Sunday, October 6, 2013

Millenials and the Church

I’ve been  giving a lot of thought lately to what we as a church need to do to reach the next group of young people who are in their twenties up through early thirties.  I don’t want to make the same mistake that was made by my parent’s and grandparent’s generations of thinking that what generated loyalty to Christ and his church for them necessarily generated loyalty among young people.  Perhaps “mistake” is too harsh a word, for that assumption actually worked for hundreds of years, because the world changed much more slowly than it has since the beginning of the last century.  I think they recognized that the world was changing, but it took a while to realize that those changes resulted in generations of people who looked at and experienced the world in fundamentally different ways, and that would necessitate a change in what was needed to reach those generations.  All too often, as parents watched their adult children drop out of church and, often, out of faith in God, they wondered what was wrong with their children and wondering how they failed as Christian parents, not realizing that nothing was necessarily wrong with their adult children, they were just different in a way not seen before, and the church needed to adapt.  Misdiagnosing the problem usually led to their resistance and sometimes hostility toward the very adaptations the church needed to make to reach their children.  Having been on the receiving end of that resistance and, yes, hostility, I don’t want to do the same thing to my own children and grandchildren (no, that’s not an announcement of any kind; I'm just sayin’) and their peers.
So it was with great interest that I read an article posted on CNN’s Belief Blog by Rachel Held Evans, a 32-yr.-old evangelical writer, blogger and speaker.  If what she says is true of many of her generation—and it is in keeping with what I have been hearing and reading—then I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with today’s crop of young adults.  The entire article is worth reading but the following gets to the heart of it:

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
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.

They are tired of religion creating barriers between people and people groups, with the stereotyping and demagoguery that often follows.  They believe that we have much to learn from each other, and whether we share the same faith beliefs or not, it is better to at least listen and try to understand each other than to constantly be fighting one another.  They want to be allowed to explore their faith and ask the questions that bother them without having their allegiance to Jesus questioned.  They reject the kind of judgmentalism that allows some to condemn homosexuals while eating mouthfuls of shrimp or crab, ignorant of or intentionally neglecting that Leviticus calls both equally an abomination.  They recognize that the Kingdom of God cannot be limited to one nation or group of nations, and that morality is at least as much about taking care of one another, especially those who have been pushed into an “out” group, as it is about sexual ethics.
If people like this can’t find a place in church, then maybe problem isn’t with them.

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