Okay millennials…they’re onto us. Have you noticed that everyone and their mom just jumped on the bandwagon of figuring out why we’re leaving the church in droves? Yeah. From what I can tell it’s because we’re consumer driven and selfish and altruistic and outward focused and open minded and closed minded and communicate too well and don’t communicate enough. So…that clears things up?
Look, I get it. Being frustrated with church was my minor in college, I think (meh, it could’ve been my major. Biology isn’t all that interesting). I feel your pain. It’s easy to look at Jesus and think…okay. This dude gets it. He would totally be invited to my burlap and lace wedding with the home brewed beer bar, barefoot bridesmaids, and fair trade wedding registry. It’d be awesome and authentic and missional and we could be intentional with one another. Jesus is cool, because let’s be real, he comes off as a bit of a hipster sometimes.
Paul, on the other hand. Paul is that dorky friend from high school who didn’t become postmodern in college, the one who wears a suit to work and is a tool of ‘the man’. Our generation isn’t crazy about Paul.
Is that why we’re all suddenly too spiritual or too evolved or too cool for church? Because of Paul? Because Paul said a lot of things about grace and freedom and love and justice that I’d sort of like to hang on to.
Or is it just that we feel like we care about different things than churches do? We see the million dollar sound system and the Easter hats and the patriotic services and just think…man. I can’t support that.
I get that. I hit that point in college (and I’m sorry that sentence makes me sound like a crotchety old lady with yard gnomes). But here’s the thing….I didn’t leave. In fact the point that I was the most tired of church in general coincided with the time that the church was the only thing keeping my head above water. I didn’t leave. And when the door of undergrad slammed shut and I woke up in a city where going to church meant being that awkward new kid making small talk, I still didn’t leave. I got angry, cried, ranted, and was incredibly sarcastic about church, but the thing is…I’m still here. You didn’t lose me.
I’d love to be able to say that this was the result of some kind of awesome strength of character on my part, or because I’m just really evolved or something. It wasn’t. I stayed in church because the people at the big box church turned out to be really incredible, and I needed them. Because they told me it was okay to not have my shit together, and didn’t apologize for swearing, because sometimes life is hard. Because the really, drastically imperfect inner city ministry I led was supported and loved even when we were making a thousand mistakes and being really pretentious about them. Not because the pastor preached exegetically or traditionally or humorously or casually or whatever…because he disagreed with me sometimes and still trusted me to lead others (and because of copious use of the phrase open handed issue). Mostly I stayed because all these broken people kept being made new and because little old ladies kept praying for that.
And if your church isn’t that, I want you to know that my heart aches for you. For those of you who struggle against depression and suicide and addiction and exhaustion only to have the church come against you with a voice that makes you feel like you will never belong, never be whole, never be loved…I’ve been there. It’s a lie. And it sucks. It just sucks. It makes you tense up at the sight of a hymnal and get defensive at the mention of certain parts of scripture.
Of scripture! I hate so much that the church has so often taken the Word of God and weaponized it. But I feel that, too. I still remember sitting in my car just empty after a sermon on Jeremiah 29:11, feeling like the last person on earth who belonged in a church.
I want you to know that we’re here. In pews or chairs or couches or whatever all around the world, we are sitting here praying for you. Wishing we could tell you how loved you are, wishing you would believe it. People who have fought the fight you’re fighting are all around you, in churches you’d never expect. We so want to help you. We want to love you right there in the mess. But we’re all afraid of exposing that broken piece of us, aren’t we? I’m the worst. I spent 21 years hiding all the mess. And when the dam broke a few weeks ago in the lobby of the big box church, there wasn’t a mob of people trying to fix it. But there were a few. The people I’d decided to be open with were there, telling me I was loved and stealing tissues from the lobby.
We want this to be a home for you. We want this to be a home for us. And, along the way, we’ve discovered that a lot of the perfect facades around us are hiding some pretty significant crap as well. But they don’t trust us, and maybe they’re right. Because I’ve already labeled them…”mindless soccer mom” “materialistic banker dude” “jingoistic old person” etc. How are we supposed to know each other?
I get it. We’re tired, you and me. Being hypercritical can do that to a person. Being criticized can, too. But the body of Christ wasn’t mean to be dissected with razor edge wit and cynicism. Dissected bodies are gross and non-functional. That’s the point, right? We’re this collage of a bunch of ripped up papers that look really dumb on their own. If you aren’t willing to step back and look at what the church is and has been for so many people, then yes. It’s a mess. It’s a disjointed, entropic, chaos of colors and shapes that just don’t work.
But it worked. It fed us when we were broke freshman and it paid for us to go to foreign countries and acquire awesome profile pics. It woke up at five in the morning for prayer services when we were barely asleep from the night before. It gave us space to have our own services and our own agendas. It never blinked an eye when we asked for thirty thousand playground balls or a moonbounce or two.
You’re a piece of this collage. An important one. Probably a plaid one, or maybe chevron. And if you stay outside by yourself, it’s really hard for you to ever look the way you’d like to look. You can’t feed the orphans or love the lepers or even love your neighborhood by yourself. If you’re me, you need someone who understands money and insurance to tell you that your ideas are dangerous and expensive. Whoever you are, you need people around you to keep you honest. And growing in Christ is tricky when the only voices leading you don’t sound very different from your own.
Who’s challenging you? Who’s giving you a new perspective? The cool thing about a body is parts work against each other and in support of each other and you never notice what each arm muscle is doing, you just see the motion.
Who’s opposing you? Who’s supporting you? Because you don’t move without that.
Jesus is coming back for a bride, not a harem (Shane Claiborne. Do you feel better now?). So we gotta pull it together, guys. I know it’s hard to feel like the only radical person in a church full of older people, but those old guys have raised children. They’ve worked for a long time. They can get you jobs (I mean…none of us have one anyway, right?). So what if we talked to them? What if we were willing to give some grace when they shop at Walmart despite our fair trade crusades and in return they loved us despite the fact that Chacos seem like church footwear to us? What if we fought for each other?
I mean, I’m just saying. I’m terrible at all of this. And maybe the church you tried this week really won’t work. But if you really believe God has led you to where you are, then He has a place for you. They need you, you need them…please don’t give up on that. (and in the meantime, just know that it doesn’t always have to end in tears. Sometimes people surprise you for the better).