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Christmas: The proximity of Emmanuel

Relationship is everything for millennials so how do we share Jesus with those in their 20s and 30s?

Proximity. Noun. Nearness in space, time or relationship.

Immanuel. Noun. God is with us.

As human beings we are made with an inbuilt awareness of how close is too close. We ideally like to keep strangers at least three metres away. We feel comfortable with acquaintances coming as close as one metre away. Closer still is the acceptable distance for good friends and family of around 50cm, before we reach the most intimate of spaces that we reserve for those few people closest to us. When our personal space is invaded we can completely shut down, which explains the awkward silence and closed body language on busy trains and in lifts.

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Yet proximity is also important to us. For those we allow into our space, there are few things more reassuring than an arm round the shoulder, a quiet personal word, or a squeeze of the hand that speaks to the heart of our being and says, I am with you.”

For today’s millennials, proximity is deeply important. Relationship is everything. Authenticity is the currency of trust. A recent survey found that the top three characteristics that young adults look for in a leader are integrity, humility and passion. These are not the same as charisma, vision and communication. You cannot observe them from a distance. In relating to, leading and reaching the next generations, we need to allow them access to our lives that gives them insight into whether what we say is in sync with the whole of our lives.

Collaboration is another virtue deeply admired by this generation. For what this feels like, look no further than the post-it note, which is exists because two innovative scientists decided to share. Whist working at 3M, one was creating a strong glue, got the formula totally wrong, and ended up making an extremely weak adhesive. His colleague was frustrated that his bookmark kept falling out at choir practice and so wanted to create a temporary sticky note. The two men openhandedly spoke about their ideas and the landscape of noticeboards, flip charts and kitchen fridges were never the same again. Leadership, mission and church for millennials have to be collaborative. You don’t do discipleship to this generation, you do it with them.

Over 2,000 years ago a baby who would be the very incarnation of proximity and collaboration arrived into our world. In behaviour hardly befitting the King of kings, God scandalously becomes a baby and is born in the lowest of circumstances to be with us. Names held deep significance in the first century. You were named by your parents as the person they wanted you to become; in naming you they were speaking destiny over you. And Jesus was named Immanuel, God is with us. God comes close.

In communicating the good news to young adults, let us speak of a God who is not only full of grace and truth, but lives amongst us and allows us to get up close to see that He is the real deal. No one does authentic quite like Jesus, and our lives need to aspire to this standard, in sync with what we say and the God who we love. At the same time Jesus models to us a deeply collaborative mission, involving His disciples in almost every activity, questioning, empowering, inspiring, demonstrating, life on life, inviting them to watch, learn and then have a go. Do the proximity of our relationships and the collaboration of our activity look like Immanuel?

This Christmas may you know that God is with you. But may you also lead and live like God is with you, in His image, with His example and may many more of us, in all generations know and join in with the God who comes close.

Christmas. Noun. The season of proximity. The time of Emmanuel.


During Advent, we’re exploring​Emmanuel, God is with us’ — how the presence of God shapes the work that the Evangelical Alliance cares so passionately about, mission, public leadership, public policy, and how this is all made possible by the generosity of the church. We hope that you’ll join us and in this Christmas celebration as we look forward to more of God with us in the year ahead.

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About the author

Phil Knox is the head of mission to young adults at the Evangelical Alliance. He lives to see people come to know Jesus and Christians inspired and equipped to share their faith. He has a passion for his generation, the local church, loves learning and has degrees in law and mission and evangelism. Phil is married to Dani and they have two sons, Caleb and Jos. He is an avid runner and footballer, a proud Aston Villa supporter and battles a mild coffee addiction.

See more from Phil Knox

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