First, An Explanation
This article has recently been making the social media rounds, and I’d like to, shall we say, interact with it a bit. The basic premise of the article is that the generation generally referred to as “millennials”–and oft derided for their love of free-trade coffee, flannel, and participation trophies–are just so over church. In essence, the article (by Sam Eaton) argues that the Church needs to do something to reach this age group and highlights 12 areas of failure and offers a few suggestions to win us–I do fall into the generational category of “millennial”–over.
The basic premise is that the church has become radically irrelevant to this generation, and offers some solutions; some helpful, others less helpful, and still others subtly but seriously damaging not to the church but to the millennials we are seeking to reach.
Now, when it comes to engaging any generation, we must ensure that we are not merely trying to bend the truth’s of God’s Word to fit the social sentiments of said demographic; in doing this we will essentially undermine the Church’s main calling: to preach Christ and His Kingdom.
Here are his 12 complaints, with some of his quotes from each section, followed by my commentary.
Nobody’s Listening to Us – Nobody cares what we think. Why then, should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?
This presumes that caring about what someone thinks is more important than caring for that someone. I shouldn’t care what you think about how forcefully I shove you, if by doing so I ensure you avoid be flattened by the oncoming traffic.
Biblically faithful churches should not be asking anyone to blindy serve an institution, but it should be teaching allegiance to the body of Christ as an act of obedience to the Bible. Further, the language of “changing” and shaping” the Church is of concern here, as it is not clear in what direction the change or shaping should happen.
Additionally, the Church is not an institution to be shaped according to each generation’s preference; but rather each generation must repent of its generational sins, and seek to return to Biblical standards of worship, faith, and life. Should every member of the Church be cared for? Certainly. But Christ has left instructions, in the Word, for the mission of the Church, and the governance/leadership of the Church. Churches should seek to understand & serve Millennials; however, in doing this, they must not forsake the command of Jesus to “teach them to obey” everything he has commanded them.
We’re Sick of Hearing About Values & Mission Statements
I have a sympathy with this complaint; but I would also point out that leading a large group of people requires clarity of purpose. A vision/mission statement must be Biblical in scope; but, keep in mind, each Church is ministering in a different context, and these sorts of mission statements help keep a Church from drifting from what Christ has commanded her to do.
Dwight Eisenhower famously quipped: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Being strategically wise is a Biblical principle (see the book of Proverbs). So, when God sticks a Church somewhere, they are responsible to be faithful to serve their community. This requires focused strategy, which can be aided by vision statements. Don’t throw babies out with bathwater. Yes…many churches vision statements are abysmally anemic; this doesn’t mean they cannot be at all helpful to keep a specific Church from mission drift.
Complaint #3 & 6
Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority & Distrust & Misallocation of Resources – My heart is broken for how radically self-centered and utterly American our institution has become.
This is just sad naïveté. American Evangelicals give more money to charities than they spend on popular sports; in 2014 they gave $114.68 billion in donations.
Now, as Keith Green once sang, God doesn’t need our money, he wants our life; however, part of giving ourselves IS giving our resources. Yes, accountability is important, and that is why Scripture commands elders to not be greedy (1 Tim. 3:3). You see, what is being complained of here is precisely what Scripture addresses. Most Churches I’ve been a part of did a lot of work serving the least of these in a variety of ways. This complaint seems profoundly petty to me.
We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture
This one is a valid complaint, with some good insights. My response to this one is that eschatology matters; and since I believe the Bible must shape our vision of history & culture, I am a convinced postmillennial & optimist in my view of the arc of history. Summed up by: “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ and he shall reign for ever and ever.” Every nation, tribe, and tongue will one day be a Christian culture.
The “You Can’t Sit With Us” Affect – (Suggested solution) Create authentic communities with a shared purpose centered around service.
Under this heading, the complaint is that of cliquishness. That is a profoundly human problem, not exclusive to Churches. Once again, Biblical teaching from the pulpit will address this issue. However, Eaton’s suggested solution is meaningless garble. For ridiculing “vision statements” in one of his earlier demands, this suggestion sounds an awful lot like a vision statement; just much less clear than many Churches I’m familiar with. How about we simply teach our people what it means to glorify God individually, in their homes, schools, work, and Church? Which, as he himself pointed out, is nicely summed up by: love God and love thy neighbor.
We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At – Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents.
Wrong! Dead, flat, wrong. Not only is this condescending arrogance towards previous generations (see my response to complaint #11 below), it is a profoundly unbiblical stance to take. The problem is not too much preaching, it is lack of white-hot, Christ-centered, sin-confronting, cultural-shaping Gospel preaching. If you want mentoring, go join a fitness club. Scripture doesn’t explicitly command mentoring, it commands discipleship, which requires preaching & teaching. The early church devoted themselves to sharing meals and the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42); which is as much to say Gospel preaching, and, at that point, was expounding the Old Testament and how it proclaimed Christ.
Yes, older men and older women are commanded to impart their wisdom to us youngsters (Tit. 2:2-8); but that too is in the context (Tit. 2:1, 15) of Paul commanding Titus: “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” Discipleship, in Paul’s mind, is done in the context of pastoral preaching in the Church.
We Want to Feel Valued
Well, look to the cross and move on. It isn’t about you after all. The only way to find your life is to lay it down. This isn’t a Gospel-minded view of the individual; it is humanistic mawkishness. When Eaton says, “We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. No conditions or expectations.” he is not speaking as a Christian ought. Rather, he is revealing that he’s been tippling the Wine of Babylon. It is true that in salvation, we can bring nothing to earn our salvation. But we know that there is a multitude of Scriptural commands that compel us to not stay as we are.
Furthermore, no one needs to hear the message of their own self-sufficiency; it comes to us rather naturally. This plea, then, is just a recycling of the self-image jargon of the last 30 years of Disney movies. This doesn’t mean we don’t encourage one another, but we had better do so truthfully, or we will be doing more harm then good by sugar coating someone’s ineptness, lack of giftedness, or worse yet, their sinful behavior. That isn’t love, that’s coddling.
We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is)
So, you DO want good, sound, thoroughly Biblical preaching? I’m confused!
The Public Perception – It’s time to focus on changing the public perception of the church within the community.
Why? Why not focus on God’s perception of us as measured by His Word? Being concerned with what the people around us think is the quickest way to ensure that the Church will only end up looking and talking like the world we are endeavoring to save with the Gospel.
Stop Talking About Us (Unless You’re Actually Going to Do Something)
Eaton here complains about Millennials being stereotyped; but it is ironically…ironic, which is quite millennial, don’t you think? Stereotypes are there because they are an exaggeration of the reality. Maybe some of the criticisms of our generation are valid, and thus, WE are the ones who must take a long hard look at ourselves (in light of God’s Word) and determine if we want that to be the description of us.
Being pigeon-holed never is nice; but in the previous complaints there was a lot of stereotyping of older generations. My advice is that from the youngest to the oldest, we learn to look at each other as Scripture teaches: brothers and sisters, with our older brother Jesus being the example we are to follow.
You’re Failing to Adapt – Here’s the bottom line, church—you aren’t reaching millennials. Enough with the excuses and the blame; we need to accept reality and intentionally move toward this generation that is terrifyingly anti-church.
Oh, bummer. The accusation that the Church is failing to adapt is assumed to be bad news; but from where I sit, it is not the Church’s role to adapt to her culture, but rather to shape her culture into a Christian one. This generation is becoming anti-church because the church has not carried out her responsibility to be a culture MAKER and has left that to anti-church educators, entertainers, and politicians. The Church isn’t the one who must adapt; it is this world who must get used to the fact that this globe is purchased property of Jesus Christ, and all earthly kingdoms will soon bring their glory into His Kingdom, the Church. The Kings of earth are commanded to kiss the Son, lest He be angry (Ps. 2)
The Church of 21st century America has a great need for repentance. This includes its failure to raise up the Millennial generation in the fear and admonition of the Lord. After all, this generation, if they even went to church, were scuttled off to brightly colored rooms, with songs on par with the hokey-pokey, and taught “life-lessons” from the latest pop culture fads. This was their biblical education from K-12. Now that they’ve faced the adult world of hard issues, they are left without a coherent synthesis point to hold their view of the world together. We millennials were taught with anecdotes, and Bible verses were used, if at all, as forcefully as quotes from Gandi, all in the hope that we would grow up to be somewhat good & moral people.
Eatons evaluations are on one hand useful observations, but on the other, his solutions are only going to produce more of the same in the next generation (whatever clever name we Millennials shall assign them). We need to address the issues and sins of each generation and between generations. But we must do this as a people who believe the Gospel of redemption in Christ, and that His Word is, and must be, the standard for correctly viewing everything; including our ironic, locally grown, thick-rimmed, cardiganed millennial sensibilities.