"We often think we have no need of anyone else's advice or reproof. Always remember, much grace does not imply much enlightenment. We may be wise but have little love, or we may have love with little wisdom. God has wisely joined us all together as the parts of a body so that we cannot say to another, 'I have no need of you.' "
- John Wesley
Thursday, August 1, 2013
There's been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere and elsewhere about the recent Rachel Held Evans article Why Millennials are leaving the church. I've hesitated to get into this discussion for several reasons:
- One is that this discussion isn't new to me. I comment about it quite often and have been having a running conversation with myself and anyone who will listen to me about this for years. And I haven't come up with any hard and fast answers
- In our fractured and tribal online culture these types of conversations quickly devolve into "Lemons are yellow, you idiot!", "No, no, 1,000 times no! Limes are green!"
- I don't like banging away incessantly at the church. I love the church. I think, to quote Spurgeon and more recently Matt Chandler, the church is the "dearest place on earth". I don't feel safe telling Jesus that his fiance is ugly and smells bad. Because he might snap me like a twig.
- All kidding aside, I know the church has problems. But sitting around taking potshots at the church, if one is not careful, can easily lead to a lifestyle and mindset of "sitting in the seat of the scoffers".
- I've read the New Testament. The church has always had problems. And Christ has always loved her and is presently perfecting her
- I've lived awhile. I don't get this generational naming, as if "millennials" are any more unique than any other generation. My generation doesn't even have a name (snugged just between baby boomers and generation X) and, trust me, we aren't special at all. Plus I've been to a gazillion graduation ceremonies and youth events through the years. Everyone's generation was going to be the one to set everything to rights. I don't believe it.
- I don't disagree with everything RHE says or agree fully with everything her detractors say, which makes me feel that I must be breaking several fundamental laws of the blogosphere . . .
All that being said, I thought I'd post an excerpt from RHE, then two responses from people who appear to be millennials themselves, then leave a few thoughts of my own and then let anyone who wants to have at it in the comments.
First, this excerpt from Rachel's article:
What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.Jake Meador responds: The Rise of the Chicken Little Evangelical Blogger:
We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.
Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.
There have been many times in our history where the greatest hindrance to joining the church was that getting baptized could lead to imprisonment, torture, or even death. And through all that, the church has endured. But in the minds of certain Christian bloggers, privileged white millennials and their nebulously defined intuitions and impulses pose a greater threat to the long-term flourishing of the church than the Colosseum.Among his main points, Meador references a quote from the exasperating John Shelby Spong who said "Christianity must change or die" about fourteen years ago, and then notes that Spong's Episcopal church is doing it's best to die quickly, despite its very intentional pursuit of conformance with the culture.
Such an astonishing display of vanity calls to mind one of Chesterton’s finest quips: In The Everlasting Man, GKC tells the story of a conversation he had with an author named Grant Allen who wrote a book titled “The Evolution of the Idea of God.” Upon hearing the title, Chesterton remarked that it would be far more interesting to read a book by God titled “The Evolution of the Idea of Grant Allen.” So it is with this latest iteration of the “Christianity must change or die,” crowd.
Just to be clear: The problem is not with the simple (and obvious) observation that the church changes over time. Of course it does–it’s a human institution. The problem is with this preoccupation certain millennials have with how the church will change alongside millennials at the expense of asking the far more important question, which is how millennials will change to conform to the church.
Next I give you Aaron Armstrong's The real secret of keeping millennials in the church:
Do millennials have doubts that go beyond pat answers? Yep. Do they have a hard time with the biblical view of sexuality? Absolutely. Do they really struggle with what the Bible says about how the world came to be? Totally.Some of my thoughts:
But the real reason millennials are abandoning the church isn’t because they’re dissatisfied with the answers to any of these questions. And it’s not because they can’t find Jesus in the typical evangelical church.
The reason many leave is they don’t know Jesus.
Evans’ take is one, ultimately, of cultural accommodation. It’s an approach we’ve seen fail again and again. When the mainline denominations abandoned historic orthodoxy in favor of theological liberalism, it gutted their churches. There’s a reason these congregations are hemorrhaging, and it’s not because their beliefs are offensive to the average person on the street.
There’s a reason the so-called Seeker movement was a largely an exercise in futility, and it’s not because it was producing vast numbers of strong, theologically-sound, mission-minded believers.
In fact, many of the millennials who are leaving the church are simply following the example of the previous generation of nominal believers. Christianity didn’t really make that much of a difference in their parents’ lives, at least from what they could see, so clearly there’s nothing to it.
So for all the damning talk of millennials not being able to find Jesus in our churches, the reality may be they don’t know what Jesus to look for.
You want to keep millennials in your churches? Here’s what you do:
Tell them about Jesus. Tell them about the Son of God, who came and lived a perfect life, who died on the cross for their sins, and who was raised from the dead in victory over Satan, sin and death. Give them the opportunity to repent and believe!
Teach with conviction. Squishiness and arrogant uncertainty is so tired, especially for a generation that’s been fed a steady diet of it. Tell them the truth about God’s Word; teach them sound doctrine with conviction.
Live out your beliefs. What you believe works itself out in what you do. If you really believe the truths of Scripture, live in light of them. Evangelize passionately. Serve others joyfully. Let millennials see that your beliefs aren’t just intellectual thoughts, but convictions that drive all you do in life.
That’s the secret of reaching and keeping the millennials. And it’s no secret at all. So what are you going to do with it?
I can't possibly express to you how much I care about this topic.
That being said, I don't think that the phenomenon of young people leaving the church is anything new.
I am for the church changing, as long as that change brings the church closer to the gospel message of Jesus, friend and Savior of sinners.
I'm for backing off from sophisticated marketing and bait-and-switch tactics (please!).
I think it's funny that RHE says that Millennials have better BS meters than older generations. Based on what? Everyone thinks their BS meter is highly tuned.
To be fair, I think millennials are, perhaps rightfully so, more cynical than my generation, but we've all gotten more cynical.
Ironically, the marketing techniques that have gotten so incredibly advanced, omnipresent and effective in our age have added to this cynicism. We're promised stuff all the time, not just in the church but even more so in our wider culture, and after a while this wears on the soul.
Millennials have also lived with the tyranny of choice in almost ever aspect of their lives for so long, along with the narcissism-enhancing technologies of our day. Are we surprised that they church shop, morals shop, and worldview shop, and often change all three as often as they change out their smartphone?
The church will have to quit playing around and stand solidly for truth and real love in this slip-and-slide of a world in which we live.
Parents shouldn't depend solely on youth group to give their sons and daughters a firm foundation. Our children's faith-training is primarily our responsibility.
Young people have to be allowed to grapple with doubts, to understand that the battle for truth is worth it, to be given the best answers we can give them, and to embrace mystery when necessary.
Young people need to see real gospel-picturing marriages and holy lives from those of us who have gone before them.
Student ministries should measure success by how their students are faring ten years down the line, not by how many kids came to the worship event last Friday or camp last summer. And, for goodness sakes, teach them well the essential beliefs they'll need for faith survival.
Our young people must also be given opportunities to sweat, to be in danger, to experience the God we worship in real life hard ministry, rather than just in classic youth group fun and games or over-sheltered home life with mom and dad. Trust me, they'll attack real ministry and service with joyful energy if given the chance.