In recent days Rachel Held Evans, Edward Bowser, and others have provided some valuable discussion on the Church and her relationship to those of the Millennial Generation. Their contributions provide helpful challenges to the leadership of the Church on how to engage those born since 1980. Many would say that Millennials are growing disenchanted with the Church. Some have said that many Millennials like the teachings of Jesus, but are turned off by His followers. I do not intend to recount those statistics here. The larger question is, “What will the Church do about it?”
The leaders of the Church need to show the Millennials that they have a voice and they need to be heard–that they are important to God. Millennials need to know that some of their passions are God’s desires as well: things like care for the poor, equality of race, taking care of the sick. These things are not their ideas–these are God’s will in caring for His people. Millennials nor anyone else has the corner on the market on such ideas. Sometimes we humans (and this is true of all generations) come up with some good ideas and we want to find a way that God approves of our ideas. Instead we need to realize that the good things we do are not our ideas at all–they are God working through us–whether we know it or not.
The desire for ideological infallibility is true of other groups as well. In the Church we have separate factions. You don’t have to look far to see that. But no matter the denomination or creed, you will find people who want to build their camps on a piece of theological ground. Sometimes these are based on sound theology. Sometimes they are based on a set of human traits of “good qualities.” Often times these camps try to corner Jesus for their own cause. They might say something like, “If we can prove that God says we are right, then all will be right.” Here’s what I mean (I am borrowing these categories from a lecture by NT Wright, though I use them in my own way, not his).
Jesus ministered on this earth in first-century Palestine. We can paint some broad brush strokes to identify three major camps at that time. Each of them wanted to prove that God was on their side, and therefore they must the right one.
1. The first are the Essenes. They were Quietists: read your Scriptures, say your prayers, keep yourself isolated from everyone else and let God do what He’s going to do. We don’t need to worry about the rest of the world. Let them bother with themselves. God will side with us in our Quietist life.
2. The next group we will call the Compromisers. Though there is no formal declaration of this group, we could look to Herod as a religious and political compromiser. Say your prayers, maybe. Read the Scriptures, maybe. But compromise with the Government. Change a little bit of the religious order. Compromise on whatever bothers you and then God will be pleased with both. Let’s just keep the people in the Church and the World happy and everything will be fine. God will side with us if we compromise with everyone.
3. Then there were the Zealots. We can call them the Crusaders. They read the Scriptures, said their prayers, and sharpened their swords. They were going to “help” God along on forcing His timeline. By the sword and in the name of God’s ideas, they would bring about a change in the world. Don’t worry about the collateral damage. Just keep swinging that sword in His name. God will side with us and our swords.
Now, when Jesus gets on the scene, each group tries to get Jesus into their camp. With whom does He associate most directly? None of them. He was not here to bring about any one of their agendas. Instead Jesus comes to declare His agenda that He proclaimed in Luke 10 (among many places): “The Kingdom of God is come near.”
If we were honest with ourselves we could identify these camps in our local congregations and the Church at large. These same camps, in many ways, exist today. Many of us are lured into to a camp and we want Jesus to come into it and put His flag in our little piece of our kingdom. We want Him to prove that we are right so that we can be right. I include myself in that list of the guilty sometimes. I think others may do the same. We want to be the side that Jesus picks. We want our agenda or our ideas on the issues or our priorities the ones that Jesus says, “Yes, you–you are people that got it right.” This is faulty motivation.
That brings us back to the original question: “What do we do with the Millennials (or the gen x’ers or boomers)?” The answer does not lie in building what we perceive as the right slate of political stances or social programs or “appropriate” worship styles. The answer does lie in any devices that humans can derive. Instead we must earnestly seek the Gospel. Let it heal, let it bring hope, and let it change us. In that interaction it will also offend. The Gospel is at times offensive. It is not ours to offend others with it nor ours to apologize for its offenses. We let God do that. I see that is what Jesus did. And I also see that it is Jesus who brought the healing, the hope and the change.
Those of every generation, whether they realized it or not, has sought just that: the Church to be authentic to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The opportunity is before us to put aside our attempts of building the camps of our good ideas and instead seek God’s ideas for reaching a generation that He dearly loves. That was His design all along: working through us to reach them with the Hope, the Healing, and the Change.