I’ve read them. I feel like I’ve read them all-the letters from well-meaning, well-written peers of mine. Posts penned by young (well, relatively young) people unhappy with and enlightened by the woes of the Church. And they all know the various reasons why people are leaving the Church, the problems they see and the ways to fix said problems.
The ladies ministry is too old-fashioned, and yet the worship is too flashy and fake. The pastor doesn’t use enough technology, and yet he’s trying too hard to be relevant and contemporary. The Church is too inwardly focused, yet not focused enough on your needs. It all makes my head and heart hurt.
If I can glean anything from these open letters, it’s this-maybe people (my people, Millennials) are leaving the Church because we are spoiled, selfish, uneasily satisfied, hypercritical, consumeristic and socially enlightened but biblically light-weight.
Now if it’s not already clear, I love the Church. I’m crazy, obsessed and slightly obnoxiously in love with the Church and her leaders. I’m not objective. I’m not impartial. Stop reading if you need to, at least I’ve owned it.
So when you choose to air your grievances against her in the name of edification, I don’t probably give you the benefit of the doubt you deserve. I’ll admit that much. But let me explain why it wounds so.
I’ve been married for fourteen years. I adore my husband, but our marriage isn’t perfect because neither of us is perfect. I know my faults and his. And you may be my best friend, but if you come to me and say,
“Listen, I know you love Chad, and because I love you and Chad, I feel I need or deserve to tell you the truth about him. I don’t know if you see what I see. I don’t know if you are aware of all his flaws. So I’d like to tell you my opinion of those. And really, because I think it’s so important, I’d like to write an open letter to post on social media about him. But it’s because I love him, and I love you. I want him to be the best version of himself.”
I will probably smile and pray for grace while imagining throat chopping you, in the name of Jesus of course.
Forgive me for the irreverence, but I wonder if Jesus feels a bit of the same with every post, comment and “share” these open letters get. The Church is the Bride of Christ. He died for her. He loves Her, and gave Himself up for HER.
Don’t pretend to love me, but disrespect my spouse. Don’t pretend to love Jesus, but damage the Church. You can’t love Jesus but hate on the Church.
I know, you don’t think what you are doing is damaging the Church, but that’s where you’re wrong. It’s not that your points aren’t right or valid. You’re wrong because you believe that griping about all her flaws will make her better. By airing all your grievances, you wound those who love Her and you.
You wound those sweet, saintly ladies who put on those events praying over those doily-laden tables for young women to fill those chairs. These women who aren’t silenced or frozen by a fear of being irrelevant show up and serve with you in mind. They do it because once upon a time someone did it for them. They do it because they desperately want to connect so they serve the way they know how. They model a level of fidelity and gospel-centeredness I’m not sure most of us Millennials can understand. It’s easy to love and serve a sexy church. But to love and serve a struggling one, that’s another level of Christ-likeness.
If you want to build community or grow in intimacy, just show up. Squeeze their hands. See their hearts. Pray for them. Ask about their stories. Hear the countless ways their hearts have been broken by the world and healed by God as they have walked with Jesus longer than we’ve been alive.
Maybe you believe that your thoughts will help the Church narrowly escape irrelevance. (By the way, Church irrelevance is a gross generalization.)
But you know as well as I do that nothing turns off our generation more than feeling as though we’re being manipulated. We want relevance, but hate it when you try too hard. Don’t try and make it all about me when it should be all about Jesus, we say. Our needs aren’t met, yet we disdain that our Churches are too inwardly focused. We can’t have it both ways.
Maybe you hope that your words will help the Church come back from the brink of extinction. (By the way, Church extinction is a theological impossibility.)
But here’s the thing, the Church’s existence doesn’t depend on Her success, relevance, statistics or Millennials. She has been preserved all these years by the grace and good pleasure of Jesus Christ. He sustains her. The Church’s challenges are not new. Believe it or not, generations have felt all your frustrations before. She has been irrelevant. She has been abusive. She has been wrong. She has been myopic. She has been manipulative, and yet He sustains Her.
Are we broken? To be sure. Can we improve? Without question. But the One who sustains also refines.
I won’t tell you that what you feel isn’t valid or important. It is, but you don’t need 4000 shares on social media to know that. As Millennials we think our opinions deserve breath and life. We will share them in the name of transparency, but transparency is not a license to wound. There are many more productive things our generation could do and be known for.
I would love to see our generation become the one that cheers most loudly for the Church. The generation that sees her flaws but believes the best about Her. The generation that praises Her heart and Husband! The generation that says my faithfulness to the Church mirrors my faithfulness to Jesus Christ. The generation that loves not just the sexy church but also the struggling church. The generation that champions the Church. The generation that stops complaining and starts changing-our hearts, our churches and our culture.
Your struggle is real. Your solution is wrong. As you struggle, pray. Ask the Lord to start a revival in your church. Talk with your leadership. Reach out to those in your local body. And stay. Stay close. Stay connected. Stay hopeful.
Our best days are ahead because the days are getting darker. And the Bride of Christ is radiant. Even on her worst days, She still shines.