Thoughts on Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church, part 1

I’ve had several people ask me my thoughts on Rachel Held Evans’s (henceforth known as RHE) article for CNN on Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church. There’s obviously no way I could facilitate this over Twitter, and Facebook comment threads seem to spiral into an abyss of uselessness pretty quickly, so I decided to put some of my thoughts here. I’m going to have to split this up into at least two posts or it will be so long that no one wants to read it.

First, I am aware that RHE is on what many would call the liberal side of Theology. So, I may not agree with where she might land on some of her resolutions, but I feel her analysis is accurate and worth a conversation. Or several, as there have been multiple conversations sparked since her article ran. If you haven’t read it, I would suggest that you go read it now before you continue hear, because we want to keep this conversation in context of what RHE wrote as best we can.

As an added disclaimer, these are my initial impressions. I’ve thought it through, but if I were to cover these as well as I think they deserve, I wouldn’t be done writing for a month.

Alright, let’s begin.

Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

I couldn’t agree with her more on this part. Probably the worst thing to happen to Christianity is feeling like we have to identify with and fight for a specific political party value system. Not because those values are necessarily wrong, but because it seems like conservative Republican morality has become synonymous with Christianity. It’s not. It can’t be. It shouldn’t be. To be sure, there are many Christians out there who are involved in mercy ministries toward the homeless, the poor, and the marginalized. This is a very good thing. But, I feel that because of the political connection, and because of our own lack of willingness to get down in the dirt and love the least, the lost, and the lonely, that the church overall is seen as people who just don’t care about social justice on a wide-scale. Perhaps this is more because we tend to argue against things like welfare without equally stating how much time and money we give toward mercy ministries, or perhaps it’s just that we don’t sacrifice toward these things at all. While there is humility in not mentioning numbers when it comes to donations and time spent on social justice concerns, when we come across like we don’t care about people when we talk about politics, the world and much of the younger generations are right to ask “Where is Jesus in this?”

The same goes for how the church treats homosexuality and transgender people. I absolutely believe that the church should NOT shy away from calling sin “sin” and telling people that they’re sinners in need of a Savior. That goes across the board. From the ten year old who tells white lies to the teenager addicted to porn to the married man thinking about cheating on his wife to those who struggle or give in to homosexual tendencies. Across the board, every one of us from the moment we are conceived needs a Savior. The church should not be afraid to teach this. Now, there are definitely ways of teaching this that are winsome and Biblical and ways of teaching this that are horrible and only serve to put more weight on people instead of teaching them to put that weight on Christ, but that’s another issue. What the church HAS GOT TO STOP DOING is making gays and lesbians feel unwanted and unloved. There is a big difference between saying “Come, repent and believe and walk with us” and coming across like we want to push them out of the door so we can stay comfortable and not have to have our feathers ruffled by something we don’t understand. I get that certain types of sin make us angry, and some may even physically be revolting to us. But if our anger or revulsion isn’t satisfied with the wrath absorbing work of the cross of Christ, then we have heart issues that we need to work through and repent from.

I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

Again, I think she’s dead on the money here. I’ve felt for a long time, even in conservative Evangelical circles, that there’s this anti-intellectualism that can’t handle hard questions. Even questions that question why God would allow something to happen, for the longest time the only answer I received was “Just have faith” and my question was “Faith in what?” I think that the church has gotten better at having more robust answers to give that include man’s depravity and God’s sovereignty and His pursuit of His glory and of our joy in Him and that sometimes those things mean pain in this life to bring us closer to Him. But all of those are matters of faith. We still have a long way to go when it comes to matters of science and being able to take our faith out of the church building and hold intelligent conversation about science and creation/evolution and so on. Faith and reason aren’t incompatible. Neither are Scripture and science.

I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.

I think there’s definitely merit to this one. When it comes to the “obsession with sex,” I think that’s two-fold. First, I think that’s a result of really being pastored moreso by our grandparents generation and their immediate proteges who were in “reaction” mode trying to deal with the aftermath of the sexual revolution. I also think there’s a very good reason for focusing on this because our culture is VERY sexualized, especially in metropolitan areas like Dallas. When the “Sex sells” philosophy isn’t even challenged any more, churches are right to try to combat that. But, there’s a way to do that by pointing people to the cross and toward Jesus and His love for them and the freedom and grace they have in Christ instead of pointing them back to sinful actions and saying “Just don’t do this!” One points to Christ and leads to life, the other points to sin and leads to death.

OK guys, I would love conversation on this, but please limit it to the points I’ve mentioned here. I’ll address some of RHE’s other points in a later post if there seems enough interest.

One response to “Thoughts on Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church, part 1

  1. Pingback: Millennials, Church, & a Whole Lot of Grace – part 1 | TransformingWords

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