Gen z: searching for treasure in a scattered world
Jiwon J. LEE | JULY 29, 2019 | 3 MIN READ
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13:45-46
I recently spoke at a high school, and more than 90% of the students said that they used their phones more than four hours a day. A majority of the room used it for more than seven. Every day our youth consume content and seek value from video clips, filtered photos, and text alerts. Their attentions are scattered in a search for something to fulfill their thirsts, to fill their happiness, or even just their boredom. They are wired to search for something interesting and funny.
But under the surface, they’re really searching for connection. Heath company Cigna released a survey in 2018 that found that Gen Z is the loneliest generation. Our youth are searching for people or experiences that they can identify with, relate with, and bring meaning into their lives. There is a constant and frantic search for value.
This thirst for validation and connection is not a generational issue. This search within the human soul has been around for millennia.
The question that all of us are asking is: What will bring me ultimate value and fulfillment to life?
But for Gen Z, they seek the answer from a unique place. A Barna study found that “while all generations say family is most important to their sense of self, Gen Z’s identity is most defined by personal achievement.” In other words, they find the most value and fulfillment in what they could do and who they could be.
The Gospel is the Answer
We all know that the ultimate answer to our search for purpose is Jesus. But that’s not the answer our youth are looking for nor is it the answer they think is correct. Our kids see multiple if not hundreds to thousands of images a day of what the world says is valuable. To simply glance at Jesus and say he is the answer to the soul search for eternal value is not enough for them.
What this generation needs a fresh demonstration of what it looks like to cast everything aside for Christ. What does it look like to sell everything to follow Jesus? What does it look like to pick up our cross daily in a hyperconnected world? And they want to know why.
We must communicate and model to them — clearly and consistently — that our personal success is not our final objective in life. Our financial success, college success, career success, relationship success, and all other successes that we aspire to achieve are not the ultimate successes.
But often our students and church youth groups fall into the American dream trap, thinking that life is about achieving success through hard work and determination. It has morphed our thinking about our youth, making us believe students must reach some sort of standard in order for them to be acceptable.
It sounds so good, and it is so believable. Of course God wants our youth groups to be popular and for all our youth kids to go to college. Right?
No, wrong. The American dream is not God’s dream for us. God does not ultimately desire our or our kids’ personal success. What God desires most is a heart that is fully committed to him regardless of personal accomplishment or situation.
Christ is Better
We must battle with Gen Z in the arena of value and worth. As youth workers and pastors, we must talk about why pursuits like money, education, and career are good and why our eyes desire them. But we must also show why these good things ultimately fall short of Christ.
We must communicate why choosing Christ is better in this fading world. We must model to them what prioritizing in him looks like through our daily and big decisions. We must show them that settling for Christ isn’t short-changing their futures and minimizing their destinies, even though it may feel like it in the short run. We must model the wild joy there is in choosing Christ over all the gazillion other lifestyle options and living a focused life for eternity.
As leaders of the next generation, this is our assignment. And this is our challenge: to actually live like what we are preaching is the greatest pearl that this generation needs. More than any personal advancement or improvement of living, what deeply satisfies my soul is to be known and to be loved by Jesus. It’s not to have many finer things in life but to have Christ, our finest pearl, and selling everything else to have Him.
Jiwon J. Lee is a Korean-Australian who moved 7 years ago to Los Angeles to start seminary. He has served for the past 6 years as a youth pastor in New Life Vision Church, where he has the great pleasure in hoping in and investing into the next generation. He has a passion to stand in the gap and serve the Korean-diaspora church. He is happily married to Janice and they just had their first daughter, Sydney Ruth, who is his home away from home. He loves traveling to (and tasting!) different cultures, and he is expecting the Lakers to win a chip this year.