Chinese youth are living in a world drastically different from a generation ago. In this article, Territory interviews “Barnabas,” one of the executives behind a major research project looking into the lives of Chinese young people today. What motivates young Chinese adults? What challenges are they facing? How should the church respond? Read on to discover how Chinese youth born after 1990 live in modern China.
Because of the length, this article is divided into two parts. Part one is available here; this is part two.
The Coming Wave: They Are the Generation of Anxious Nomads, continued
They do not like mechanical bosses
Territory: In an interview with Li Kaifu, he mentioned that professionals among the Post-60s, Post-70s, and Post-80s are attracted by promotions, raises, and shares, but that these things are not effective when it comes to Post-90s and Post-95s. Instead, they might be more concerned about the quality of lunch at work.
Barnabas: Instead of saying that Post-90s and Post-95s don’t care about salary, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they not only care about salary, but also care about other factors as well, such as work lunches, opportunities for learning, whether or not they are allowed to work from a coffee shop, the air quality of the office, etc. In addition to earning money, they desire for work to be meaningful on multiple levels. They also think that there are other important things in life besides work.
Territory: Are they seeking perfection?
Barnabas: They are more diverse. Of course, we can also say that they are pickier, since they know more than the past couple generations, and they consider more factors. The maturing of digital society also causes the collapse of some past experiences, so that young people believe there are many more work possibilities. Internet celebrities only need a phone to connect with the world, leveraging freedom and wealth through unique displays of self and talent. Every day, Post-90s and Post 95s see many internet celebrity videos on TikTok and Kuaishou,1 with an unimaginable variety of content. For example, live-streams of eating—in the past, who could have imagined that someone could earn money simply by eating every day? Internet eating celebrities not only get to eat what they want every day, but every day millions of people watch them eat and even give them money, while brand name products give them ads. What perfect work! The young generation thinks that, after graduation, they do not necessarily have to work in an office. The future holds limitless possibilities.
Territory: They say that Post-90s and Post-95s like quitting without a backup plan, and enjoy challenging authority. You have many young employees in your company. How has this challenged your leadership abilities?
Barnabas: In the eyes of the past couple generations, the boss is very distant, staying aloof, full of authority. If you do not please the boss, you may be fired, so everyone was very obedient. But Post-90s and Post-95s typically have good family backgrounds, so even if they do not work for a short time, they do not worry about having enough to eat. They might always have enough to eat. They might be willing to work, not for the salary, but for the learning experience.
They believe that they do not need, and do not want, a boss of mechanical work, who tells them to do one thing today and another thing tomorrow. They want bosses who are like life mentors, who can help them grow, and teach them many things beyond work. They like bosses who are willing to be open. They want to quickly learn the perspective, methods, and framework of a mature person.
In terms of church pastoring, such a need looks very similar to Christ’s discipleship. But it is a shame that some churches and believers understand discipleship as attending a Bible study or training class. In the Bible, we see how Jesus led his disciples. He not only preached, but he also ate, lived, visited, and served with his disciples. For young people, a boss like Jesus would be very attractive to them.
Territory: As a busy chief operating officer, do you have opportunity to put these theories into practice?
Barnabas: Our company has seventy-some people. First, I need to remember everyone’s name. Secondly, I need to spend time in face-to-face conversations with them. Thirdly, I ask them out for coffee.
Of course, my time limits me so that I cannot take every single person out for coffee, but I do my best to build real relationships with the colleagues in areas I’m responsible for. I want them to know that I do not simply view them as a link in the work process, that I do not view them as machines, but that I value them as individuals, and am willing to build real relationships with them and help them grow.
Oftentimes, many colleagues who have left our company will intentionally come back to chat with me, to tell me how their lives are, continuing to seek my advice on how to live. Although they are not Christians within the church, our relationship is like a pastoral relationship—they see me as one of their intimate mentors and advisors, and not simply a boss in the normal sense. To become friends with them, to become a pastor-like mentor, is for me a deep calling and a blessing that comes from God.
Territory: I remember in the last interview you mentioned that in eight years of work, not one colleague became a Christian, and you had felt a sense of failure. Has there been any progress since?
Barnabas: Not long ago a colleague did become Christian. Although I was not the one who shared the gospel with her, I was involved in the process. The company has hired two Christians, and I suggested that we form a small fellowship in the company, and hold a prayer meeting once a week. As a result, they told me that a colleague was interested in the faith, and wanted to join our prayer meeting. Of course, I agreed. I heard last month that she has been baptized, and I am very happy!
Opening the family to this broken world
Territory: Compared with other generations, Post-90s and Post-95s have more open views when it comes to leaving traditional standards of marriage, gender, and the role of women. What challenges will this bring to church pastoring?
Barnabas: According to the revelation of the Bible, the world of the end times will become more and more broken, and marriage and family are becoming a link in this brokenness. People understand the meaning of marriage and family less and less. More and more people of the younger generation support homosexuality, and discuss open marriage and feminism. This is because many of them grew up in broken families, and have rarely seen a happy family. When the world tells them that homosexuality and feminism represent freedom and equality, they think, “Yeah! This is freedom. This is equality. How wonderful!”
Satan is very crafty. He ties incorrect models to some very deep values. In reality, this can be an opportunity for the church, because God has provided better explanation and teaching for these values. But it is a shame that the church has not done well enough, or has neglected to teach the whole of God’s will. The church tells them that feminism is wrong, because man is the head and woman is the helper. They will ask, “Why? Why is the woman the helper?” Some churches respond simply, “That is God’s teaching.” We can give a more comprehensive explanation according to the Bible’s teaching, letting them know that God’s “equality” is much better than the world’s equality. If the church can better communicate the Bible’s richness and beauty concerning these values, such as the order of creation, the quality of the personhood and status of men and women, the responsibilities man ought to take as head, then these young people will not be lured by the world’s values.
Territory: Indeed. Some teaching only emphasizes the woman’s submission in a marriage relationship, sometimes giving women a lot of one-sided spiritual pressure, so that they bear a lot more pain.
Barnabas: This is very wrong. Husbands and wives both have responsibilities to the marriage. The church should let the world see what a real family should look like, what is a beautiful standard of marriage. Post-90s and Post-95s are not willing to get married or have kids, because most of the marriages they see are not good marriages. They do not know the meaning of marriage or procreation. The world takes advantage of the situation to tell them what they will lose in marriage, what they will lose when they have kids, and they believe it.
The church has a responsibility to help them understand that marriage is blessed by God, to let them know what they will gain when marrying and having children. Some churches have not paid attention to the importance of building family. Instead, they focus on various activities, classes for new Christians, Bible studies. When some young families start having kids and getting busy, they do not have as much time to join the activities, and are slowly marginalized. It is a shame. The church should think more about how to protect the family, and not work with the world to steal the family. The church should display the beauty of the family to this world of broken relationships, so that the younger generation sees where hope lies.
Territory: What else should the church be more aware of in pastoring Post-90s and Post-95s?
Barnabas: As just mentioned, we need to reflect on what real discipleship training is. This point is especially important. Can pastors open up their lives like Jesus did, so that brothers and sisters see a side of their real humanity, see the pastor’s victories as well as their confusion? Don’t be different people at home and at church. Think more about how to let the younger generation feel loved, whether it is God’s love or the love of brothers and sisters. Don’t neglect person-to-person relationships because of activities or ministries.
The nomad characteristics of Post-90s and Post-95s means that they care deeply about whether or not anyone values them, whether or not anyone is willing to befriend them. When facing them, pastors should not rush to solve their problems, but must spend time to understand each individual. You only need to love them, and God will solve their problems. Many pastors today feel tired, because they are busy solving problems of one person after another, and do not think about how to understand or love them. If you see God’s sovereignty, then you will not worry about the people, because God will solve the problems.
Second, we must value the work of the Holy Spirit. The new generation often asks the question, “how should I live?” To receive an answer, they need truth, they need to study the Bible, and they also need the lively, individual guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- See “TikTok’s China Version Reports 400 Million Daily Active Users,” Sixth Tone, Jan 06, https://www.sixthtone.com/ht_news/1005049/tiktoks-china-version-reports-400-million-daily-active-users
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