Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Age Old Problem of Millennials

In my day, when I went to Fuller Theological Seminary, we had to walk six miles up hill both ways, while fighting both the 100-degree heat and four feet of snow. When we got there, we were glad for the thimble full of wine and the piece of bread, which was all we ate for the whole day. So, get off my lawn, you Millennials.

I am hesitant to write about Millennials for fear of sounding like an old coot. I prefer thinking of myself as a middle age coot, or in reality I still think myself as a young coot with graying hair. My body has other ideas, though...

I attended Fuller in the last Millennium, the late nineties, and the hot topic then was why the Generation X kids were not going to church. Being a Gen X, I had some ideas as to why. Then, as now, going to church meant missing a large chunk of young adults. Then, as now, the complaints were of too much politics, too much judgment and too little Jesus. My, how times have changed. Instead of talking about better beats for our music, the church now talks about better lattes. I do like a good latte.
The question of millennials leaving the church neglect an almost century old pattern. Eighty or 90 years ago, one could find articles as to why the young people had stopped going to church and how to get them back. Should women with bobbed hair be accepted in church? But after the young adults sowed their wild oats, they'd return when it was time to start raising their children. So, one can say safely that when millennials will start returning to church once they, too, feel the urge to reproduce. Heck, it sounds like the Amish were right with Rumspringa. No problem, you say. I say, “Get off my church lawn.”

Why? Because, this is not the pattern of a growing church. Jesus' first followers were young adults. When one looks at the vital times of the church, and the current vital growth of the church worldwide, they'll see that young adults lead the church. These were and are people unhappy just being quiet and behaving. They seek action and adventure. Those points of vitality of the church are less about personal ethics and more about what Jesus said in Luke 4:18-21:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[a]
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The wild oats were sowed and adventure was had within the church. Setting free the captives, what young adult looking for adventure could turn from that? Middle and older adults, of course, are afraid of such vitality as it means the kids are not sitting quietly in the back, but demanding a Jesus that shakes things up front. We want kids to behave most of all. So, we create programs to pretend we want them back and lament when they aren’t coming to church making noise and releasing captives. Who wants to worship with the poor and the captives? Come back when you have your own junior with you and then we will put you to work at Vacation Bible School.

When we see the church empty of the people who are the source of the church’s vitality then we have to question whether the church is proclaiming the Gospel or simply a place of telling their young to behave? Jesus riled things up by preaching peace beyond all understanding, and the young followed. We don’t like things riled up and want the peace that comes from behaving and keeping quiet in the back. Are we really telling Jesus to get off our collective lawn?

Join us for our next Coffee Talk at 10 a.m., Sept. 7 at Revel 77 Coffee for a discussion on "Engaging Millennials." Tinajero is a panelist.

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