I’ve been reading with great interest articles articulating why young adults are staying away from the Church in droves. There are so many reasons . . .
There’s this war, y’see. We went there under false pretenses. We were only supposed to be there maybe a few months, but it’s been years and we’re still fighting, and the people who live there are pretending to be our friends then killing our soldiers. Sometimes some of our guys who have been there much too long get a little crazy, and kill some civilians, even children. When they come home they’re not the same. Many suffer from nightmares and flashbacks. They can’t get the medical help they need. So many of them are out on the streets. They just can’t seem to get it together anymore to work and take care of their families. Way too many don’t come home at all. And the church says nothing!
People in this country are being oppressed, big time. Sometimes it seems like a police state. When we get together to protest, no matter how peacefully we gather, the police put on their riot gear and come against us. It feels like nobody gives a damn about the poor. Women are kept down by this thing called a glass ceiling. Many people, especially poor women, aren’t able to get necessary medical care without jumping through a bunch of hoops - and even then they may be refused the care they need. There are people who love each other but can’t get married because there are laws against it except in just a few states. That’s not right! But the church preaches against them, using Scripture to prove they shouldn’t have the same rights as everyone else.
We are so completely ignored in church. Oh, they want us there when there’s a work day. And they definitely want us to be sitting in the pews every Sunday, doing mission work, singing in the choir. They even want us to serve on the boards and committees as long as we don’t rock the boat. But they don’t want our opinions on anything. They want everything to remain the way it’s been forever. Even the music. Most of the songs in the hymnal are from the last century, or the 1600s or at best from the 1930s. And yes, some churches do have an evening service with music that’s more up to date and has a (slightly) different format from the traditional service. It seems like they think that’s all that it takes to keep us docile and obedient. Wrong! We’re bored and frustrated and the church doesn’t understand or care what’s going on with us at all.
And we hurt. Don’t they realize that when they preach about that judgmental God it hurts? Don’t they know that when they reject others just because they are different it hurts? Don’t they know that when they reject us just because we are young than they do it hurts? Don’t they know that when they use scripture to justify unjust actions it hurts? We feel like we have to be silent about who we really are and what we really believe if we want to fit in. But y’know, it’s become abundantly clear that we can never be accepted as we really are, so we need to go somewhere else. We believe. Oh, we believe so deeply. But the Jesus we know doesn’t seem to have any relation to the God they talk about.
We simply don’t trust the institutional church anymore. We’d rather meet God in nature than indoors. We’d rather use our own music and have vital conversations about our beliefs in coffee shops and living rooms, not sitting in pews in a sanctuary doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. We’d rather be out in the streets helping the children of God who need us! Following Christ isn’t about organs and stained glass and committee meetings. It’s about loving each other. It’s about actively making the world a better place in Jesus’ name.
And so, we left. And when we left . . .
The war was in Vietnam, not Iraq or Afghanistan. The people who couldn’t legally marry weren’t gay, they were of different races. The riot police weren’t there for Occupiers but Civil Rights and anti-war protesters. The special services for younger folks featured acoustic guitars and folk music, not electric guitars and Starbucks. But the feelings were much the same. The frustration was much the same. The results were the same. In the period from the late 1960s into the 1970s everything was changing. The churches were hemorrhaging young people and the older folks just couldn’t figure it out. Some of us, like me, came back decades later, but most didn’t.
Please understand, I’m not making light of what’s going on today. I’m just kind of saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
We get it. We really do. (Well, OK. Some of us get it.) And we are as frustrated as the young adults. (My thanks to Whiskey Preacher and friends who listened with great patience and compassion while I vented this frustration at GA 2011.) We’ve just learned to tame our anger a bit. We’ve gained a little patience over the years. Because the fact is, the Church needs us all way more than we need it. It needs us to breathe life back into it, to perform a sort of CPR. It needs us to help guide it into change, to help move it into the 21st century. I know that sometimes, maybe even most of the time, making changes in the Church feels like sculpting Mount Rushmore by hand - a constant chip, chip, chip with hardly anything to show for the work. But when we stand back far enough to get perspective, we can see the signs that something is happening.
Over the last 21 centuries, the Church has undergone reformation and revitalization and re-whatever the next word is over and over again. Every century or so somebody decides that we need to go back to the way it was in Acts, with informal house churches and more time working in the streets among the people who really need us than in committee meetings and rigidly scripted worship services. Over all those centuries some parts of the Church chose to remain the same, some changed a little, and some become radically different from their roots. But in all that time and through all those changes the Church universal has never died. The Church continues to go forward, to change lives, to heal wounded hearts. Because at bottom, in all its manifestations, through all its changes, the Church continues to do the work that Jesus commanded his disciples (us) to do - casting out demons, healing the sick and preaching the Good News of God’s kingdom come to the earth.