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Why Millennials Need the Church


White ChapelStan Clanton, a pastor in the Northeast Church of Christ of Eastpointe, MI, pointed me to an opinion piece by  Rachel Held Evans in the Belief Blog of CNN. You may read Why Millennials Need the Church here.

In it she speaks of her own experience of “leaving church” as a young adult – as many young adults do for varying reasons that have received much discussion in recent months. Much of this discussion was sparked by David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me, in which he presents research of interviews with many from the “millennials,” young adults aged c. 18-25. Kinnaman, a member of the Barna Group, draws heavily on the Barna research team’s work in his book. 

Young Adults

Ms. Evans does not reference his work, but presents her own experience. In an earlier blog, she had written, “[The millennials are not] leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” In Why Millennials Need the Church she wrote:

 I left church because I didn’t always see the compassion of Jesus there, and because my questions about faith and science, the Bible, homosexuality, and religious pluralism were met with shallow answers or hostility.

Shallow answers? Hostility? Lack of compassion? Among followers of Jesus? Is that just perception – or is it the reality of much of what passes as Christianity today?

Ms. Evans, however, returned to church. In Why Millennials Need the Church she lists the following things that millennials can find at church.

  • Baptism.  “…in a world where technology enables millennials to connect only with those who are like-minded, baptism drags us … into the large, dysfunctional and beautiful family of the church.” There we find community and fellowship with Jesus and His followers.
  • Confession. “The accountability that comes from participation in a local church gives young Christians the chance to speak openly about our struggles with materialism, greed, gossip, anger, consumerism and pride.” We all need reminding that the faults we see so easily in others are also in ourselves.
  • Healing. “While the flawed people who make up the church can certainly inflict pain on each other and sometimes on the world, we also engage in the important work of healing.” One reason people are hurt by the church is that people expect so much from it. Yet, the church also offers comfort and healing to many who are hurting.
  • Leadership. “…when I interact with people from my church who have a few years and a lot of maturity on me, I am reminded of how cool it is to have a free, built-in mentoring and accountability program just down the street.” Church is a place where youth can find help from the experience of those who have been down the road and around the block.
  • Communion. “There is simply not the space here, nor in many volumes of theology for that matter, to unpack the significance of remembering Jesus through eating bread and drinking wine. But when I left the church, it was Communion I craved the most.” This visible reminder of our fellowship with Jesus powerfully draws us to Him.
  • Confirmation. In becoming Christians we confess faith in Jesus – God’s Son and our Lord, though we do not understand all involved in that confession. Yet, “The church, at its best, provides a safe place in which to wrestle with this story we call the Gospel” as we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
  • Union with Christ. “Those who follow Jesus long for the day when their communion with him becomes complete, and Jesus promises this will happen through the church. The apostle Paul compared this union to a marriage. Jesus describes it as a banquet.” This is the hope all Christians share.

Ms. Evans closes with the following observations:

As much as I may struggle to fit in sometimes, as much as I doubt, question and fight for reforms, I am a part of this church, through good times and bad, for better or worse.

The astute reader will notice that each of these points corresponds loosely with a sacrament—baptism, confession, the anointing of the sick, holy orders, communion, confirmation and marriage….

[E]ven where… not formally observed, these sacraments are present in some form in nearly every group of people who gather together in the name of Jesus. They connect us to our faith through things we can eat, touch, smell and feel. And they connect us with one another….

This is why I haven’t given up on the church, and I suspect why it hasn’t given up on me.

Let’s get back to the basics of what Jesus taught us to BE and to DO. By preaching Jesus as the crucified but risen Messiah who is Lord of Heaven and Earth, the early church called people OUT OF the darkness of paganism and emptiness of formal religion without a vibrant relationship to God. It called them INTO a new life in Jesus that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, a life of love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23). The objections many have to the church is that they do not see these qualities present in it as it exists today.

By returning to stronger focus on Jesus and using Him as the ideal to which we strive, the church today can again find meaning among a generation more interested in authenticity than what happened to the Hittites or whether Baalam’s donkey really talked to him.

When the Risen Messiah confronts us, questions like “Where did Cain get his wife?” pale into insignificance. Instead, like Saul of Tarsus, we will ask, “What would you have me do, Lord?”

He has told us what to do: Love God and love our neighbor. He lived a life that shows us what He meant by that. It is this life He calls us to follow in His church as we await our hope in His return in glory.

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