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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

But What Can Be Done for the iGen Generation?

Written by: on May 16, 2019

In general, when one willingly accepts the call of God to live and serve cross-culturally for the sake of the Kingdom, one is choosing a life of risk and adventure. Many put their lives on the line, crossing borders into places where the Gospel is outlawed and Christians are killed. It hard to imagine a missionary who seeks safety and comfort—pursuits that are antithetical to the call.

And yet….

The iGen generation described by Lukianoff and Haidt in their book, The Coddling of the American Mind, i.e. those born after 1995, is one that was raised on three untruths: The Untruth of Fragility, The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning, and The Untruth of Us Versus Them.[1] I was most intrigued by The Untruth of Fragility, and the concept of antifragility presented by the authors. “Systems that are antifragile become rigid, weak, and inefficient when nothing challenges them or pushes them to respond vigorously…..muscles, bones, and children are antifragile.”[2]

The iGen generation is coming of age and arriving on the mission field. They’ve been raised with safety being not only a high value, but a worthy pursuit. They’ve been taught that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.”[3] Will these missionaries be able to overcome the challenges inherent to the missionary call and create fruitful and sustainable ministries?

The solution that Lukianoff and Haidt offers for parents is “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”[4] Their solutions are viable for those just starting out, but do not address what can be done for the iGen generation that may need remedial help to build antifragility skills. As Howard A. Doughty surmises in his review of the book, “We must all lower our sights, take the average voters as we find them as uninformed, disconnected and hapless creatures bereft of the habits of thoughtful, reflective living and do the best we can. The ‘best,’ I imagine, is that we all will become incrementally aware of our vulnerabilities to advertisers’ tricks, become more alert to our own emotional structures, grow more attentive and alert when out buttons are being pushed and maybe learn to ‘push back.’”[5]

Not a very bright future.

Fortunately, I know a God who can redeem everything. I suppose He even has a plan for this mess. If I may get personal for a moment, my first son was born in 1995. So you can bet I stood up and paid attention when the authors started writing about the iGen generation. Of course I’d like to think of my children as exceptional—the ones who didn’t get touched by the Untruths. After all, we moved to France when they were adolescents. (By the by, this coddling IS an American phenomenon. The French have a completely different approach to child rearing which has its own challenges, mistakes, and pitfalls. But coddling is definitely NOT a part of the program.) But the truth is, this IS my children’s generation, and they did spend the bulk of their childhoods in the States, and they were and are affected by it.

Hard stuff seems extra hard to them. Failure feels fatal. And one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a mom is step away and let them fall. Not so much because I was worried they’d get hurt, but because I was worried they might not figure out how to navigate the pain and get back up.

When our oldest son moved back to the States to go to university, he crashed hard. Girlfriend cheated on him, and he thought the world was over. He stopped going to all his classes and failed to register for the Spring term. He had symptoms that mimicked PTSD, though the boy has never seen “trauma.” He talked of suicide—and we were on the other side of the world. For one harrowing eight-hour stint we couldn’t get him on his phone and none of his friends knew where he was. Finally, we decided a parent needed to be present. David went, thinking he would be gone for two weeks. He ended up staying for six.

The problem is real, Lukainoff and Haidt. But what is the solution for the iGen generation?

This is where the healing begins.

One friend from our home church gave our son a job—aerating lawns. Manual labor is good therapy for 19-year old boys.

Another family from church took him in to live in their basement, free of charge. He had been living with other single guys, but he still needed the stabilizing structures of a family.

A pastor invited him to play guitar on the worship team.

When David left to come back to France, he left our son not in the care of therapists, but in the care of the body of Christ. And through the next four to five months the careful marriage between crippling hard physical work, unconditional family love, and an invitation to participate in worship—all three serving his antifragile true nature—gave him an experience of “that which didn’t kill me made me stronger.”

And I’m guessing the same could work for iGen missionaries launching to the field. Integrating into the body of Christ for service, fellowship, and worship might just be the solution that Lukainoff and Haidt never found.

[1] Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure (New York: Penguin Press, 2018). 4.

[2] Lukianoff and Haidt, 23.

[3] Lukianoff and Haidt, 4.

[4] Lukianoff and Haidt, 236.

[5] Doughty, H. A. (2018). The coddling of the American mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure. The Innovation Journal, 23(3), 1-14. Retrieved from https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/docview/2188533327?accountid=11085

About the Author

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Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

7 responses to “But What Can Be Done for the iGen Generation?”

  1. Greg says:

    Jenn. We have seen that there are less and less that want to come our direction. We have been told that Asia is scarier than Europe. I don’t know if you have seen this trend too. Fear is an obstacle that these young people called by God have to overcome.

    Thank you for sharing about your son. My oldest is 97 born and is very sensitive (sometimes I think overly so) to failure and stress. I love that your story has the solution of true community. We have found for us that a good team and good focus helps young people find purpose serving abroad. Thanks again for you vulnerability and modeling effective parenting from afar.

    • Ha! Maybe not “effective ” parenting, but redeemable, by the grace of God!

      I do think many places are scarier than Europe, but my generation was raised on the idea that the “safest” place for me to be is in the center of God’s will for my life. I wonder if that ideal is even being considered in the equation any more!

  2. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jenn,
    I hav often wondered what the other parts of the world think when they read of how fragile we’ve become. In less than 100 years we have gone from the greatest generation who came through two wars and a crippling depression to what we have today. I love that your church family was able to come along side your son and help him to learn to stand strong, that is what we are supposed to do as the family of God. Thanks for the post.

    Jason

    • Yes, when my boys turned 18 and had to register for civil service, I found myself thinking “How could they evey send 18 year olds to war?” But in fact that was the reality for the generations before ours. While I’m grateful for peaceful generations, they do come with their own challenges. Just look at the differences between the reigns of David and Solomon in the Bible!

  3. Jenn,

    I so appreciated your post, and … I just deleted what I wrote. I decided I couldn’t post one of our family stories. But let me just say, I hear you and you’re not alone. I think one of the issues is this culture of safetyism creates youth who lack resilience. When challenges come, they crumble because they haven’t built up a resistance to failure and the knowledge that if they aren’t perfect, the world will not end.

    When we’re together in London, I’ll fill you in.

  4. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jennifer,

    My own children are roughly the same age so I too was very interested in the insights this text had to offer, especially with the changes I have seen in higher education over the past few years. I think fortunately for us our first 3 children had their formative years in NZ which has a far more laissez faire attitude when it comes to parenting. We were shocked at the comments and concerned looks we received when we moved back to the US because we let our kids play outside ‘unsupervised’.

    I am glad to hear that your son has found some good support and I am sure he will be better for it.

    I really am curious to see how this generation chooses to raise their own kids and wonder if the pendulum will swing back again as a result of the over-coddled childhood many of them received. Any thoughts?

  5. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jenn,
    Thank you for being vulnerable and authentic! I feel like parenting our young people is just a 50/50 chance that all will go smoothly…but the important thing is that your “village” stepped up in his life and cared for him. I am an advocate for Clinton’s book it takes a village to raise a child and wish our communities would return to caring for all children – recognizing that sometimes they trip and fall, but providing a safety net that helps them spring back up. I loved hearing about Europe’s parenting perspective.

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