Thanks to the Shiny Headed Prophet for the image
So this blog entry is indirectly-directly tied to my Church: Village Baptist. One of my pastors last night, Pastor John Johnson, a respected veteran of all things theological, Biblical and spiritual is a Dr. who teaches at Western Seminary in Portland, OR. John Johnson also happens to preach and is the Senior pastor at Village Baptist. The framework of this response is built on a couple of variables in which I will lay out a few:
1) I have been attending Village now for almost 31 years. Not bragging, just the facts. I have seen a lot of changes at the Church.
2) John Johnson has been involved with Village for 11 years, some of those in which I was in a transitional part of my life.
3) Throughout the changes at Village, as in any Church (most all people know what I’m talking about) there is still some bad blood over those changes or how things should’ve changed.
John opened the word last night to Matthew 22 (15-22) in which if you are not familiar with the verse it deals with Jesus trying to be trapped into not paying the Roman tax. He responded by saying ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.’ in essence. The point of the message was that Jesus calls out all we have been given is due to be given back to God. This of course rings true with another verse I have been recently reminded of Philippians 4:19 which states that ‘God will supply us our every need according to His riches in Jesus.’ Not wealth, not health, not great power, but God’s blessing which is above all else. In response of that we honor that blessing by giving that back to him. To John’s point though, he used this as a platform to bring into clarity what I believe most of us do not want to admit. We are greedy with what we have been given and while we are stewards of God’s gifts, we act as the masters.
All of this coming back to a point though of which is more of less a gut check of Village. One that while I type this, I do not want to come across as a condescending ass, but more of a “Hey, we’re all on this journey together and this is what I’ve observed…” type of feedback. The verse of Matthew 22 seems appropriate given the fact that we are to give back to God what is required to him. Right now, the evangelical church is asking some tough leadership questions about the younger generations and why they are losing interest in being involved with the church. John (like most pastors these days) pointed out that we are losing generations of kids and young adults between the ages of 18-29. I believe the age range is more or less 18-35 and some would argue 18-40. The question is where are those people? Now granted, there are some in the church that fit that criterion but again, cutting through the bs, why isn’t that age range the majority of Churches today? John spoke passionately about the need for Churches to dream and to have visions. The same is true for Village. We must dream big, we must envision a world changed by what Jesus is doing in each of our lives. The 18-35 year old crowd needs to be a part of those dreams and visions and that is why I believe there is some panic on asking the question within most churches “Where are they?”
A Post-modern problem in a post-modern world.
Living in post-modernity sucks; and if you don’t know what that is, look it up on Wikipedia for an interesting read. Specifically speaking to the evangelical Church, it is a complete mess right now. John spoke about how the Church today is seen as an institution by my generation. It is viewed by most as a “relic” or “artifact” of a once blossoming cog in the machine of the evangelical movement now as irrelevant as the Sunday Oregonian. The case can be made that my generation does not attend Church to gain information. Re-read that one more time. I do not go to Church on Saturday night or Sunday morning to gain information. That’s right. We live in an information age of which the Bible can fit 200 different languages on a USB stick the size of a penny. Who cares about “gaining” more knowledge of the Bible (per se) when we can call up any part of the Bible in a matter of seconds? Now while that sounds crude, I believe that is the singular difference (at this time) on why inter-generational dialogue is so difficult for some in Churches right now. I have the utmost respect for my elders and men who I have met at Village that could brain dump an entire book (word for word) and given 2-10 different life lessons on that book. That is crazy and so amazing that God has given them the ability to do that. For me though, while memorizing scripture is not a priority as it was for generations past, the story of that scripture is what I am more interested in and the generations in the 18-35 year old age group. The Gen Y’ers and Gen X’ers and Gen Z’ers (if there is such a classification) are about the social nature of the gospel message of Jesus and how God relates to us socially. Old Testament to New Testament, we want something that lives and breathes life into us the way we experience getting lunch with an old friend, catching up with our closest friends whom we have not seen for weeks or months. A connection bordering on the spiritual if not supernatural in such a way that God speaks to us through the narrative of our daily lives and who we are.
Trying to stay on point, the question of why people 18-35 have left the church is because there is no impact of the gospel in a social way. I’m not talking about social media, social networks, ice cream socials or anything like it; I’m talking about a legitimate push for a conversation each and every Sunday about how we relate to each other, how we complement each other and how we get through the crap in this life together as the body of Jesus. Generally as humans we organize data or structures into what we can categorize. We then can prioritize those as critical components or frameworks of the problems at hand and start to attack them one at a time. Going back to being a post-modern; We hate labels. We also hate structure. We also hate checklists and check boxes. Why you might ask? They feel rigid. They feel trite. They feel disconnected from the actual work someone has done. When you stop to think about it, when Villagers go down to Portland Rescue Mission and serve meals to the homeless, is that worthy of putting a check in a box for those who attended? Is that a measure of one’s spiritual growth? Does that show the impact of simply being present to serve a person whom society has flat out rejected as a loser or a bum? The answer to that is a resounding no and nor shall it ever be. Jesus spoke of a life and a kingdom in which is in the here and now, it is time that more of us start acting like it and living like it.
So with the mass numbers of people leaving the church, Pastor John also mentioned that they aren’t necessarily leaving Christianity. So instead of having a Christian who attends church 30-40 times a year, you have a Christian who attends 0 times a year but still believes that they are saved from their sins, that God is the one true God and that Jesus died for their sins. My take on this piece of it is that while this may scare the crap out of “The Church” (meaning the evangelical Church of North America and Europe) I believe it is the next chapter in how the gospel is going to spread and that is an encouraging thought. Think about it. A gospel so radical that it doesn’t take a person going to church to reach someone and make their life better; A person taking a moment of kindness to hold the door open for someone, to pick up a wallet or purse and run after the owner, a parent forgiving a child for lying about taking something that wasn’t theirs to begin with. We are not all perfect, in fact, we’re all pretty terrible when you think about it, but it is what we think in our thoughts and how we act from our hearts that is what makes the difference to a world so jaded by the ugliness of sin.
Light, the tunnel and seeing the end of it.
The story doesn’t end in a terrible mess and the encouragement I write to Pastor John as Paul wrote to the Philippians is this; I realized about 2-3 years ago that there was a lack of leaders around me in terms of people within my age bracket. Ironically, I was in essence standing around and waiting for the next-generation of leaders to step up and to direct me. Speaking specifically to this issue, I wrestled with what it looked like for me to be a leader. How would that feel? Am I even worthy of doing so? The answer I got was that if I didn’t, no one would. Not to say that others have not raised to the challenge of being a leader in the church or in their workplaces but I realized God calls us be mindful of what we have been given. A post-modern person in a post-modern time calls for post-modern measures. As I have matured, I have realized that some of the “emerging” themes of a post-modern church are people demand loyalty, truthfulness, a person willing to call it like they see it with no sugar coating or bs of the reality of the situation, a person who listens, a person who walks through the crap of life not being a guide or above the fray but experiencing the hardship alongside them, crying when they cry, feeling pain when they feel pain. In a culture that exploits people for their time, money and humanity, the Church is to be different. The people are to be different. We are supposed to be the light to the dark, the ying to the yang, the positive vs. the negative. I see myself continuing to pursue leadership as an aspect of my spiritual walk in which my prayer is that over the course of this next year I am able to hopefully meet with some men I highly respect at Village (including you John) and talk and dream about what is next and what the kingdom is doing. While the numbers don’t lie and while people in the 18-35 crowds will continue to bleed off from attending “church” as we know it, God has a plan. My hope is that I am able to have conversations with those people not to get them to come to church, but to get them to experience Jesus in a fresh and compelling way. The gospel is meant to be one of the most amazing things ever and I thank you John for reminding me why it means so much to me and my family.
May God continue to bless all peoples, all cultures and all backgrounds at Village and may we be able to engage with and serve those who are in need of the love God shows to us each and every day we draw breath.