Monday, July 31, 2017

Millennials Leaving the Church – Again


Reviewing Darrell Bock’s Conversation with Sam Eaton, Kat Armstrong, and Nika Spaulding


Recently Darrell Bock had three individuals on his program who identify as millennials. The gist of the program was to talk about, yet again, why millennials are leaving the Christian community…in droves apparently. So, let’s take a look at this group. Millennials, according to this report is the least likely generation to read or trust the Bible than any other generation in American history. 55% are either Bible neutral or skeptical. Only 11% of Millennials consider themselves to be Bible engaged. So, what comes first? a love for God’s word or a love for the Church? It stands to reason that if the Church places God’s word at the center and a certain group of people do not, that that group may not think too highly of the church since the values of that group do not match the values of the church. Is that what is going on with Millennials?

Sam Eaton seems to have some suggestions that will keep Millennials engaged in their local church, because, well, loving God and submitting to his word is not a strong enough motivation. Nor is loving your neighbor enough, apparently. One glaring problem I find with Sam’s article is his admission that he struggles to love the church. Sam writes, A deep-seated dissatisfaction has been growing in me and, despite my greatest attempts to whack-a-mole it back down, no matter what I do it continues to rise out of my wirey frame. As if this is not disturbing enough, Sam also discloses more about his attitude, Tuning in and out of the 90-minute state-of-the-church address, I kept wondering to myself, where are my people? And then the scarier question, why I am still here? Why does Sam consider people in his own age range his people and apparently view others outside his peer group to be something less than that? Is such thinking in keeping with Christian values, biblical principles? Sam has provided a list for us of 12 theses for what Millennials need to remain engaged in the church. Let’s examine Sam’s list in light of Scripture. I wonder if Sam holds to that old doctrine, Sola Scriptura, since he is modeling his complaint after one of the men who resurrected it some 500 years ago.

1.     Nobody is listening to us
Apparent Millennails value voice and receptivity above all else. Interesting. Perhaps you shouldn’t value voice and receptivity above all else. Perhaps you should value Christ above all else. Perhaps you should value others more than yourself. Perhaps you should care more about what others say think than making sure others know what you think. Perhaps that is a problem within your peer group that needs purging. Or, are we to assume uncritically that everything Millennials complain about is ipso facto valid? Sam thinks the solution is surveys, meetings, and forums to learn about the needs of Millennials. Hmmm. Is this the “felt-needs” approach repackaged? Surely it is. There is nothing new here. And I have news for Sam: everyone values having a say in things and in being accepted by their local community. That isn’t unique to Millennials. I wonder if Sam meant that Millennials demand to have their way more than anything else. Listen to us! We have something valuable to contribute! Do you? According to the research, you are more skeptical of and less engaged in Bible study than any other single group. How could someone who cares so little about Scripture have something so vitally important to contribute to an entity that has as its central concern the teaching and promulgating of sacred Scripture? Perhaps if you will take more of an interest in serving and in engaging the text, understanding it, submitting to it, your local church may take more of an interest in what you have to say.

2.     We’re sick of hearing about values and missions statements
Sam writes,
  • Stop wasting time on the religious mambo jambo and get back to the heart of the gospel. If you have to explain your mission and values to the church, it’s overly-religious and much too complicated.
  • We’re not impressed with the hours you brag about spending behind closed doors wrestling with Christianese words on a paper. We’re impressed with actions and service.

Is it really a waste of time to focus every generation on the mission and life of the church? These words reflect an attitude in Sam that is more than a little disturbing. He does not understand the reason why leaders have to continually remind the church of its mission, nor does he seem interested in learning. Does Sam want to be taught or has he figured it all out all by himself and is now ready to tell the rest of the church what they have had wrong for hundreds of years now? This seems like a familiar behavior. Sam says they are impressed with actions and service. But what kind of actions and service and why those actions and why that service? All, I forgot, that is too much like a mission and values statement.

3.     Helping the poor isn’t a priority
So, help them Sam. Help them Millennials. Stop whining about others not helping the poor and go help them. You want to make a difference here, then make it. Go and do! This is no reason to leave the church. It is a reason to get more involved and show others how it’s done! It sounds more like an infantile tantrum to say we left the church because helping the poor wasn’t a priority. Engage Sam, if that is what you want. Leaving the church because there are gaps that need to be filled is ridiculous. How does that solve the problem? If you are in a local church and you see that not enough is done to care for the poor, then go talk to one of your elders and let them know you want to take the lead in changing the situation. Watch what happens!

4.     We’re tired of you blaming the culture
Sam writes the following,
  • Put the end times rhetoric to rest and focus on real solutions and real impact in our immediate community.
  • Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture. (If this teaching isn’t happening in your life, check out the book Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working by Craig Groeschel)
First of all, that Jesus is returning has always been a core message of the Christian gospel. It isn’t just rhetoric. It is core Christian doctrine. This feels more like the social gospel to me at this point. You want to be taught how your life should differ from the culture? Stop seeing yourself as a Millennial for starters. If you are truly saved, then you are a member of the body of Christ. And you should love that body with all its faults. Somehow, you seem to have forgotten that you have plenty of faults of your own. You seem to have no problem pointing your finger at others all the while leaving some of us with the impression that you yourself are without faults. If all you need is a list of faults to justify leaving the church, you are bound to leave. There is no perfect church. So, I am sad to say that for the generation of perfect Millennials who are flawless, there is no place for them to worship. How arrogant indeed! And, by the way, the culture is deadly spiritual disease that seeks to infect how we think and live every minute of every day. The only cure is continually pointing out the dangers. Sounds to me like you just don’t like the Church that Jesus ordained from the beginning. You want something that is customized to your needs, your desires, your style, your preferences!

5.     The “You can’t sit with us” affect
Sam refers to the movie “Mean Girls” as a life-changing movie. One word: doubtful. I have never seen a life-changing movie. Can a place as pagan as Hollywood produce a movie that is life-changing? At least in a good sense? I have to confess that I am skeptical. But note this: I have never seen this movie and have no clue what it is about, other than of course an inference based on its title. However, Sam seems completely oblivious to the fact that his use of this illustration could be and is a behavior that is just as isolating as the ones he is criticizing. When Millennials talk about movies like this, technology they all use, or anything else that is mostly specific to their micro-culture, it can tend to isolate others. I think the “You can’t sit with us” complain is more of a psychological projection than it is a legitimate complaint that the church is full of cliquish people. Now, this is not to say that Sam’s complaint is completely bogus. I do see some issues here that the church needs to address. And by church, I don’t mean them, as Sam so often seems to mean. I mean us!

6.     Distrust and Misallocation of Resources
This is another point Sam makes that I think has some teeth. Community expenses must be completely transparent. It is the most effective way to help members avoid the sin of evil thinking in this area. Now, people could still think its smoke and mirrors. So, independent certification is a necessary expense where the church is large enough. However, this is not a reason to leave the church. Do Millennials really leave the church because they cannot see its budget or expenses? Most churches are fairly transparent. I have a hard time believing that droves of Millennials are leaving over this reason.

7.     We want to be mentored, not preached at
Sam says, Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents. See: millennial church attendance. We have millions of podcasts and Youtube videos of pastors the world over at our fingertips.

This is revealing. It reveals an ungodly attitude toward one of God’s most treasured gifts to the church: the preached word. Sam wants older generations to be intentional with Millennials. But how is this supposed to work? Sam and his peers hate preaching. What if an older brother, like myself, says this attitude is ungodly. What then? I suspect that I will not receive a warm “thank you” from my Millennial brother. I suspect I will be shown the door. It is incredible to me that Sam paints Millennials in such a light. Are we really to believe that Millennials are as purse as the driven snow? So you’re leaving the church because you don’t want to be preached at? Is that what’s going on? The church is preaching at you? Have you ever stopped to ask the question, why don’t these other people leave? Why do they seem to enjoy being “preached at?” Millennials, if I understand Sam correctly, care more for the poor than the rest of us, are more serious about financial integrity than the rest of us, are more inclusive than the rest of us, more authentic than the rest of us, listens to others better than the rest of us, are more focused on what matters better than the rest of us, know how to value others better than the rest of us, are better at discussing controversial issues than the rest of us, and have a better public perception than the rest of us. Oh, and lest I forget, Millennials are better adapters than the rest of us.

8.     We want to feel valued
Sam reveals more than he realizes with this one. Millennials desperately need the church to tell them they are good enough, exactly the way they are. No conditions or expectations. This comes in the middle of Sam’s gripe that Millennials are asked to serve too much. I am reminded of what Jesus said: the greatest among you will be your servant. Apparently, Millennials want nothing to do with that sort of thinking. What Sam wants is for the church to do what Gen Xers and baby boomers did with their kids: affirm them no matter what. It sounds like a group of children who have been given trophies all their life for accomplishing absolutely nothing, just for existing, wants the church to pick up where mommy and daddy left off. Sorry Sam, welcome to reality. Welcome to responsibility and accountability. Welcome that place where you earn your seat at the table. Welcome to the place where your opinion isn’t valued unless it actually demonstrates value.

9.     We want you to talk to us about controversial issues
Really Sam? The church has been talking about abortion and gay marriage now for years. Have you missed it? The gender dysphoria nonsense has all but distracted the church from its real mission and you, for some reason, seem to have totally missed it. Do you want us to talk to you about controversial issues or do you want to debate matters that have been settled and that you have an obligation to believe? Do you want to open a debate about gay Christianity and are upset because no one is willing to even consider it for a moment? I am not sure what you mean by this complaint.

On the flip side, there is a real need to more biblically-based apologetics and theology in the church. We do need to stop teaching, so to speak, and start training. We fly over many of these issues without stopping long enough to truly equip people on how to think better about them. That needs to stop. So, Sam is mostly wrong but partially right here I think.

10.  The public perception
Sam thinks the church is called to serve the public. We are called to serve public schools. I am not sure what Sam thinks. Jesus gave the church the mission to preach the gospel, make disciples, and baptize converts. He did not charge us with being a public service organization. We don’t do anything without taking the gospel with us. And if you think that is too rigid a condition, then you had better read Jesus again. Read Paul again. You have surely misread them.

11.  Stop talking about us
Sam is upset that we are talking about his peer group. I wonder why. Millennials are admittedly narcissistic. In fact, one study finds this generation to be the most narcissistic in history. Even in his 12 Theses, right here, we see Sam referring to we and us repeatedly. We want, we want, we want, look at us, listen to us, stop talking about us. It is amazing that someone could write a book about this issue and not even have enough introspection and perspective to see the hypocrisy of it all. Simply amazing.

12.  You’re failing to adapt
We are failing to adapt what? The Millennial standard? The Millennial criteria for what matters, or what should matter most? This saw cuts both ways, Sam. Why is it that the older generation is failing to adapt when the Millennials are busy rejecting what went before, but they are NOT failing to adapt? Time magazine says, “The National Institutes of Health found that for people in their 20s, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is three times as high than the generation that’s 65 or older…”

Welcome to the church Sam. We won’t change to keep you here. We won’t change because you think we should. We won’t turn over the lock and keys to you because you have entitlement trophies littering your room. We are not your anything goes, your perfect to me just as you are, mommy and daddy. We will demand a godly life or excommunication…in love of course. We will demand that you serve others the same way Jesus served you. We will NOT place you in charge just because you want to be in charge. We won’t value your opinion solely because it is YOUR opinion. We will value you no more or no less than we value everyone else in our community.

Summary
The real problem with Sam Eaton’s perspective is he, and perceptibly, Millennials, apparently do not see themselves as the church. Sam talks about the church in the third person. What he fails to realize is that he is the church. Millennials are the church. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers and teenagers are the church. As long as Millennials see these issues in us-them terms, they will continue to miss the forest for the trees. The solution is engagement. And engagement begins by tearing down walls. Just like there is no Jew-Gentile distinction, no male-female distinction, and no slave-master distinction in the church, there should not be an age distinction either.

There is no room for narcissism in the church. There is no narcissistic church. So, if you want to be the center of attention, just as you are, with no demands placed on you, no expectations, no accountability, no humility, no submission to truth, then I suppose you are in the wrong place. In short, Sam Eaton’s perspective is a typical narcissistic trait in Millennials. They have all the solutions but are responsible for exactly NONE of the problems. The gospel conversation with Millennials, according to Kat Armstrong has to start with an apology. We have to tell them that they are right, we messed it all up. Once again, before telling the Millennial that they must repent, we have to begin with an affirmation. Shocking and, beyond ridiculous. It seems to me that the church owes EVERYONE an apology these days.



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