As a millennial working in the not-for-profit sector, I regularly have people asking me why young people don’t seem to give as generously as previous generations.
Many charitable organisations have an aging supporter base, and are finding they cannot enlist younger supporters at the same rate as previous generations, and so they are inevitably asking, ‘why?’
I fear this article may die the death of 1000 qualifications, but nevertheless I feel compelled to make a couple of qualifications from the outset.
First, I’m not (necessarily) saying that Millennials are less generous in general – just in financial giving. I recognise that there are many ways a person can express generosity, and perhaps millennials are more generous in other ways. But from what I have heard and experienced, we (millennials) are less generous in giving of finances, and so it’s this on which I focus.
Second, I don’t have cold, hard facts to back up my claims. I haven’t conducted formal studies of giving among different age groups, I am relying on my own experience in the sector, and on the comments of others.
Revealing my sources
Ok, now for the exciting news: I think I have found the reason for this lack of generosity. Everyone can stop looking, I’ve solved it! Well… Tim Keller has, actually. He suggests that it’s caused by a collision of two world views.
In his book, ‘Generous Justice,’ Keller makes the following observation about those pesky young people with their tight wallet zippers: “(young people) from their youth culture have imbibed not only an emotional resonance for social justice but also a consumerism that undermines self-denial and delayed gratification”
Keller suggests that the reason we (millennials) are not as generous with our finances is because we have picked up a certain social concern from our culture (which is positive) but have somehow meshed our social concern with consumerism.
Let me give an example: young people are more willing to give of their time than their resources because giving of time can be a consumeristic activity – it can be an experience.
Millennials will give of our time to serve in a soup kitchen, or to travel to Africa to build something, because we know we ought to have social concern. But our motivation for this ‘generosity’ is not truly pure, it’s consumeristic. We will ‘pay’ to have a pious but enjoyable experience.
As a millennial, I may respond to an impassioned call to action (through a video, through audio, or through a super shiny speaker who visits my church and tugs the heart strings) – I may even respond financially on a one-off basis – but my motivation, I want to suggest, is consumeristic. I received an emotional experience, and I’m literally saying, “I’ll pay that.”
Why the hate, bro?
Now that I have committed treason, calling out my own generation and calling them nasty names like ‘consumeristic,’ let me say that I truly do speak from a place of concern and care.
I am passionate about seeing our generation step up to the plate: With our size, education, and opportunity, our generation is poised to make serious changes for good in our society and our world… But first we need to recognise the influences informing our lifestyles.
We need to be aware of how insidious consumerism is, and we need to actively work against it. We need to recognise our idols (whether they are experiences, comfort, belongings, or insta-fame) and denounce them, or else they will render our witness ineffectual, and our spirituality will stagnate.
Consumerism must die
I hate consumerism (time for another qualification – consuming is not bad, consumerism is) because I know the damage it has wrought in my own life, my own faith journey, and my own relationship with others. I have been deeply influenced by consumerism, and so I need to consider daily what impact it’s having in my decision making, and kill it’s influence in my life.
Financial giving can kill consumerism
And one way I can do this is through financial generosity. Giving money is an intrinsic part of my discipleship because it reminds me that all I have is God’s, and I don’t have a claim on how he chooses to use what he has entrusted to me. I talk often in my job about God’s gift of generosity – because I think it is a gift.
God calls us to give generously on every occasion (cf. 2 Corinthians chapter 9, verse 11) because he wants us to be freed of the strangleholds of consumerism and greed. It is a gift - a blessing to be able to give money away, because through it we can watch God work in our own lives (he promises to take care of us even as we give generously in 2 Corinthians chapter 9) and in the lives of others through our giving.
Be free, millennials!
In the words of the great theological think-tank, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the best way to free ourselves from the wily tricks of the devil (and his sneaky tool, consumerism) is to ‘Give it away, give it away, give it away now.’
It’s time our generation stopped holding in tension our care for others (social concern) and our (inappropriate) care for self (consumerism) – Be free, millennials!
Brent Van Mourik is the Queensland Church Relationship Manager for Baptist World Aid Australia and is a registered pastor with the Baptist Union of Queensland. He completed a Bachelor of Theology with honours in New Testament through Malyon College in Brisbane, where he now lives with his wife, Jane, and his young son, Joshua. In his down time, he enjoys making and drinking good coffee, and developing his theology of disappointment, whilst putting into practice Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26 (“In your anger do not sin”) on the golf course.
Brent Van Mourik’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/brent-van-mourik.html