I’m taking a short break from Christmas posts to talk about an article I’ve seen recently being shared on social media: “12 Reasons Millennials are OVER Church.”
The article is funny in places and characterized by the tell-it-like-it-is candor that my generation hates in people they don’t agree with (a certain president-elect comes to mind) and loves in articles that voice what they’re feeling. It also has some useful observations about why millennials are staying away from organized religion.
Are there some suggestions here that some churches should consider? Sure, especially the challenges to listen to, appreciate, and involve younger people (although I should also point out that implementing everything in the article would take a programming-heavy megachurch).
But I had some significant problems with it.
The first was the tone. General principle: when you are talking to people made in the image of God, especially ones who have dedicated their lives to prayerfully trying to lead a group of believers, please be respectful. It’s fine to have difficult conversations, point out weaknesses, and suggest solutions. But you should always do so in a gracious, careful way, motivated by love.
This was not that.
I wanted to find this guy and say, “Do you realize what most pastors, the ones you seem to be dismissing as irrelevant, uncaring, and misguided, go through on behalf of their congregations? They’re Frodo bringing the ring to Mount Doom, and you’re just popping up near the end of The Return of the King to criticize how depressed and tired they look. Show a little respect for the journey they’ve been on and the burden they bear when giving ideas for how they can improve.”
Tone aside, though, here’s my main deal: the article missed the point.
Completely, totally missed it.
One of the last lines of the post is: “The truth is, church, it’s your move.”
And I stared at the screen when I read that. Double-checked to make sure I had read it right (it was in bold so I couldn’t mess up).
Guys. Any young believers out there, reading this, maybe agreeing with the article, feeling a little defensive…
We are the church.
Not just the older folks, not just the married couples, and certainly not just the pastors. It is not “their” move. It is not us vs. them at all. It cannot be, or the church is going to self-destruct in a slow, cringe-worthy, pass-on-my-message-because-I’m-not-speaking-to-her-right-now sort of way where no one wants to be the first to break the silence and everyone is clutching tightly to their resentments and misunderstandings.
The author starts with this: “From the depths of my heart, I want to love church. But I don’t. Not even a little bit. In fact, like much of my generation, I feel the complete opposite.”
And ends with this: “Decide if millennials actually matter to you and let us know. In the meantime, we’ll be over here in our sweatpants listening to podcasts, serving the poor and agreeing with public opinion that perhaps church isn’t as important or worthwhile as our parents have led us to believe.”
It made me wonder if the author got so fed up with all the preaching about marriage that he tuned out the basic Christian principle often taught in those sermons: love sacrifices.
It doesn’t wait to serve until it is being served (and in exactly this way, please). It doesn’t give only when given to. It doesn’t lash out in anger, doesn’t repeat lists of offenses and slights, doesn’t walk out when life gets tough.
Most of all, love does not say, “You have to love me first.” If God had treated us that way, there would be no story. That’s why I laughed when the author urged churches to skip complex mission statements and “get back to the heart of the gospel.”
Do you know what the heart of the gospel is?
And we are imitators of Christ, so that’s the sort of love we are called to as well, the one that makes the first move and forgives and serves and pours itself out for others.
(If that sounds impossible, that’s because it is…on our own. But God always gives us the strength to do what he commands. We depend on him for the ability to show that kind of selfless love.)
1 Corinthians 13 is not a cliché wedding reading, guys. It is about the church—how I should treat my fellow believers, because that’s what I have control over.
As millennials, we may not be able to restructure leadership systems, add a dozen new social justice programs, or even feel appreciated and understood the way we’d like to be in our local churches.
Those aren’t bad goals. But I do think it’s harmful when we withdraw church attendance or service and get locked into an ecclesiological hostage negotiation. One where we present our list of demands and decline to participate in the way God has chosen to work in the world until such time as those demands are met.
That’s what this article sounded like to me, and it’s dangerous.
I say this knowing that I am stomping through a minefield of deep hurts and unmet needs and corrupt leadership and lots of very serious reasons to walk away from a particular local church and feel doubt toward organized Christianity in general. It’s not all gimme-gimme selfishness that drives people to pull away. But even after we’ve been hurt, we can’t dismiss the Bible’s commands to gather with and serve and encourage other believers because of our past experience.
I’m not judging you or saying it’s going to be easy or pretending I have a simple answer to the areas where the church in America or across the street might need to change. I’m just begging you: don’t abandon the church. We are the body of Christ, Paul says over and over, and there is no appendix, no part that we can do without. His “one another” commands alone should make us realize that spirituality siphoned from blogs and YouTube sermons isn’t enough: love one another, submit to one another, bear with one another, encourage one another, confess sins to one another, and many more.
You can’t do that alone, or in virtual community. We need each other.
There’s something to learn for everyone here, not just millennials: we can’t wait to love the church until it’s convenient, because it never will be. The church will never be a perfect community that meets all of our needs, because it’s made up of sinful, frustrating, broken and beautiful people just like us.
Millennials need to love the church in general (God’s people all over the world) and connect with a local church in particular, because that’s the way God set up for us to spread the gospel and bring him glory in a fallen world. It matters.
And if you feel that there’s change that needs to happen in your church, don’t write an irritated open letter to the Internet about it. Show up every Sunday, whether you feel like it or not. Talk to your pastors. Ask how you can find a mentor. Get involved in a small group. Discuss what the Bible says about issues you care about (even if you’re always the one who has to start those discussions). Organize those service days you’ve been wanting. Reach out to the lonely back-pew sitters. Give. Pray. Use your gifts.
Be the church by loving like Christ loved.
It’s our move.