Over the last few days there’s been a lot of buzz on Facebook about Rachel Held Evans’ article on CNN’s Belief Blog, “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” It’s a solid article that I think every church leader should read and discuss with other church leaders. Whether you agree or disagree with her conclusions, she raises some very important questions and issues that every church needs to consider. If you liked this article and want to dig into this issue more, I really can’t recommend a better book than David Kinnamon’s book, “You Lost Me.”
First off, I loved how she introduced herself in the article and I could pretty much repeat most of the same things. As a 33 year old pastor, I wrote my papers out by hand in junior high, wrote them on my computer at home but printed them in the computer lab while in high school (unless I wanted to wait an hour for my home printer to print out a three page paper… I’m not kidding, it was that slow), and in college everyone had their own printer by the time I was a Junior.
I’ve thought about this issue from a lot of different perspectives: As a pastor (and youth pastor, at that), as a 33 year old who looks around and sees very few peers in the church, and as a wanna-be cultural critic. A lot of what I want to comment on below lines up pretty well with what Evans wrote (which is why I really liked her piece, because I agree with much of it), but some of this is my own perspective too (and I’m already tipping my hand through the title of this post).
Skinny Jeans and Style Won’t Keep Me
I loved Evans’ comment about banging her head against the podium when asked about the need for more contemporary music. If the worship leaders wears skinny jeans because he’s just a skinny-jean-kind-of-guy, then cool; but if he’s wearing them to promote an image, then that’s going to leave a very bad taste in my mouth. Not only is it “not about the music,” it’s very much NOT about the music… I love hymns with an organ, I love contemporary worship with a full band. What makes the difference is the atmosphere of worship. If I sense that you’re trying to “sell me” something through how you lead worship, then you aren’t inviting me to worship, you’re treating me like a customer. If I feel like a customer in church, I’m not coming back. Period.
I Want to be a Part of Something Bigger Than Me
This is why I think so many are being drawn back to liturgy. Just think about the change in technology over the last decade – the world changes so quickly I want to be anchored to something that solid. But I also need freedom to be able to express who I am and to make sense of the world around me as it’s changing. Remembering that the Church is bigger than what I see and what I know and what I experience is very grounding for me. In the midst of all the talk about the importance of “community” for postmoderns, the Church provides the biggest and richest community possible. I don’t want to go to church only to walk out and only think the Church is as old as that church is; I need to be reminded and encouraged by the heritage of faith.
I Need to See How Faith Transforms Life
I think this is what Evans was getting at when she wrote, “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.” Yes, worship belongs in church, but and sermons often tell me I should worship God outside of church too – but what’s that look like? We need to recover a vision for Christian living that makes clear what being a “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1) looks like. How can I worship God in my public school, on my sports team, while at work and at home, etc. etc. etc. If my faith is only connect to overtly “spiritual” activities then I won’t understand how my faith in Jesus Christ transforms my entire life.
Let me Doubt
This comment has gotten a lot of airtime lately, it seems. Doubt isn’t always a bad thing, so please don’t make me feel like a heretic for asking hard questions and poking holes in trite and cliche “Christian answers” for difficult questions. Life is complicated and messy, simple answers don’t always cut it. It’s ok to wrestle with God – just ask Jacob and Job and Thomas. But here’s the thing: help me to wrestle with God while holding on to what I can be sure about. I don’t need to let go of everything I believe (like Descartes did) in order to ask really hard questions. Help me doubt from faith, otherwise I’ll hear you loud-and-clear that doubt isn’t allowed.
Only the Gospel can Keep Me
As the famous hymn declares, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love….” I’m a sinner, so my heart is resistant to the Gospel which tells me I am an idolater who worships at the “Temple of Me” and that I cannot save myself. Only the Gospel can justify me, sanctify me, bring me life and hope and peace in this complicated world. Keep me anchored to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Remind me who he is: God incarnate, the second Person of the Trinity in human flesh. Remind me what he did: He lived a perfect life, he loved sinners so much he died on the cross for them, he took God’s wrath upon himself so I wouldn’t have to, he rose from the grave in victory over sin and death, ascended into heaven where he rules over the Church and waits until the right time to return as Judge. The Gospel is simple, and yet so wonderfully and brilliantly complex! Don’t treat the Gospel like it’s only good for evangelism, I need it every day. When the Gospel is missing in the church I’ll hear lots of commands about what I’m supposed to do without hearing the message that reminds me who I am in Christ.
I hope these are a helpful contribution to the discussions I’m seeing on Facebook and on various blogs because of Evans’ blog post linked above. Again, if you haven’t read hers, please do. And I’d love your feedback in order to make this a real conversation.
Finally, if you have other thoughts that you’d like to leave in the comments section I’d love to hear why you think Millennials are leaving the church and how the Church should respond.