Staying in the Conversation on Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church by Rachel Held Evans – Post 3

Depending on who you are, you may be tired of talking about Rachel Held Evan’s piece on Millennials leaving the church on the CNN Belief Blog. I am among those that are not … at least not yet. For me, I’ve really enjoyed (most of) the follow-up posts, tweets, Facebook comments and the offline conversations.  Some have offered excellent critique and have respectfully engaged while others have been uncharitable and unnecessarily argumentative.  This is life and I comfort myself knowing that some  cardboard boxes in heaven will be bigger than others.

Still, some excellent writing, thinking and practicing is happening out there and the best part is interacting with people (even if it’s brief) – I’ve included some links at the bottom and can’t help but  think Rachel’s piece was a gift.  Frankly anytime the CNN Belief Blog isn’t posting about a church/pastor scandal but rather posting an evangelical lamenting the loss of young people from our community is a good thing.  I commend my sister in Christ for her work.

My regrets are about my inability to engage more and I’ve been hoping we Christians do not consume this moment but learn from the many who have contributed their words on leaving the church, loving it, being hurt by it, and finding redemption in it.  Building and reforming the church is part of the worship of Jesus. I am not talking about improving an organization’s infrastructure or an institution, but rather I mean church as a community, a gathering of people identifying themselves with the way and life of Jesus.

People. Young people, “not so” young people, older people, and throw in the countless other adjectives we use when describing one another, things are complicated because people are complicated – regardless of descriptor. So we may like to summarize why Millennials are leaving and we may support with the use of statistics, anecdotes, personal conversations, and our opinions but there is no one single reason that if it were addressed, we would find our churches so filled with Millennials that Rachel would have to write a post, “Why Millennials Won’t Stop Coming to Church – Too Much Substance – They can’t get enough!”

Sorry I slipped into pastor fantasy land there for a second but the reality is there is no single reason Millennials are leaving (and RHE has said this numerous times now). People come to their own decisions with different reasons. Many of them have to do with substance, many of them with something else, and for some, they have not been able to articulate the hurt or disconnect or doubt and are unable to identify themselves with being a Christian or being a part of the Church. This is why the conversation and the sharing of these posts are good things.

But here’s something else I encourage you fellow Christian bloggers, pastors, or (in)frequent readers to do and that is to be in conversation and in service to building and reforming the church. It’s a slow and arduous process as all life-giving practices are but it’s one of the most needed and beautiful things we can do in life – to share the hope and love of God with another.

I was a youth pastor for 11 years and still have a huge heart for Millennials. I am now serving cross-generationally in ministries including small groups, adult discipleship, our evening (alternative) worship service and recently I started working with our incredible student ministry team. In some ways, vocationally I am required to be in this conversation but more importantly, I sincerely care about the dialogue and the person.  This past week has shown us that so many actually care about Millennials, about all generations and about the Church – and this is yet another good thing.

I’ve learned a few few things over the now 13 years of ministry and among them is that staying in church is hard for everyone and few people articulate that for various reasons. And if there’s one thing I have learned in youth ministry is how disconnected the church can be to so many of our young people.  There is much work to be done from the pastor to the barely hanging on congregant – may God be with us.

But let’s be clear – No Christian is in the business of making other people believe.  Christians have to be faithful witnesses to the hope they’ve found in Jesus.  And just as God is a respecter of free will, so must we be as well.  Some Millennials will continue to leave, some will return, in a few years there will be posts about why the Nones are shrinking, the number of atheists will rise, then decline, and continue to fluctuate and this will be true of Christians and all various religions and ideologies.

It’s good that we look for the patterns, it’s good that we pay attention to the numbers.  It’s even better to listen to the person next to us and it’s good to share our heart with our neighbors.  But let us not be fatalists here.  The sky is not falling on faith, just like it’s not falling on people of non-faith.  This isn’t to imply that none of this matters, it matters a lot frankly.  But it is to remind us that we are all human.

People are searching and it’s unfair to imply that it’s only non-Christians because the reality is everybody is searching for something.  We are searching for love, community, justice, truth and the many more questions connected to having a life with meaning and purpose.  And many times we exert different energies to different parts of the search.  This is part of the human experience, I believe this is how we are wired and I believe God is much more understanding of our search than we realize (or give him credit for).

So may we keep praying and serving others, may we keep walking humbly before the Lord, and may we must be faithful to the calling we have received in being the community of followers – may we strive to be the Church of Jesus that He has asked us to be.

In coming posts, I want to talk a little more about Christian consumerism but until then check out some of these links:

Rachel’s recent follow up – New Post at CNN + Top Millennial Responses + What the heck just happened?

Some great links at the bottom of this one like:

Rachel and Brett, You’re Both Wrong by Jonathan Fitzgerald (love this guy).

Millennials Are Leaving the Church Really? by Scot McKnight

Why We Left the Church (Our Stories) – Compiled by Micah J Murray

Really Listening to Atheists: Taking Non-Belief Seriously on Religion Dispatches

And if you get satire, check out this hilarious post by Ed Cyzewski – “Millennials Need to Know Church Must Be Boring and Irrelevant”

Speak Your Mind