Admitting My Trust Issues with the Church

(A note before we begin: I try to hold a “No Generalizations” policy…and I admit that this article will be filled with them. Please understand that these words aren’t the end-all-be-all…rather, I hope them to be a conversation starter. My hope is to encourage honesty, the sharing of differences, and the safety to examine those differences together.)

There’s a funny meme that is circulating the web that goes like this:

trust issues

Trust issues. As I listen to millennial pastors and leaders (a generation I, myself, belong to), and then compare that to what I hear from earlier generations of pastors and leaders, I am finding there is a very real and growing difference in the way we see the church.

This difference of opinion is often the unspoken and under the radar message behind every issue and disagreement hashed out in public and private.

Within the tribe I serve, the Nazarene church, this mistrust among millennials has been exacerbated over the past year through the public mishandling of a situation with the denominational publishing house, and now through the confusion over the removal of a beloved professor at one of our denominational Universities.

This post is not an attempt to place blame or innocence on a particular party, rather it’s my attempt to help explain some of the growing frustration and mistrust inherent in the younger leaders and thinkers within our denominational context. (This post will exclude some of my readers who are not Nazarene, for this I apologize)

So, to the leaders of the church I love, a few thoughts.

Pastor” is no longer a universally defined term: Our worlds have shaped us differently.

For those over the age of 40, you were reared in a culture which celebrated the church and her clergy, and by in large, the Church honored this trust. Many pastors over 40 grew up listening to great pillars of the faith like Billy Graham and Francis Schaeffer speak of what it means to follow Christ. Western culture respected Christians, and respected those who served in vocational ministry.

Sadly, this is no longer the case.

For those of us under the age of 40 (or more specifically, under the age of 30), we’ve witnessed a steady stream of mismanagement, cover-ups and abuse. From the sexual abuse cover-ups in the Catholic Church, to the recent allegations made towards Mark Driscoll, to the handling of the NPH situation, the increased exposure from social media has made the flaws of the church evident to all, and these flaws make it hard to trust institutional church for fear of being hurt and mislead.

As a millennial pastor, and for many who share my age and vocation, our baseline to nearly every decision made is general skepticism. Simply put, we have a hard time trusting a leader and their decisions when the primary reason offered is the title or position they hold.

Authority and respect are no longer assumed realities.

Maybe they should be, unfortunately it’s not that simple.

Experience has proven otherwise.

This leads me to make a request.

Be patient with us

For those who get frustrated with the growing, vocal, and often frustrated millennial generation; please understand where we are coming from.

Please understand that the experiences of many, and the mistakes of the few, have planted the seed of doubt in an entire generation’s heart and mind, and through this doubt, for right or wrong, we now process everything the church does.

Because of this, trust is no longer assumed.

Honesty is everything.

At the end of the day, all we ask is for honesty. Please don’t play politics with the church we love. Please don’t cover up. As a leader, if you make a decision, explain it clearly, openly, and allow for conversation. We might not agree, and that disagreement might be heated, but know that we will certainly respect you for how you came to, and executed this decision, and will gladly continue walking the journey of faith with you.

Finally, please hear this:

For a leader to refuse honesty and dialogue means they are refusing inclusion into the community. This then becomes a universal issue, regardless of which generation you belong, for nobody wants to live in a house where they are not welcome.


4 thoughts on “Admitting My Trust Issues with the Church

  1. Pingback: A Wary Generation | sobecreation

  2. A thought,
    I really deeply admire the work and writing of Schafer. He did to theology and world view what I think Graham did for salvation and missional dogma. While I know these men know God, a lot of what we’re seeing today, in my opinion, is the expression of these thinkers. Fear as a motivational tool is such a part of Schafer’s views on history and it has created a generation obsessed with “The End” and appearing separate enough from the world to make the cut of God’s judgement. While I think Schafer saw the massive full picture of God patterned through all of history, his answer of “How then should we live,” is desperately in need of questioning. Theology has been edited for centuries with Schafer doing to his predecessor what we must do to him. The fear of being unholy must be replaced with a grace theology that seems to be emerging from all theological corners. Much more, rather than looking to pastors on lofty pulpits millennials want pastors like Paul, those who live among them. Drinks with me on Friday, worships with us on Sunday, and asks for help getting through his son’s terrible twos on Wednesday. It’s so sad to hear how many young pastors feel that they can’t be real friends with anyone. Scandal thrives on this kind of seclusion. The belief in needing to be perfect in order to have pastoral authority. I think millennials realize that respect is a gift given to the pastor by congregants, its not demanded with moral superiority. Friendship is a long lost call in the pastorate.

    Just a thought. Nice blog. And really sorry, I’m on my phone…

  3. I think a lot of what we’re seeing today actually might have to do with Schaeffer and Graham. While I really appreciated the work of Schaeffer’s theology and “world view” and I think Graham had the same effect in evangelism, there end conclusion is fear. Fear is a great motivator. It got people hopping in the 80’s with the rush of homeschooling, world view classes, and end times movies. The fear of not being “different enough” is a fear of God’s judgement and His blunt and heavy handed “justice.” My favorite contribution to Christianity from Schaeffer is his belief in “big picture” theology that stretched through history. Its still an amazing legacy and an inspiration to me. But his conclusion to what he saw in this perspective is fearful. His response of “How Then Should We Live?” is deeply troubling. We must edit and question Schaeffer just as Schaeffer questioned his predecessors. All throughout the denominational spectrum I see more and more “Grace-based” theology that challenges these traditionally fearful narratives. Theology that calls into question the either/or dilemmas of worldly/church, us/them and fear/apathy. Because of our obsession with Christian perfection we have stratified the church with each inner circle more resigned to secrecy and performance than the last. This illusion can’t hold up, and when it does we have cover ups or demoralizing failures. Millennials have seen it all. They aren’t moved by their parents’ fears, but have willingly loved their parents’ God. And that is a vast no man’s land. They don’t want another pastor on a pedestal. The call to the pastorate is a call to be a friend. Millennials want a pastor like Paul, a guy who made tents with them. They want a pastor who will drink with them on Friday, worship on Sunday, and ask for parenting advice on Wednesday. Its so sad hearing young pastors talk about how they don’t believe they can have true relationships with their church members. All I can think is, “Here we go again. More people trying to look perfect…” Millennials seem to get what a lot of people have tried to forget in that, respect is not demanded from a congregation by moral superiority, it’s given by congregants who see the vision of Christ in their pastors and want to follow in where God is leading them. This is a radical change in how power is gained and wielded, but it is not a disrespect of authority. This call to pastoral friendship is something that will take a lifetime to fully see, but for the millennials who hang on, it will be worth it.

    Just a thought….

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