Posted by: minnow | July 31, 2013

Bursting Wineskins Wastes Wine

In her post, Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church, Rachel Held Evans says for the Millennials what I say for all those who have left the building.  While the advocates of a back to basics approach want to latch on to quotes like this one: “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” so they can argue that the hip music and skinny-jeaned pastors aren’t keeping Millennials in the pews.  These same traditionalists aren’t particularly interested in wrestling with statements like this one, also from Ms Held Evans: “We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.” I would go a step further to say we not only want to hear about this stuff and be challenged to practice simplicity in our own lives, we want to be the Body of Christ and put hands and feet to these issues.

So what does this mean for the Church?  Like most everything else in the 21st Century–travel, communication, education, medicine, entertainment–the 21st Century Church will look (is already looking) considerably different from the 20th Century Church.  Even though some still ride horses, write letters, memorize spelling words, and listen to sermons from a senior pastor in a worship center on Sunday morning, those who have kept their faith but left the building are already finding new skin for their new wine.

The 21st Century Church, at least the part traditionalists see as “falling away”, seeks to bring together ideology and action to reflect both a faith foundation as well as a contemporary concern for social justice, sustainable living, and global responsibility.  Millennials (and anyone else who isn’t too embarrassed to look a little silly while attempting to figure out the new technology) are discovering different ways to connect.  On-line groups, like The Church of the Misfits, together with inter faith organizations, like the North American Interfaith Network, provide new opportunities for spiritual growth and dialogue.  Some of these new communities of faith do meet locally in coffee shops, bars, and restaurants to share and to fellowship.  But, while we let someone else worry about keeping the electricity on and the doors open (AKA building maintenance), we focus on what we have in common and let go of the ways we differ.  Instead of staff salaries and Sunday morning service preparation our energy and resources are used to meet the challenges in our neighborhoods around the world.   Our efforts might include helping single moms with car repairs, homeless youth find shelter or third world businesses get started.

Whether or not one thinks the Church is going by way of the Roman empire probably depends on what definition of the Church is used.  For several years just before I left the building leadership began to define the Church as “the people”.  Even though the voices making this declaration did so in order to encourage the congregates to become more personally involved in the ministries sanctioned by those within the building, if we take that definition seriously I feel quite comfortable saying the Church is not dying at all.  Rather we are getting a taste of the first fruits of the 21st Century Church, a new wine as the people transform into a less verbal yet more visible Body.  I might not go so far as to say it “might be cool to be a Christian again”, the way Paul did in this piece but it’s no great shame either.   I personally have no problem equating my commitment to giving the marginalized a voice, making my lifestyle choices reflective of a global vision, and working toward a more equitable community with my faith in a loving, Creator.

All in all I believe the question, “Why are Millennials leaving the Church?” needs to be rephrased, deconstructed, repacked, or whatever word choice you care to use to indicate we need to look at the “problem of people leaving the Church” differently.   The bottom line for me is most haven’t left.  If they ever were a part to begin with they have now simply come into maturity.  They have put away the childish things of the past, and are choosing to walk out their faith not in the ways others have defined for them but rather as they have defined, are defining, it for themselves.


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