While serving in the full-time ministry for over twenty years, I have periodically taken on the role of a college professor as a way to stay relevant and understand the needs of the community. I have had the privilege of teaching World History at the prestigious Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, the only all-male historically black institution of higher learning.
I first lectured there during the 2006/2007 school year and returned three years later to find a significant difference in the religious mentality of the students.
During my first stint in the classroom, I encountered many students who were enamored with mega-churches and their celebrity pastors. They were extremely passionate about their traditional beliefs and defended them with conviction.
This was not the case my second time around.
I remember walking into a classroom of approximately 30 male students from all over the world and all walks of life. In the back left-hand corner sat the former Compton gangbanger turned military hero. A few seats in front of him, staring into his iPhone, was the spoiled, rich kid from Chicago whose parents owned everything from real estate to fast-food chains. A few rows over, the two “white” international students, one from South Africa and the other from Sweden, sat confidently surveying the room. I saw a young father from the Bronx, NY, tattooed from his neck to his knuckles. It was a diverse bunch.
Due to the nature of the subject matter, our classroom discussions often led to lively and thought-provoking conversations.
As we studied world religions, I began to ask questions to test their prior knowledge. On our chapter on Judaism, I casually asked the students who was responsible for bringing down the law from Mt. Sinai. Their responses caught me by surprise. Some thought it was Abraham, others Noah, while the majority looked at me dumbfounded.
Astonished, I asked, “Didn’t you guys go to Sunday School as kids?” Their reply was a resounding, “No.”
We moved on to other religions and eventually surveyed Christianity. In past classes, the teachings of the Apostle Paul usually evoked controversy in a room full of male college students, especially his teachings on pre-marital sex. Again, I wanted to explore their convictions, but they had no idea who Paul was, nor were they familiar with the scriptures he authored.
I tried to spark their interest in the topic of sexual abstinence, only to have it dismissed as a non-controversial issue. They laughed it off, saying, “Nobody does that anymore.”
While I was introducing them to World History, they were introducing me to the Millennial Generation.
According to research done by father and son team, Thom and Jess Rainer, the Millennials are the generation born between 1980 and 2000, numbering 78 million. In their book, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation, the duo pointed out that only 13 percent of Millennials consider any religion or spirituality to be important in their lives.
Before conducting their research, the Rainers feared they would discover hostility to Christianity among Millennials. What they found, however, was worse: indifference.
As a minister, reading this material and correlating it to my experience in the classroom made me ask myself a sincere question: “Are my beliefs, practices, and teachings in danger of becoming obsolete to the younger generations?”
For part 2, click here.
 Thom S. Rainer and Jess W. Rainer, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation (Nashville: B&H, 2011), 271.
(Excerpted from Michael Patterson’s Running with Lions: Mentoring Leaders for the Millennial Generation. Used with Permission.)