kinds of people living out the Great Commission.
But let’s not stereotype millennial mission. The context for mission varies, so the location of discipleship will vary also. We shouldn’t undervalue ministry that happens in places that upper-middle-class people sneer at.
If you’re a young pastor serving in a rural context—ministering in a place where it’s hard to find a great restaurant or amazing coffee—don’t undervalue your gifts or your people. It’s easy to think the grass is greener in the neighbor’s yard, and it’s easy to think that mission is better (or cooler) in someone else’s field.
Never let your desire to be on mission be connected to a desire to appear cool. Coolness kills mission. It turns our attention to ourselves and how we are perceived rather than to God and the people he wants us to reach.
Don’t underestimate or overlook the places where God is at work. Love the people before you. Cultivate the field you’re in. Live on mission wherever you and the people in your community gather. And save some room for an ice cream cone after the extra value meal.