Why Millennials Are [Really] Leaving The Church

Oy.

What a debate this has turned into. A couple of weeks ago, an article by Rachel Held Evans on CNN’s Belief Blog went viral. Evans, a self-proclaimed adopted Millennial takes aim at the “attractional” church model that squeezes preachers into skinny jeans, strives for “hip” worship and puts coffee in the lobby.

Twenty-somethings nationwide wore out the “share” button. They stood up and applauded, and lauded Evans as the new voice of the new Christianity.

Out with the ways of our parents and grandparents, in with a new, “real” portrait of faith.

Now, I think Evans has articulated incredibly well what millennials want church to be. That is why it got spread so quickly. But—as a member of the generation myself—I must take some issue with some of her conclusions. The question is not, “did she convey the zeitgeist of our generation correctly,” but rather, “are the things our generation is seeking beneficial?

For example, take this statement from Evans:

“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.”

The aim of this post is not to offer a point-by-point criticism of Evans’ article. But creeds like this one are where I begin to feel uncomfortable. While I agree with what these statements say, I think if millennials were granted all these wishes, it would be detrimental to the Church. “Being known for what we are for rather than what we are against” is a great aspiration. Unless, of course, you are not actually against anything. In that case you are denying scriptural commands to “test every spirit,” (1 John 4:1) and other calls to be diligent in sniffing out false teachings (Romans 12:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Timothy 4:13, 15; Titus 1:8-11, 2:1).

Another problematic statement is that millennials “want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.” The root cause of this comes from the fact that millennials have grown up in a largely post-modern and subjective world. In our reality, the world tells us that truth is relative and that personal experience is the ultimate authority in moral/ethical decision making. Biblical teaching, however, tells us that truth is objective, there is a God, and he has already spoken authoritatively through his word. In reality, the questions we ask have been asked – and answered ­– in the past, and biblically so.

The word “doctrine” comes from the Greek word meaning “to teach.” Therefore, doctrines are the teachings of the church. We shouldn’t be scared of having doctrines that have been thought out and scripturally backed. Why must we demand of the church that they act as if we are the first ones to struggle with the issue of homosexuality, or the balance of culture and holiness, or the need for social action? Why the arrogance that says, “We’ve finally got this figured out, and since the church won’t listen, we’re out of here.”

The arrogance comes from what I believe is the real reason millennials are leaving. Because they are human. Not only are they human, they are sinners. You. And Me. And all the millennials. And all the Pre-millennials. And all the post-millennials. We are humans who desperately struggle to submit to God because our egos get in the way.

When we get down to it, every generation – every person – wants a God that pats him or her on the back. We want a God that agrees with what we agree with and condemns what we condemn – a God who values our own areas of strength and condemns the areas in which others struggle.

This can be seen repeatedly throughout the biblical record. Approximately seven milliseconds after being rescued form Egypt, Israel cast shrines of gold in the form of a calf (“Make us gods who will go before us.” Exodus 32:1) in hopes that their gods would suit their needs. One author points out that Satan’s first deception was to suggest to Eve that “she knew as much about reality and morality as God did.[i] (Genesis 3:4-5) Jesus was crucified because he was the Messiah that was prophesied but not the one the Jews wanted. More recently, the products of the sixties and the Jesus People movement wanted hipper worship in their churches. Today we want acceptance of things the Bible clearly condemns and the freedom to begin our belief statements with “I kind of feel like . . . “

Evans, along with many Millennials, would connect the “Jesus” with “social justice” in some way. “Being authentic” to many means serving like Jesus served. And while I agree that the church can grow a great deal in this area, Jesus’ message was not just about social justice. His first words in ministry were, “Repent!” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15).

Interestingly, Evans makes the statement, “We aren’t leaving because we don’t find the cool factor, but because we can’t find Jesus.” But is it possible that millennials are leaving because the Jesus they find is not the Jesus that would condone everything they think to do? Is it possible that the church portrayed in the Bible cannot be harmonized with the relativist, permissive church for which millennials are screaming? Could it be that our churches have done a fine job of bringing Jesus to the forefront, and that a young and one prideful generation after another just doesn’t want to be told what to do?


[i] Jack Cottrell, Solid! The Authority of God’s Word. WIPF and STOCK publishers. Eugene, OR, 1991. p. 85

Condemning George Zimmerman: Be Careful What You Wish For

I can’t believe I’m doing it. I promised myself I wouldn’t. I should just close my laptop and walk away. Resist the urge. Despite all my best judgment and a true desire to stay above the fray, I just can’t ignore the flood of terrible theology coming from supposed “Christians” in the wake of the George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

There is a LOT of anger out there over a life that ended too early. There is anger about injustice. I will not state my opinion here. What concerns me are the statements like the one Juror B29 made about the case this week:

In fact, there has been a very loud “God’s gonna getcha,” mob on social media and in the court of public opinion. Here are a few more:

God’s. Gonna. Getcha. Now if any Christian is angry about the verdict of this trial, this is the last thing he or she should be saying. It completely misses the point of the gospel. Think about what it is saying. “God is going to punish his sin with eternal Hell (what this argument is truly ordering for Zimmerman).” The problems are too numerous to count, but allow me to try.

First of all, it assumes Zimmerman’s guilt after he was found not guilty.

Second, it wishes eternal punishment on someone, which is exactly  the opposite of the kind of heart that Jesus calls us to have. Wishing someone literally go to Hell is the most hateful thing you could feel. Conversely, John writes, “If anyone says, ‘I love God.’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

Third, despite the Catholic Church’s teaching on the “mortal” or “deadly” sins, there is no biblical evidence that any single sin can separate you from the grace of God. I know the concept of this special class of sins, of which homicide is included, is deeply ingrained in the moral foundation of many people’s hearts. It is part of the Ten Commandments. This poor theology, without biblical backing, stinks of mere moralism that suggests, “as long as I’m a pretty good person and avoid certain sins, I’ll be ok.” Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment.” In Jesus’ book, holding angry grudges against others is just as detestable as having the gall to carry out that grudge to its full logical conclusion.

Fourth, and most importantly, such moralistic views spit in the face of Jesus’ saving work on the cross and it stomps all over the gospel he asked us to spread. It ignores the fact that ALL sin is punishable by death. You don’t have to commit murder to live a life far from God. But let’s not forget that the sentence some are calling upon Zimmerman is the one that we all deserve.

Now let’s imagine

Let’s imagine that George Zimmerman really was guilty of racial profiling and coldblooded murder. Let’s imagine that you have no moral issue with wishing someone an eternity in Hell. Let’s assume that the doctrine of Murder as a deadly sin is accurate (even though not found in Scripture) and that there is a theological and moral basis to this “God’s Gonna Getcha” argument.

EVEN THEN, the gospel response is to “love your enemies.” EVEN IF you were convinced of all those things and you saw George Zimmerman as your enemy, the Christian thing to do is to serve him. To seek him out, to minister to him, to show him the grace that Christ has shown you.

We’ve got to challenge this “God’s Gonna Getcha” theology. It’s just not biblical — but more importantly — I am unspeakably thankful he didn’t “get me” when I lived a life opposed to him.

Men, What Do You Aspire To?

The Christian message of humility has led many men into a "ho-hum, I'm not good enough" brand of false humility. Meanwhile, the Bible's take on it is that men should actually desire and aspire to be leaders.

The Christian message of humility has led many men into a “ho-hum, I’m not good enough” brand of false humility. Meanwhile, the Bible’s take on it is that men should actually desire and aspire to be leaders.

1 Timothy 3:1 – “Here is a trustworthy saying: ‘Now if anyone sets his heart on being an elder, he desires a noble task.'”

Men, have you ever thought about being an elder in your church? Have you ever thought about helping to lead a group of Christians? Have you felt discontented with the way y0ur church is being run? Have you stopped to think that those may be biblical thoughts?

That’s right, you can desire to be an elder. In fact you can set your heart on it.

What about being humble?

Okay, so I know this may be a strange line of thought. But think about it. Why would someone set his heart on being an elder? Because it means he wants to see the church run well. He wants to see the Body of Christ exalt Christ, and be a beacon in the community. Probably 90% of suggestions pastors hear for their churches are ways that they could potentially improve their reach in their context. The church needs men in leadership that are passionate about the Church and want to see it operate in Christ’s mission faithfully. This has nothing to do with being arrogant vs. being humble. It has everything to do with your desire to see Christ glorified. If that is your goal, and not having a position of power, you need not worry about the humility question.

Do I just go to my pastor and say, “I want to be an elder?”

Perhaps. It actually might be a huge blessing to your pastor to have a candidate interested in performing the duties rather than men just filling a seat at the table. When that conversation happens, you need to be ready for the pastor to examine you before giving his blessing. The passage following the above verse lists the qualities of being an elder, and [spoiler alert!] it’s not an easy job description.

The idea in the passage is that elders live a certain kind of life in Christ. When you go to your pastor, his response shouldn’t be, “oh, really?!?” but rather, “I think you’d make a great elder!” The evidence of your candidacy comes from a life lived. You will already have authority amongst church members because of the way you are disciplined in knowing and applying God’s word. People will already come for you for advice because you seem to have the parenting thing figured out, or the marriage thing, or the financial thing. The life lived determines your authority. When you set your heart on being an elder, you set your heart on a higher standard for living. Such a standard will qualify you for eldership.

Nobility is tough

Let’s not breeze over the last part of the verse. Leading a church is a noble task. It is worthwhile. It brings with it a certain amount of favor in the eyes of men. It brings with it the opportunity to put plans into action. It also comes with a lot of responsibility.

Throughout history, when men are described as noble, it hardly ever means they took the easy road. When knights’ did noble acts, there is a high likelihood that pain, suffering and sacrifice were included. Being an elder is a noble task. It is hard. Yes, there is hard work involved and a sacrifice of time, but becoming an elder will also put the burden of other Christians’ maturity on your shoulders. That’s a heavy emotional load. Yes people may honor you, but you have a daily charge to deny the urge to let that intoxicate you. You have a call to adhere to the Bible and not culture in all situations. There is honor that comes with it, but only after great sacrifice and discipline.

Eldership is not a fast-track to having people validate you.

You don’t want the opposite

The last thing to point out here is that you don’t want the opposite end of this statement. Especially if you are a man and are reading this. You don’t want to live undisciplined. You don’t want to be greedy, or a belligerent brawler. Men have the amazing ability to think the most of themselves even when no one else does. We want to be excellent, and the life described here is an excellent way to live. Why wouldn’t you desire that? Why wouldn’t you set your heart on living a 1 Timothy 3 kind of life? Isn’t that ultimately at the heart of what manhood is?

How does your church determine its elders? Leave a comment below!

Bring Back the “R” Word

R-repent copyIt’s time we bring back the “R” word.

I know it’s controversial.

I know it’s hard to hear.

I know it’s offensive.

But it’s time we talk about it in openness and boldness. It’s about time we stop allowing ourselves to be offended by it. It’s long past time we stop applying it when talking about our own lives. But the word stirs up so much controversy that it’s almost impossible to avoid. It makes people angry. It breaks relationship. The word I’m talking about, of course, is “Repent”.

The first and greatest commandment.

We live in a world where people want to quote Jesus’ statement of the “first and greatest command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” [emphasis mine] The way our culture talks, it seems “Loving your neighbor as yourself” comes first. Everyone wants people to be all lovey-dovey to one another. This makes for a world where no one can tell anyone that anything they do is wrong. In fact, it has created a world where nothing can be known to be right OR wrong.

This is bologna.

The first commandment is to LOVE GOD. And not just have nice feelings toward him, but to LOVE him, to LOVE his commands, to LOVE his plan for us and to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that he has put a plan in place to redeem us.

Jesus’ First Message

Focusing on our love for God requires submission. And it requires admitting that I have a heart that wants so badly to resist him. It requires an admission that “I want to be my own god, and my default mode is denying you (the God of the Bible) that role.” That is why Jesus’ very first message was for his listeners to:

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is Near.

That’s right, Jesus, the orchestrator of Love and Acceptance, said that we are to REPENT! We are to turn away from the fact that we think we know better than God. It is to turn from the fact that we think we have evolved past needing him. It means to actually trust him with our lives, and not just go to church, while trusting our own instincts to take care of us.

Why this makes us squirm

This is a tough message because we don’t like to be told we are wrong. We also don’t like to think that we are not the one best-suited to guide our own lives. We all think that the truth is the best policy, until someone tells us the truth about how we are. We don’t want to hear that we are wrong, but that is the story of the Christian life.

Jesus said “Come as you are.” He never said, “Stay as you are.”

A life devoted to Christ says, “this is where I am, now shape me into what you’d like me to be.” In order to take that approach, we have to REPENT and turn from our old ways. We must turn from our pattern of thinking that says we know better than God. A life devoted to Christ gives him KINGship, not just SAVIORship.

And those who lose their [own] lives will find them [in Christ].

Why is it so hard for us to hear the word, “repent?”

3 Reasons Why the Pope’s Resignation is Important

Photo from Google Images

Photo from Google Images

Yesterday, the world was shocked at the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would be resigning at the end of the month. This is HUGE news in religious circles, whether you are Catholic or not, because this hasn’t happened since before the protestant reformation. That makes it a big deal.

Every protestant takes a different stand on Catholicism, ranging anywhere from brotherhood despite differences, to apathy concerning differences, to condemnation of perceived idolatry (worship of the saints) and perceived heretical teachings. Some see the Roman church as brothers and sisters in Christ. Others are more acrimonious.

Regardless of where you fall, events like this one offer a great platform for dialogue with those who believe differently than ourselves. It’s an open door for conversation, and a great excuse to bring the gospel into your daily life.

Here are a few reasons this is important and questions that this event might raise:

BY WHOSE AUTHORITY?

The Catholic Faith has a different authority structure than do the Reformed/Protestant or Restoration (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) traditions. While the latter would affirm that Scripture holds authority on its own, the Catholic Church argues that we need someone to interpret Scripture. Both would argue for the authority Scripture, but the Catholic Church lets its Cardinals have the final say and absolute authority over issues of faith and morality.

As the highest-ranking Cardinal, the See of Rome (aka the Pope) is believed to be speaking in the role of the apostles, following their succession based on the authority given to Peter in Matthew 16. If this is a divine appointment of infallible authority, how may a man simply “step down” out of that position? I’m sure the Church has a procedure and an answer for this, but your average Catholic coworker probably doesn’t know it, so it could at least make for some good conversation.

WHAT IS REALLY CHANGING?

In his official statement, the Pope cited, “today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith” as one of the reasons he is stepping down. Yet Solomon (the wisest man that ever lived, by the way) said:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

The first-century communities to whom Paul wrote were corrected for sexual immorality; Our culture is seriously sensualized. They worshiped many gods; our world promotes pluralism, subjective truth and the “different paths up the same mountain” theology. They were greedy; America (enough said). The religious among them were legalistic with judgmental hearts; our churches are criticized for having too many hypocrites.

The question is this: Is the world really changing that much? I don’t know that it is, but that is good news. It means the Bible tells us more about humanity than about specific humans. It is still relevant. It still applies. It is still truth.

THERE’S STILL THEOLOGICAL DISAGREEMENT

How about just having a conversation about where you differ in belief? What about the issue of saints (Catholic v. Protestant view), Justification (Faith v. Works), The Priesthood, Purgatory, Authority, etc. These might drive you into your Bible to grapple with tough questions and that is a good thing. The challenge is to have these conversations and decide where you agree and disagree and whether you can have fellowship as brothers and sisters that is built on the similarities. We are sinners. Christ died for our sins. He saves us by grace. On these and other things, Christians and Catholics tend to agree, and these are pretty big questions.

What other questions does Pope Benedict’s resignation bring forward?

You’re too worried about YOU! (And I’m too worried about me!)

WorldRevolvesAroundMe

One of the exciting things about being in seminary is that I have access to lots of books and ideas that I would not have otherwise ever pursued. As much as possible, I would like to share these thoughts with you. Today’s post us just such an occasion. Rediscovering Community by Daniel Overdorf is a great commentary on what the Bible says about the Church — what it was meant to be, what it stands for and what it represents in God’s plan. Check out what he says:

 We risk disregarding our place in God’s grand story and inviting Him only into our smaller stories. While God’s story certainly manifests itself in the smaller stories of each congregation, these are but pieces of something much more grand.
Overdorf is talking about our tendency to want our churches or denominations to be autonomous of one another. But that is not the way God intended fellowship to be.

Jesus didn’t die for YOU, so much as he died for Y’ALL

This is a touchy statement. But I believe it is true. He didn’t die for Stephen, or Melanie or eve, (gulp) Nick. When the Bible says he died for your sins, this your is almost universally plural. Jesus’ bride is his church. The body of Christ. He died to make his bride — the church — holy (Ephesians 5:25-7).

One of the most dangerous evolutions in the Church in recent decades/centuries is the rise of individualism. God’s purpose is not to make YOUR life make sense, but to make Y’ALL’s life a witness. The Bible tells a story of community. It tells a story of a nation, a people set apart for God. God’s heart is for his people, not his persons.

When we all stop worrying about ME

What is God’s will for ME?

What does God have in store for ME?

What is God doing in MY life?

As the quote above suggests, We are to see ourselves as part of God’s bigger narrative and part of Jesus’ larger body. Our passion should be for the rest of the body. It should concern us when we start to view every single thing that happens as some part of God’s plan for us (individually).This kind of thinking leads us to thinking that everything is “part of God’s plan for me, that God has a reason for everything that happens to me.” It leads to self-centered revolutions focusing on the Prayer of Jabez, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:13, and on the list goes. It leads to athletes that preach an “If you’re a Christian, God will make your team WIN!” (A sentiment that more and more people believe). It leads to us making God out to be a mystical “lucky rabbit’s foot” of sorts, carrying him around in our back pocket to bring us luck.

God’s plan is BIGGER than YOU or ME. His purposes span all of history, not just this little slice of time that we call the present (James 4:14).

When Joseph was beaten by his brothers, sold into slavery, treated poorly and thrown in prison, it would have been only natural for him to say, “God has forgotten me.” Or to say, “What is God’s will for my life?”

While God’s promises to Abraham did not come to full fruition through the Joseph narrative, God sovereignly and significantly advanced toward the fulfillment of these promises through Joseph and his family. (Overdorf, 126)

God worked out his plan for Israel through Joseph’s little part of the story. Joseph never wavered in faith. He never claimed “God is testing me.” He never said, “God has a purpose for me.”

He just said God had a purpose.

Stop worrying

God has a plan.

It could mean misery for some of us. It could mean riches for others. Suffering or riches might be the works of  his hand. They might simply  be allowed by him (if not caused). It might mean times of suffering or times of celebrating. But God has a purpose for his church, his people that is bigger than his purpose for any individual.

It’s time we let go of our own interests and trust him. He sees a bigger picture than we do.

Do you think the church is too individualistic?

Sinking your boat is not catching fish!

Sunken Row Boat

I’m not a fisherman. But I don’t think that scuttling the boat you’re in counts as a legitimate fish-catching strategy.

Jesus calls his disciples “Fishers of Men.” One of the most important ideas in fishing is that of bringing the fish up out of their world and into one distinctly different. The last century has been defined by Christians sitting in their metaphorical boat pouring water into it, trying to “make it attractive” for all the “fish” they’re hoping to catch.

But here’s the thing: If you scuttle the boat, you didn’t catch the fish — they caught you!

CHANGING TIMES

The Church at large is facing challenges. These aren’t new challenges, they just look new. As we move forward, we must figure out how to be relational and relevant to the world around us, without sinking the boat. I think the key here is the difference between modifying practice and modifying theology.

To change the instrumentation we use in worship is to modify practice. Changing the look and feel of our worship service is changing practice. Changing the methods by which you communicate, or collect offering, or dress for church are all cultural. WHY? Because musical style, communication media and fashion norms are all culturally bound and change with culture.

To change what we believe the Bible to be (i.e. to renounce it as God’s word) is theological. To deny the deity of Christ and make him simply a great moral (read: only human) teacher is to change our theology. These types of changes give more “wiggle room” to those we hope to reach, but it ceases to pull anyone up out of their worldview and into new life. It fails to fish. Softening our theology to reach unbelievers is essentially scuttling our boat and calling the presence of more “fish” around us a successful fishing endeavor.

SHORT DOES NOT MEAN CONCISE

We live in a culture of soundbites. You have 140 Characters to get your point across. Therefore, we must be careful about the message we are sending out. Just because it is short doesn’t make it concise. Concise implies brevity with a successful communication of ideas.

Christian communicators in this century have to take more care to use Lexical Finesse. We must give thought to exactly what it is we mean to say, and then say it well.

The church is facing many, many challenges in its future; we must rise to the occasion to fish for men, rather than scuttling the ship and coming to rest where the fish already are.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the church?