Millennials and the Priesthood Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Saturday, 23 February 2008 11:39
Cheryl Hall, a business columnist for the Dallas News, wrote an article on Millennials that caught my attention. Millennials are the kids who were born after 1980. You may remember them as the generation whose parents (baby boomers) had the first "baby on board" signs hanging on the rear windows of their mini-vans. Their childhood was much more highly structured than mine, and featured "play dates," Mozart in the womb, more organized sports option, and much more affirmation than Gen-Xers, who could be stereotyped as the latchkey kids.

Problem is, all that affirmation and coddling is having a negative effect in their work performance.

Owen Hannay is the 45-year-old principal of Slingshot LLC, whose Dallas agency is known for its leading-edge marketing. He's put a moratorium on hiring Millennials, the newest cohort to enter the workplace.
It's not that millennials lack the creative genius or technological know-how that he's looking for. Far from it, he says. It's more that they lack the real-world grounding it takes to deal with responsibility, accountability and setbacks.

"They wipe out on life as often as they wipe out on work itself," says Mr. Hannay, who let go more than a dozen millennials from his 130-person staff over the course of 2006.

That's when he stopped hiring them. "They get an apartment and a kitty, and they can't cope. Work becomes an ancillary casualty. They're good kids with talent who want to succeed. That's what makes me nuts."

All true, says Ms. Looney, a certified reality therapist and retired director of children and family ministry at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. And many employers are backing away from hiring them because they're so high maintenance.

"They've been overparented, overindulged and overprotected," she says. "They haven't experienced that much failure, frustration, pain. We were so obsessed with protecting and promoting their self-esteem that they crumble like cookies when they discover the world doesn't revolve around them. They get into the real world and they're shocked.

"You have to be very careful in how you talk to them because they take everything as criticism."..."If you want to get the best out of the millennials, you have to invest in them. You have to give them a mentor to teach them how to navigate the adult world," Ms. Looney says. "You have to tell them in black and white what your expectations are for them and what the consequences will be if they don't meet those expectations."

"These are kids who have a bunch of participation awards. They think they should be rewarded for showing up at work. You have to say, 'No, no darlin'. You're paid to show up. But you have to do a good job to get a raise.' "

Employers need to play to this group's significant strengths. Millennials are highly educated, well-traveled, goal-oriented, technologically superior and great team players.

While making generalizations about any group of people, especially when the group is simply formed by age, is a tricky proposition, it's still kind of interesting to muse on what Millennial seminarians and pastors might be like. Perhaps we can make sure their formation addresses some of these issues.

For example, if millennials work well with others, that may bode well for the next crop of priests. They may be more likely to work as a team with their staff and with the lay members of their parishes. Their technological savviness may be a boon in parishes that have been slow to consider the use of the internet, podcasts and blogs for connecting with parishioners and for the purpose of evangelization. Their creativity might translate into better preaching and teaching.

On the other hand, they are not likely to meet much criticism in seminary, nor are they likely to find failure. Seminaries may be a bit over-anxious to make sure that a fellow passes his courses and is ordained, since there's such a lack of priests in most dioceses. And what happens when Fr. X becomes a pastor, and various parishioners come to him with competing demands and expectations that conflict? Or what happens to Fr. Y when the full weight of his responsibility hits: daily preaching, counseling, teaching, sick calls, hospital anointings, parish and finance council meetings, chancery meetings, etc.? Every pastor I know has to face criticism and comparison with the previous pastor.

One possibility might be to make sure that Millennials have mentors. We might naturally expect the mentor to be a priest, and often that is the model - a newly ordained priest is placed with an older priest who can help show him the ropes. Unfortunately, those mentor priests are seldom if ever trained as a mentor, and may have precious time to devote to mentoring. It doesn't seem to be much of a priority. And mentoring goes way beyond spiritual direction. It would have to address the reality that a priest is to be a man of God for others. That may be hard for men whose self-esteem was nurtured in an artificial way as children, or who were given the impression that life really was about them and their needs.

Mentoring should include an understanding of the difference between collaboration and delegation, the mission of the Church and the role of the laity in it. The newly ordained will likely need to know how to work with pastoral councils, including the importance of having a pastoral plan.

And finally - but most importantly - the mentoring should help the young priest focus on the importance of his own discipleship, which may have been lost somewhat in the overly academic environment of the seminary.

It would be interesting to pursue the possibility of training mentors specifically to work with the newly ordained. Some would be priests, of course, but why not also deacons and theologically trained lay men and women? This might be one way a diocese invests wisely in her priests, and may avoid lots of heartache down the road for both the ordained and the laity.