The Lost Sunday School Boys & Girls
Truth be told, I don’t remember a day when I wasn’t a regular church-goer. I understood (and loved) the Gospel at age four, and I have pretty much been in church ever since. Sure, I’ve though about leaving, more than once. I think we probably all have thought about it at one point (—can we just be honest about that?). But I haven’t.
When I began this Millennial series, I knew I wanted to write one about why Millennials aren’t going to church. But when I sat down to write it, I realized I couldn’t, because I’m not a Millennial who’s not going to church. I’m still going to church. And while I can’t speak for all Millennials everywhere, I can tell my story. Perhaps it will bust the stereotypes and assumptions you may have, and we’ll all have grace for each other along the way. So this is my story: a three-part explanation of why I’m still going to church.
So, why haven’t I left? Well, one main reason revolves around marriage.
Not mine, obviously, but Jesus’. (Yes, I read Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. No, I wasn’t struck by lightning. Yes, he’s a good novelist. No, I don’t believe Jesus was married.)
Jesus’ marriage to the Church.
I’m staying in church…
…because I love Jesus and Jesus loves the Church and isn’t finished with us.
In college, I took a semester course (which is the tip of the uh, steeple) on ecclesiology—the study of the Church. Jesus calls the Church His bride (Ephesians 5; Revelation 21). The Universal Church is made up of all believers everywhere; local churches are where we meet regularly (Hebrews 10:24) to be encouraged in the faith so we can be conduits of Jesus’ love. Jesus loves us unconditionally and as the perfect husband, He will never give up on us. He loves us and is working in us and through us to show the world His love. I love Jesus, and because I love Jesus, I love the Church. My love for Jesus will and must always comes before my love for the Church. But I work to love the Church because I love Jesus and He loves the Church.
Local churches are full of Christians who are also part of the universal Church. And let me assure you there are a lot of Millennial Christians in the universal Church even if they aren’t part of a local church. And Jesus is using many Millennials for awesome things both inside and outside the local church. Millennials tend to have a bigger view of what Jesus is doing in the world. We can see that yes, God is working in and through the local church, but that’s not the only way He works. Jesus isn’t waiting for our local churches to start another program or build another building so He can start doing things. He’s not waiting to be approved by the church board or vetted by the powers that be. No, actually Jesus is up to A LOT of amazing things outside the local church, and Millennials are excited about those things. Because we often see a lack of awareness, compassion, and authentic love inside many local churches.
The Gap Between Preaching and Practice
Like me, many Millennials grew up going to church every Sunday, knowing all the stories and trying to be good, as we were taught. But as we’ve entered adulthood, we’ve seen a whole lot of ugly, and we see a generation of church people doing little about it. Human sex trafficking has seen a huge rise in the last 20 years, and we are barely starting to talk about it at church. We’ve witnessed pornography destroy church families (and leaders) though it’s often not something we work to solve with grace. Some traditional churches offer church-based community as a resource for those trapped by sexual sin, but it’s often condemned and spoken of with hushed tones and little hope. And with a new sexual revolution upon us, we’ve seen the place that says it preaches love, grace, and forgiveness reject those who look, think or live differently.
We’ve seen churches who get behind the truth of Romans 1 as fast as our hands can clap and feet can stand. But how is a same-sex couple treated when they walk through the door? The scene (because it would be a scene) wouldn’t be pretty in the traditional, evangelical churches I’ve been in.
Somehow we think because sin (or a particular sin) shouldn’t be happening means we don’t have to talk about how we as a local community can work to solve it. Yes, we keep preaching against it and say the Bible offers a cure and hope (and it does) but we as a community have a hard time rallying—positively, lovingly, without condemnation—around someone who is dealing with it (whatever it may be) in real life.
Millennials are passionate about these things because they affects us or someone we know and love. Millennials are typically hyper-aware of social justice issues and many of us have hearts to share Jesus’ love in these places. But we get discouraged when local churches don’t share those passions. And when Millennials try to talk about these things, we often get shut down, brushed off as Millennial idealists, or at best, politely ignored.
A Work In Progress
I’m still in church despite these frustrations—some of which I’ve personally experienced—because I believe Jesus isn’t finished with us. And I believe I can be used by Jesus in the local church to be a positive influence, to move us closer to loving our communities in these types of issues.
Many Millennials find organizations which are Gospel-centered (just not local-church-based) to join. Preemptive Love, The Purpose Hotel, and the International Justice Mission are just a few I’ve seen Millennials really get behind. I, too, have broadened my scope to include a variety of organizations, not just church-sanctioned ones. And it has been awesome. Jesus is indeed at work in more places and more ways than we can think or even imagine. Sounds like Him, right?
I haven’t given up on church because Jesus hasn’t given up on us. We have a long way to go, but Jesus isn’t finished with us yet. He’s still working on me, on you, and everyone everywhere. He gives us more grace (Romans 5-6), and second chances, and third, and fourth, and so on. I love the Church (both universal and local) because I love Jesus and Jesus loves us. He died for us. And He is for us. And He’s working to make us a beautiful bride to present to Himself someday. Soon. I can’t wait—it’s going to be the. Best. Wedding. Ever.
Stay tuned for Part II—Why I believe in storytelling in the Church.