Lately, I’ve been thinking about legacy. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the church; more specifically, I’ve been thinking about what sort of church I’ll be leaving my kids.
This is an interesting word, isn’t it? It’s interesting because there has been quite a bit of talk lately about people leaving the church.
Earlier this month, the Pew Research group released a National study that found:
Overall, 35% of adult Millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) are religiously unaffiliated. Far more Millennials say they have no religious affiliation compared with those who identify as evangelical Protestants (21%), Catholics (16%) or mainline Protestants (11%).
Fully 36% of the youngest members of the Millennial generation – those between the ages of 18 and 24 when the survey was conducted in 2014 – eschew an affiliation with organized religion. This youngest group was not eligible to be surveyed as adults during Pew Research’s initial Religious Landscape Study in 2007. But the older cohort of Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1989 – was surveyed that year, when they were ages 18-26. In 2007, 25% of this group identified as religious “nones.” Among this same cohort, now ages 25-33, the share of “nones” has increased 9 percentage points and now stands at 34%.
This trend has been true on a denominational level, as well.
Recently my wife and I attended our Denominational district assembly where we were told that the Nazarene Church in the US and Canada had shrunk by 43,000 people over the past 10 years, and our district had struck 23% over the same period.
All of this begs the question, “Why?”
The “why” isn’t very easy to get at. People are complex and diverse, and their reasons for leaving are equally so.
However, in 2009, a protegé of Chuck Coleson, a man by the name of Gabe Lyons, gave us a window into the answer when wrote the book Un-Christian.
Lyons’ book dealt with the Church, with those who refuse to attend, or those who have left, and what their perceptions of the church might be, as well as the reasons they left.
His findings were that the Common Perceptions of Christianity were that Christians are:
85 % Hypocritical
75% Too Political
72% Out of Touch with Reality
78% Old Fashioned
70% Insensitive to Others
Now, I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers. Nor am I going to pretend these present a full picture as to the exodus of Millenials from our churches.
I am, however, wanting to share my hope for the church moving forward.
I want to dream, for a moment together, about what the church could look like as we hand it off to the generation that is inhabiting our nurseries. After all, everything we do today will affect my kids, and their kids. The issues we tackle today will benefit them, and the issues we ignore today will be issues that compound and are forced upon them to deal with.
And so, as a Father, I wanted to spend a few moments and talk about the church I hope to be. I want to share what I dream the church will look like for my children one day.
I hope to be part of a church that no longer pushes people away. I hope to be part of a church that welcomes in the messy, and eats with those who are culturally shamed and refused.
I hope to be part of a church who welcomes into the community of believers the drug addicts. The single moms. The abortion clinic doctor. The Democrat. The Republican. The pot-smoker. The recently divorced. The frequently divorced. The over-eater. The under eater. The alcoholic. The attention seeker. The over eager. The unreliable. The food stamp user. The Bentley cruiser. The prescription medication abuser.
I hope to be part of a church that welcomes into the community of believers the biblical literalist. The evolutionist. The same-sex couple. The overwhelmed, newly married couple. The Doubter. The overly confident. The apathetic. The poor.
I hope to be a church that welcomes each person in, knowing what unifies us is Christ. Knowing what convicts us is his spirit. Knowing what provides the soil for the difficult spiritual work is the love and acceptance of the spiritual community.
2. Justice oriented.
I want to be a church that seeks out the oppressed, and diligently fights against injustice.
I want to be a church that is willing to live in the uncomfortable reality of someone of a different race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.
I hope to be a church that’s willing to mourn with the family of a boy unfairly treated by police.
I hope to be a church who mourns with the family of a police officer shot in the line of duty.
I hope to be a church that fights against a system that oppresses based on color of skin.
I hope to be a church that mourns the life of the Afghani child killed in a drone strikes.
I hope to be a church that mourns with the family of a fallen soldier.
I hope to be a church that supports soldiers dealing with PTSD and depression long after our government has abandoned them.
I hope to be a church that refuses easy answers, and a church that asks hard questions.
I hope to be a church that chooses Christ and his Mission over Politicians and their schemes.
I hope to be a church that listens to the cries of the oppressed.
I hope to be a church that accepts that we are a broken people, filled with broken hearts, and wounds that cause us to lash out at one another.
I hope to be a church that allows us to confess our short comings to one another. To speak the struggles of our hearts. To name the issues that bind our wrists. To encourage the forward movement of a people who can hardly stand by themselves, but who find strength and courage in numbers.
I hope to be a church where pastors no longer feel the need to put on a mask of perfection, but can live out their calling to be a wounded healer.
I hope to be a church that lets her people bear their scars, and a church which nurses the wounds of the broken.
And in the moments when we hurt, I hope to be a church that practices the sacred practice of forgiveness.
I hope we can be the church that forgives freely, and without any expectation of return.
I hope we can be a church that forgives past the point of convenience.
I hope we can be a church that sees our oppressors as humans created in the image of God.
I hope we can be a church that forgives, even when culture tells us to retaliate.
I hope we can be a church that lives out Christ-like love. A love that says, no matter what you do, no matter where you go, no matter what you say, you are loved.
I hope we can be a church that loves out of a deep understanding that we were first loved, even at our most unloveable. A church that recognized we were welcomed into the family by no right of our own.
I hope that we can be a church that lives this love out in a real and tangible way in a world that is desperately seeking love. And I hope to be a church that realizes this sort of love is a bit chaotic and messy, and hope to be a church that loves anyway.
Friends, lets become this church. If not for ourselves, for the sake of our children.
And when we do this, maybe- just maybe- we’ll find our youth returning to the fold.