Just this morning, I read an article a couple of friends posted on Facebook by Rachel Held Evans regarding millennials and why they are leaving the church. I’d encourage you to read it here if you haven’t already before reading my post further.
Surprisingly, I agree with her on just about everything she says in this article. I have felt much of all this of myself…a restlessness with all the hoopla of flashy church and a deep yearning for a stripped down sacramental worship with pastoral readings followed by responses from the congregation, the deep theological hymns, the traditional liturgical scripture readings. I thought maybe I was just getting old when it makes me uncomfortable to see a pastor reading scripture from an iPad instead of a paper bound Bible or when I feel exhausted (and a little saddened) by all the time and effort that goes into the campaigns and camera angles and interior design and media. But I guess I’m not the only one?
The place where I get stuck with her though is here:
“The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.”
Inclusive? And this is where the whole rub comes in with it all I think. Are millennials really leaving because they want a sacramental church that’s loving and authentic and inclusive, or are the leaving because they want a sacramental church that’s loving and authentic and accepting of any and all lifestyles without question? Because there’s quite a difference.
And just so you know, I realize I’m probably not going to change anybody’s mind here. If you’re reading this and you agree with me, you’ll likely keep agreeing with me, and you may even write a comment giving a hearty Amen. And if you don’t, you’ll probably keep not agreeing with me and you may even comment that I’m one of the reasons why people hate Christians or that I’m close-minded, or you may just think all that to yourself and not comment at all and then talk about me and other Christians later. But either way, I’m not expecting to change anyone with anything I’ve written…mostly just to get it off my mind and make sense of it all myself.
Here’s the problem I see with “inclusivity.” I think you’ve got to be more specific than that. Are you looking for a Church that welcomes you regardless of your current state of sin? Because in my experience with the Body of Christ, or at least the part of it that I’ve come in personal contact with, I’ve found Jesus people to be very loving and authentic and inclusive. The Jesus people that I know just want you to know Him and find freedom in Him and share Him with others and grow the kingdom of God. Now, the Jesus people I know (including myself) aren’t perfect. We do a lot of stupid stuff and we still struggle with sin. We sometimes forget who Jesus says we are and fall back into worldly patterns. We hurt each other and make mistakes. But we also recognize our depravity and our need for a Savior. The Jesus people I know want you to know that Savior too because we know what He’s done for us and for you, and we want you to love Him and His Word and develop a deep relationship with Him and find your identity in Him.
I recently shared a bit of my testimony with a women’s group I’m a part of on Wednesday mornings. This is a fairly large group of women and I revealed some pretty ugly things about my past. And as I stood in front of these women (some of which I knew, but many I didn’t) and I exposed my darkness, I felt more vulnerable than I may ever have before. And the response I was met with was not cold or judgmental. There were tears and hallelujahs and a kinship in understanding the bondage of sin and the joy of redemption.
God continues to work on me in areas of my life and I know that I have some wrong beliefs, habits, and attitudes. I know I can’t continue to live fully into all God has for me while these things cloud my view of Him, and while I don’t know where exactly to begin to change them, I know that they have to change. I have to be willing to change.
And that brings me back to my question of inclusivity. If by inclusivity, you mean that you are looking for a Church that welcomes you regardless of your current state of sin…and where all your brothers and sisters in Christ just stand there blind and tight-lipped or worse, whole-heartedly support choices you are making that are outside of the Word of God, then I’m not sure exactly what sort of Church it is you are looking for. I know Ms. Held Evans is specifically referring to the LGBT community because that’s the spotlight issue currently, but as we are constantly reminded, we can’t single out one sin over the other. If I am in an adulterous relationship and my Jesus brothers and sisters know and my pastor knows and they don’t address it at all, how is that helping me? How are they being Jesus to me? If I am operating my business in such a way that is unlawful or deceitful and my Jesus friend knows and never says anything to me about it, what sort of accountability is that? If I have unhealthy (a.k.a. gluttonous) eating and exercise habits (which I do) and I continue to complain about my weight, and none of my Jesus girls say to me, “Sister, have you thought about changing some of your habits,” are they really doing me any favors? (Thankfully, I have Jesus girls who have said, “Sister, have you thought about changing your habits,” and I have and I am.) Maybe I’m a little off, but I thought that in addition to loving each other and serving each other, part of the reason for the Body was to hold each other accountable and help each other through the weak moments. The last thing that I personally want in my life is someone who will encourage me in my sin. God help me. I do that well enough on my own.
I get more and more confused about what it is that people want anymore. I guess we have to be honest and ask ourselves, what are we really looking for? Do we want a Church where we can work out our faith and our doubts, where we can screw up and still be loved, where we can ask questions and be okay with not always having the answers? Or are we looking for a Church where we can keep certain areas of our life unquestioned and live with no intention of ever changing those things that we know are unbiblical…or worse, not feeling like we should even have to? Because if it’s the latter, then I’m just not sure how to make sense of it. I don’t want a bunch of fluff and flash and feel good because at the end of the day, I don’t have anything there I can stand on. I need accountability. I need truth. I need to be called to repentance. I need the whole Word of God.
And that brings me back to the original article. I’m having to ask myself a lot of hard questions lately and doing a lot of a soul searching. I’m having to take some deep honest looks at my walk with Jesus, at the things I hold of greatest importance and see where my idols are, what things have taken root in my heart that don’t belong there. And I’ve walked with Jesus for a long time. I believe in Him and I believe Him. I know the Bible is true and I know without Jesus I am lost. But I also know that my attention is easily diverted and my thoughts are almost always cluttered. The world is a chaotic mess are everything is bigger and flashier and instantly gratifying and egocentric and loud and so we run to the Church to get away from all of that and then are distraught to find that the church service is slowly starting to look the same? I hear you, Rachel. I hear you. But the funny thing is, if you ask a lot of people in the Church, or at least a lot of people that I know? They’ll say the same thing. There’s a yearning for something deeper, something less topical and self-helpy and more straight-out-of-scripture that seems to be brewing under the surface. An ache for the holy things and the things of worship. Kinda makes you wonder who’s pushing the “cool” then, doesn’t it?
And so while, this paragraph was where I had to stop and question Ms. Held Evans’ reasoning, I have to admit that this paragraph is also where I resonated with her the most.
“What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.”