Anyone who’s paid attention to even the remote corners of the Internet knows that Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece on Why Millennials Are Leaving The Church. I’ve written some of what I think about the article itself, mainly where I agree with her and tried to offer solutions, for whatever they are worth. Rachel is on the progressive and, dare I say, liberal side of Theology, but I’m grateful for that article. She also wrote a clarification article on Why Millennials Need the Church. I am grateful for this article as well, though this post primarily addresses issues raised by the first article and surrounding conversation.
I’m thankful for her first article because it’s done a couple of GOOD things for the Church, or at least the part of it that tracks with blogs, articles, Tweets, and Facebook shares. Which has been just about everyone from lay people to church pastors to seminary professors to deans of Theology.
The reason this is important is because it brought to light something that we just can’t ignore. We can say she’s wrong and dismiss it, or we can say she’s right and take steps to correct it, or we can find a happy medium. But pretending it isn’t there isn’t an option.
Sure, I think there is merit to millennials leaving the church because of the reasons Rachel mentioned, and I think there is merit to millennials leaving because they don’t want conviction.
The important part here is that we all come from a context, and we bring that context into our writing and conversation. Often times, I find myself hard pressed to write about what’s going on with TODAY’S church and filter out what I experienced when I was in youth group in my most formative years. If I bring all that into today’s world, then I’m bringing in issues that are fifteen years old and might not be relevant anymore.
I can identify with what Rachel’s talking about though, because I saw that as I was growing up. When my parents divorced it seemed like the only answer I could find was “just have faith.” There wasn’t a robust Theology of the fallen nature, the sinfulness of man, the sovereignty of God, and God being good to wound us if it brings us closer to Him. Maybe it was there and they didn’t articulate it because I wouldn’t have understood, or maybe we’ve come a LONG way in teaching Theology and keeping the gospel at the center of it.
Still, a person who shall remain nameless (because he later deleted the tweet and apologized) defined Evangelicalism as:
The focus on eternal destiny which created existential emptiness which we attempted to fill with moralism and values.
I don’t think that’s a good definition for Evangelicalism today, but I think it’s a pretty good description of how it came across when I was growing up. Now, I don’t think this was intentional. I think it was the result of the gospel being assumed instead of proclaimed explicitly, as Matt Chandler writes about in The Explicit Gospel.
I think that’s much of what the Church is recovering from now. We’re recovering from millennials who were moralistic deists at best, trying their hardest to love Jesus and to be good enough, and then one day walked out of their local church doors for the last time and just didn’t look back. There’s even a word for this: de-churched.
And how can we blame them? I know I can’t. Because that was almost my story. If God didn’t pull me out of the church I grew up in and put me in a new church, it would have been my story. I believed in Jesus, I honestly did. Yet it took God taking me from an Arminian Charismatic church and throwing me into a First Baptist Church where almost the whole staff leaned toward Calvinism to wake me up to the beauty and freedom found in the gospel.
I’m not the only one with this story either. Many people, enough for Chandler to be able to write a book about it, grew up hearing moralism preached on a weekly basis and then one day as an adult they heard the unfiltered gospel for the first time and their eyes were opened. Some of them walked out of the church doors content not to look back because they didn’t see a reason why another church would be any different. Some of them have been drawn back in by the Spirit and are in community and doing life and sitting under the preaching of the word and under the authority of elders’ leadership. Some of them walked away for good and feel no reason to going back. And some of them are being drawn by the Spirit even now.
Millennials are finding Jesus in the Church, the same Church where they missed Him before. They’re finding Him in Reformed churches and Anglican churches and Baptist churches and Pentecostal churches. They’re finding Him because the Spirit is calling out to them, because Christ is building His Church.
But toward those who have hardened their hearts toward church and Church, and toward those who the Spirit is calling in the midst of all of this, we can have but one response: Come and worship King Jesus with us. Repent WITH us and believe WITH us.
I’m all for good Theology and sound doctrine, and part of that means knowing that you don’t kick someone when they’re down. You don’t pour shame on the rape victim for being raped, and you don’t accuse the abused spouse of causing the abuse. You mourn with those who mourn. You get your hands and feet dirty and love the lost and broken and wounded.
Church, the reality is that what we are dealing with is a generation who have been, for lack of a better term, failed by the generation before it. Now, they have responsibility for their actions and for how they handle being failed, yes. But we have a choice to make, right here and right now. Do we extend grace and welcome the broken to worship with us and find healing in Jesus, to worship in our local churches, or do we give them a lecture on how much they need to be in a local church? Yes, I firmly believe Christians need to be in a local church, but we won’t get them there by lecturing them. We get them there by walking with them and doing life with them and trusting them to God to bring His Church back into the local churches.
Yes, the millennials have been failed by the generation or two before them. The question we have to ask is whether we want to extend grace to them, or whether we want to fail them again by pointing out how wrong they are for leaving instead of pointing out how much Jesus loves and cares for them and that WE WANT them to do life with us. We won’t agree on everything, but until Christ’s Bride stops stabbing herself long enough to listen to what She’s saying, we will continue to fail future generations.