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Generations Collide: A Word to Missions-Loving Millennials on Teamwork

Did you know that team conflict is one of the most common reasons for why cross-cultural workers leave their field of ministry prematurely? It’s a painful stat. It’s often caused me to pause. How good at team playing am I?

We Millennials typically pride ourselves in our ability to adapt when we travel, to build networks of relationships, and to hold people higher than projects. We understand the world as a Global Village and desire to be cross-culturally savvy. However, when it comes to cross-generational relationships are we as intentional to use these qualities when conflict arises?

I’ll confess that in times of conflict with older believers, instead of owning ways my preferences are contributing to the issue, I’m tempted to shrug off the “Millennial” tag for simply being “in Christ.” I’m drawn to disengage from taking any personal responsibility and replace it with the assumption that somehow we’ve forgotten we’re all on the same side. I realize it’s important to remember we’re on the same team and someday our “in Christ” identity will be all that remains, bringing believers into perfect unity. But today, we are still imperfect people tempted to respond with our flesh instead of depending on the Holy Spirit. We have to deal with the daily reality that our thoughts and actions are often influenced by our time, culture, upbringing, and yes, even our generation.

Often, reading about our generation makes me squirm like a bug in a petri dish. At times, I painfully agree with the criticisms. In other circumstances, I’m sure I qualify as an exception to the generational rule – “Don’t put me in that box!” (a very millennial sentiment). Sometimes, that squirm may actually become an awkward victory dance when I see they’ve nailed me in a positive way.

After all that squirming, defending, agreeing, and occasional dancing, as a follower of Jesus, I must die to self, asking the Lord to show me areas where my expectations or values, my attitude or pride hinder the kingdom work of the team He’s given me. Have you felt that tension?

I just finished reading Millennials in Ministry by Jolene Erlacher (2014). Sometimes it can be difficult for millennials to articulate the values of our generation. I appreciated Erlacher’s effort to uncover the specific issues for believers who represent this generation.

As Erlacher empathetically articulates, millennials in ministry are crafted and designed to highly value the relationships around us, to be unified in our representation of God to the world, to set aside the programs when they’ve forgotten the people. We want a seat at the table—to contribute to the work of God around us. Wouldn’t it be painfully ironic if we disengage in frustration when living out our growing passion for Christ encounters conflict with older believers?

Differences that arise out of intergenerational teams can create conflict among Christians that leave brokenness where there should have been gospel witness. Our Enemy desires to steal the witness of team unity (John 17) and so disrupt the work of broadly sowing gospel seed.

So…we want to work cross-culturally? I was not surprised to consider that the same basic characteristics of incarnational ministry also apply in cross-generational teamwork settings: humility, godliness, identification with others, and surrendering areas of your own preferences for the sake of others.

Our goal at Encompass World Partners is to deploy more fruitful disciple-making teams. Teamwork is indeed one of our core values. But why the focus on teams? I’ll give you at least one reason. Have you thought of this before? Teams are able to display attributes of our true living and powerful God that only one individual cannot display.

Imagine a team of believers whose interactions are consistently characterized by Christ-like love, honor, devotion, acceptance, admonishment, patience, service, tenderheartedness, forgiveness, selflessness, submission, encouragement, and humility…

It would seem unreal. Attractive. Convincing. Even convicting.

“Who are you and where are you from? Why do you care more for others than for yourself?”

It draws questions…questions only answered with the truth of the gospel. It is Christ who transforms lives.

I love when Paul says in Ephesians 3:10 that it’s through the church, communities of God’s people, that the wisdom of God is known. As new people are drawn to faith and repentance, their community, one with another, only builds the name of God in that place.

Cross-cultural work in teams is hard. Cross-generational teamwork brings even more challenges. But we have to consider the beauty and power that unity amidst our differences displays to those without Christ.

Father, graciously teach us. Give us, Millennials especially, opportunities to struggle, practice, grow with those you’ve put in our lives. May our pursuit of the nations be marked by a beautiful humility with others that is a megaphone to the nations as to how great You are.

Are you a team player in search of a team? Contact an Encompass mobilizer today to learn about opportunities to serve on a disciple-making team.


Encompass World Partners’ Mobilization Team seeks to mobilize and equip people and churches who are following Jesus into the missional work he’s doing to make disciples of all nations. You can contact Encompass’ mobilization team at go@encompassworld.org.