Further Thoughts on the Future of the Church

I want to run down this trail for awhile longer. There is a lot more to say. We will see how far I get…

I recently had a great conversation with an awesome guy who is getting a Doctorate in Ministry. His degree emphasis is preaching to millennials.

For those of us that don't know what this means - the millennial generation, also known as generation Y, is the generation of folks who follow Generation X. They are people who were born from the early 80's to the early 2000's. While there is no specific date as to when it stops and starts, this is the basic boundary of this socio-demographic.

The explanation of why this matters and the research involved in defining all this is vast and there are volumes written on it. But since it would bore most of us to tears, I want to simply draw some observations about how I believe that the church must respond to this next generation without delving too far into the why. If it resonates, please let me know.

First, and probably most profound for this whole conversation, we have to stop talking about this generation as if they don't care about what is true or what is right. This is neither accurate, nor does it help to further the conversation.

Regardless of what you may think about the way we should understand truth, we live in a world where there is no way to keep from being influenced by a thousand different sources of input in a single day.

I can literally get online and listen and watch the top 20 leaders from any world religion at any moment I choose. And I can also listen to any anti-religious or non-religious speakers as well. My ability to take in information has exponentially increased, and the capacity to process the information has increased as well.

That leads me to my second thought… People are not dumber than they used to be. They are in fact, more aware and more rounded in their perspective than ever. And to try to blow off other points of view simply because they don't line up with your own is foolish and degrading to others.

People can and do process information at a higher rate now than ever in history. But writing and talking at someone are having diminishing affects. That doesn't mean that they aren't important, or that they don't work anymore. It just has less affect than it used to have. And this is due in part to the lack of trust in authority in general in our culture (see my previous blog post). We as a culture are not willing to "take someone at their word" anymore.

Put up or shut up. That is the Modus Operandi of our culture.

These 2 thoughts lead me to a couple of bigger thoughts that are really important as the church moves forward.

First, in order to see the next generation be open to a relationship with Jesus, we have to find a way to keep them part of the conversation long enough for God to get ahold of their hearts.

Prepositional, dogmatic preaching is quickly becoming a thing of the past. And to go back to the beginning of this post, that doesn't mean we have to compromise truth to effectively preach. It means we have to communicate truth better. Beautiful, compelling, inspiring sermons on the foundations of truth and life practice can be done and done well without the preacher turning into an insensitive bully in the process.

And many people will validate that you are "bringing a hard word" and that you "need to give it to us straight." I would suggest 2 things: 1. in relationship, there is no straight - it weaves and winds all over the place. That is the nature of community, and that is what we are asking people to be a part of; and 2. these people that are validating the "hard word" are already Christian. Did your "truth telling approach" bring anyone else to Jesus? Or did it reinforce the lies in people's souls that tell them that God could never truly love someone as messed up as they are?

And I would say that extends even to people who have said yes to Jesus. They might have said yes to being willing to follow Jesus. But do they truly believe that He loves them? Do they truly believe that He sees them as full of potential, not as mistakes or mess-ups. For that matter, do you believe that about yourself? and about others?

I think that for too long, what I would label as "Pulpit bullies" have reigned in our churches. They essentially have approached sermons with an attitude of - my job is to convince you that I am right and that you must agree with me or you are "out." As so there is a lot of pushing and convincing and drawing lines. And to be frank, many of the lines that get drawn are foolish and bound up in tradition not Scripture so they wind up having to get redrawn over and over again. And the church looks foolish because of it.

Second major point - I truly believe that in order to reach the next generation, we have got to stop talking about certain groups of people as if they are second rate. And before you dismiss this point as one you don't struggle with, hear me out.

Over Christmas I got to spend some great time with my family. It was so much fun and probably one of the most memorable Christmases that I have ever experienced. But there were several conversations that caused me to wonder about some things.

Now, my family are all Christians and in ministry. We all love Jesus and we all love the church. And I would say that we all love people from all walks of life. But some of the comments that were made off the cuff about people who are different than us lead me to believe that there are some underlying realities that we are taking for granted.

That which is not intentional is not reproducible. And if we don't intentionally validate and value other people, we will accidentally say all kinds of foolish things about them. And it only drives those who don't know Jesus yet further away from Him.

Nobody said anything intentionally mean. But a few of the statements that were made really made me think about the implications of many of my own statements and how I can say things without thinking that really hurt others.

And people in general have a tendency to do that. We joke and laugh about others that we perceive as weak or weird. It is just like junior high only we are all older. And I get it - I do. I fail at this more often than I want to admit. But our sacred privilege as followers of Jesus is to put our God on display to the world. And those people that we make our careless comments towards are precious to Jesus. So, when we say things off the cuff about other people, it isn't just that we invalidate them as human beings, we also paint an inaccurate picture of our God. And that is never a good thing!

So perhaps the place to begin is with these questions…

How do we determine to intentionally live out being a blessing to EVERYONE around us regardless of their past, present, or how we see their future?

How do we intentionally make sure that the people who come into contact with us are better when they leave than when they came?

How do we invite people into the life transforming relationship with Jesus and keep them a part of the conversation long enough to have it take hold?