Friday, December 9, 2016
This past week--oh wait! First: I graduated! I'm so happy! Now, on to Seminary!
Ahem. Anyway, this past week I came across an interesting article titled, "12 Reasons Millennials are OVER Church", I tend to avoid these types of articles, but it was shared on the page of a non-denominational pastor friend of mine by one of his parishioners, so I decided to read it.
The article comes from a man who claims to want to love and promote the Church, but is finding her flaws too numerous and deep to feel comfortable doing so. He then lists his and, he assumes, other Millennials' reasons that "we" are done with the Church.
I want to go through his article, point-by-point, and respond to his contentions; I found some good, some bad, and some, well, wrong assumptions in the reasons he gave. I hope this helps you all:
Response to Reason #1: Nobody's Listening to Us
I...honestly, I don't see this. This is an assertion, not based in any fact. He provides no reason to claim that this is the case. It certainly isn't the case in my parish, as I am heavily involved in it and listened to, as a Millennial. And my parish is INCREDIBLY traditional. I've also been to, well, a LOT of the churches in my city in Middle Tennessee. I can tell you that, of necessity, most of these churches are listening to Millennials. If they aren't, they're not growing and in fact are dwindling.
Response to Reason #2: We're Sick of Hearing About Values and Mission Statements
This one is rather confusing to me. He first admits that it's important to move in the same direction, but then complains that many churches have tools that help us understand that direction: those tools being "values" and "mission statements".
"'Love God. Love others." Task completed.' he states.
But it's not that simple. That is what all of the law hangs on...but there are questions involved in that. Who is God? What does it mean to "love"? Is it loving to approach my friend who is sleeping with his girlfriend and say, "Hey, brother, we are called to keep ourselves pure until marriage"? or should I ignore it "out of love"? Is love an emotional feeling or a commitment? And if it's the latter--which it is--then what does that commitment entail? What commitments do I have to God and man?
I mean, if "all that matters" is "Love God. Love others." then why is the Bible so darn huge? Why didn't God just tattoo that on each of our arms and call it a day, if that's all that matters?
The fundamental problem I see in this point (and I suspect we'll see it more and more throughout this article) is that there is this American pragmatism mindset going on. We can sort of, apparently, whittle down the Faith to JUST these two commands.
While it's true that all of God's laws hang on these two commands...that's not the same as being able to distill all of Christianity down to this. Here, let me give you an example:
What's The Lord of the Rings about?
Well, it's about some small guy trying to destroy a ring.
Okay, yes. It's about that. But it's MORE than simply that. While it is true that without Frodo you have no story that can be accurately called "The Lord of the Rings", you can't simply go to passages where ONLY Frodo is talked about, then claim that you've read the series. You can't tell people only those sections, then claim that you've told them the whole story.
Jesus didn't tell us that the Law and Prophets hang on these two laws because He wanted us to reduce our lives to that; Jesus told us that the Law and Prophets hang on these two laws because He wanted us to not lose focus on what the Law and Prophets are pointing to. There is a world of difference.
Christianity is a life and cultural narrative that is designed to train us to love God and others. If you whittle it down to "love God and others", what you're doing is taking away what God has taught us that that looks like.
Response to Reason #3: Helping the Poor isn't a Priority
I am always confounded by assertions like this. They are constantly made, yet never backed up.
Here's a list of the top 50 charity organizations in the U.S., according to Forbes.
Hm, how many of them are either Christian or at least were started by Christians?
The Roman Catholic Church, by far, is the largest charity organization in the world. (Yes, it's a Facebook post, but it's backed up by a variety of sources that are cited there.) Roman Catholicism is only a little more than HALF of Christianity, by the way. The other half does a heck of a lot, too.
Also...why the dichotomy of feeding/clothing the poor and teaching the poor? Are Bible studies at his church dismissing poor people, not allowing them in? If so, that's, well, a very big problem. But if not, I don't get why he thinks teaching the poor about Christ is not helping them. Sure, they need food and clothing and all. But they also, and more importantly, need Christ. Let's do both, not only one or the other.
Maybe he's stuck in a certain denomination that is not very charitable? Maybe he should join an historical, liturgical church; we tend to be bigger on the charity front.
I do note the irony in him complaining about how "utterly American our institution has become". I mean, the American pragmatism, American consumeristic mindset, and the fierce American individualism burst at the seams in this article.
Response to Reason #4: We're Tired of You Blaming the Culture
Here, the solutions are better than the generic complaint: yes, get rid of the "end times" "Left Behind" crap. Yes, teach us how we should be different from the culture...which implies that we think the culture is bad...which seems to go against what your original complaint in this was...okay...next one.
Response to Reason #5: The "You Can't Sit with Us" Affect (sic)
First, please learn the difference between "affect" and "effect" (I'm sorry, I'm a bit of a grammar Nazi; I bet I'll have a grammatical error or too in this article, now).
Once again, no statistics to back this up. Also, it seems to contradict his complaint about us having "too many Bible studies" and other forms of fellowship.
Are there churches like this? Sure. Are there churches not like this? Judging by his attitude, no.
Since there's not much else I can say in this particular response, I'll park on one repeated problem. The author keeps making assertions about how much the Church sucks, but doesn't ever really back it up with anything beyond personal feels.
One of the problems I've been seeing with certain parts of the Church, and this article is an example, is that we really LOVE to hate on the Church and simply assert all of these bad things. Is the Church perfect? No. But to act like the Church sits on her butt all day and does nothing is just foolish.Worse, it creates this false narrative about the Church, and that narrative "becomes true" because people keep saying it. It's like gossip; no, it IS gossip.
I'm sorry, but how you feel doesn't square with the facts. Maybe don't rely upon feelings as much, and try to see what the actual case is. If your local parish isn't doing anything for the poor, or is excluding people, then leave and find one that is. Or better yet: fill in that hole, somehow.
Response to Reason #6: Distrust and Misallocation of Resources
No statistics with this one, either! In fact, the only statistics I've seen so far are at the beginning. And guess what those statistics are on? The feels of Millennials.
And I'm sorry, fellow Millennials, but we seriously need to stop this.
Guess what? You feeling like the Church is thoroughly corrupt doesn't magically mean that the Church is thoroughly corrupt. I'm sorry, but your feelings don't dictate reality. I may feel like someone hates me; that doesn't mean they hate me. What it looks like is someone lying on the floor, complaining that no one cares that he's on the ground, and every time someone tries to come up and help him up, he refuses to move. Then, when that person leaves, he complains again that no one cares that he's on the ground.
So say it with me: "My feelings don't dictate reality." Say it again: "My feelings don't dictate reality."
One more time: "My feelings don't dictate reality."
Response to Reason #7: We Want to Be Mentored, not Preached At
Once again: we have that in liturgical, traditional churches. I'm an acolyte at my parish; I have an abbot as a mentor, as I am a third order Benedictine monk. I have five priests who mentor me. Seriously, go to a liturgical denomination if you don't find these in your church. Here, here's the website to my branch of Christianity: The Anglican Church in North America.
Also, if you see these holes in your church...fill them. Stop dichotomizing between "you" and "the Church". Are you not part of the Church? You are? Then do something about it. I've seen a few holes that need to be filled in my parish. Guess what? I'm filling them.
Response to Reason #8: We Want to Feel Valued
He says something very concerning, here:
"Millennials are told by this world from the second we wake up to the second we take a sleeping pill that we aren't good enough.
"We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. No conditions or expectations.
"We need a church that sees us and believes in us, that cheers us on and encourages us to chase our big crazy dreams."
I REALLY want to be very snarky with this part. This, this sort of encapsulates everything that I hate about my generation. But I'll be nice.
You don't decide how you feel, but you decide how you react to how you feel. Sure, others can bring you down and lift you up, and they should do the latter and not the former. However, complaining that people aren't praising you enough is the epitome of self-centeredness.
Self-centeredness is a sin.
Here, let's read something that Jesus said about this; Luke 17:7-10:
Especially look at that last verse: "We are but unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty."
If you think you're good enough, guess what? You're not a Christian. The entire point of salvation presupposes that you're not good enough. You don't save people who don't need to be saved. That's why we need each other, and that's why we need the Church.
The most beautiful line I've ever heard about the Church is that it is, "One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread."
We aren't enough, ESPECIALLY the way we are. To say that we are is to say that we don't need to grow. It's to say that we don't need the Church. It's to say that we are perfect. If you're perfect, you don't need Church in the first place.
We aren't enough, but the point of the Church is to MAKE us "enough"; to conform us into the Image of Christ. God loves us too much to lie to us and say that we are enough. That, and God doesn't lie.
So, sorry, but the truth is that you and I are broken people. The truth is that God is healing us of our brokenness, and He does so THROUGH the Body of Christ. And what is the Body of Christ? Yup: The Church.
Until you understand that, you don't understand a thing about Christianity.
Response to Reason #9: We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One is)
I actually have no significant disagreements with this one; I agree wholeheartedly that we need to talk about controversial issues, and I would add that we need to talk about more than that. We need to talk about theology and Church History and WHY we believe what we believe, as well.
Response to Reason #10: The Public Perception
I agree on this one, as well! And in fact, my whole frustration with this article is because of my agreement with this point.
You want a better public perception?
Stop making it sexy and hipster to hate on the Church.
Stop spreading unsubstantiated claims about how much the Church supposedly sucks.
Stop spreading lies about the Church.
Stop contradicting yourself on point #8.
Because the truth is that you don't seem to value the Church herself. You seem to think that the Church is only good if and when you perceive that she is doing everything to your perfect satisfaction.
I thought you were all about people being enough with "No conditions or expectations."? Sounds like you have "conditions and expectations" for the Church.
Response to Reason #11: Stop Talking About Us (Unless You're Actually Going to Do Something)
I largely agree: our words need to be backed up by actions. I do find it interesting that he complains about Millennials being stereotyped unfairly...when his entire article does that with the Church...
Response to Reason #12: You're Failing to Adapt
Sam Eaton (the author of the article I'm critiquing), I'm going to address the entirety of this one to you, personally.
I suppose it depends on what you mean by "adapt"; judging from your words under this point...I'm not the biggest fan. I mean, I think the reason that the Church is not growing as much as it should in the West is BECAUSE it's trying to be "relevant" and hip and all of that crap. I don't want my parish to cater to me, like some desperate girl. I come to the Church so that I can be changed, not her.
And here is the fundamental problem with the attitude in your article: the reasons given are largely selfish. The Church is not about the individual "you". The Church has a job: to expand the Kingdom of God. The Church's job is not to make you have fuzzy feels.
The Church is "irrelevant" and "approaching extinction"? I won't take that as hyperbole, because nothing in your article has suggested that it is.
Christianity is the largest religion out there, almost doubling the next largest. Christianity has more influence in this world than any other system or philosophy out there. And you think that the Church is facing extinction? You think the Church has lost influence?
Maybe certain denominations in certain parts of the US have lost influence, sure. But I think you've been projecting your non-denominational or Baptist or whatever-type of denominational experience onto the entirety of Christianity.
Regardless, my point is this: you serve others. Others serve you. But you serve others. That means not lying about and whining about how people aren't serving you enough, aren't reinforcing your ego, aren't telling you literally that you're perfect just the way you are, as this article that you wrote states is a necessity (see point #8).
Can it be frustrating to see people not helping out in the Church? Yes, but just to let you know: when you have a service geared towards getting butts in your seats, as is the predominant form of worship in Evangelical churches, you're going to attract people who are there only for the entertainment.
When people are only there for the entertainment...they're only there...for the entertainment.
When your primary goal is to attract people to your church, then those people you attract are primarily there because you persuaded them. When you cater to people, they tend to not work.
Maybe catering to Millennials isn't the best thing to do in a society where all we do is cater.
Maybe we need to call our generation to step up, and to take action. You've personally taken action; I see you run a suicide prevention ministry. Sincerely, praise God! We need more of that!
But your article works against that ministry when you pretend that that ministry (and others like it) doesn't exist.
I got a bit snarky at the end. That can happen; my apologies. Part of it is that I'm seeing where you are and remembering that I used to be like that as well. We're probably around the same age: we're both Millennials, at least. I've seen and been through this song and dance.
If we want to really do the Kingdom of God, then we need to stop spreading lies (intentionally or not) about the Church. We need to stop with this whole self-centered understanding of the Faith and the Church. We need to stop thinking that there is us as individuals, and the Church, and the two are separate things. We ARE the Church. That means that any failings you see are in part your fault, too. It's a team effort. Have you ever worked on a team? It can suck, sometimes. But we don't get to pick which team is the one that brings us into Communion with Christ. It's not "God, my Bible, and me under a tree". When you read the Scriptures, from Old Testament to New, ESPECIALLY in Paul, you see that unity is a major concern. That's why Paul talks about the dangers of back-biting and gossip. Those things seriously damage the Church, and your unsubstantiated complaints about the Church, based upon nothing more than a false narrative, only brings more people into the "I hate the Church" mindset. That mindset is based upon a narrative that is both untrue of and destructive to the Church.