Wednesday, August 30, 2006

riding the wrecking ball

Why are young adults not finding their faith in their parents church?
Brian McLaren asks the question in a recent post.

These families share something in common: their young adult kids are not easily finding their places in the church of their parents. The problem is widespread. I have been in two groups of pastors lately where someone asked how many of our post-high-school kids were actively involved in the church. No pastor in either group had a majority of his kids involved in the church; most had no kids actively involved.

Mike Sares replies that it is the drive for “excellence” is driving young adults from the church

Today’s young adults see a generation of baby-boomer Christians that has striven for "excellence" in every part of church life. Boomers proclaimed in the 1980s that image is everything, and their churches have reflected that cultural trend. The nurseries have got to be sparkling clean, the church buildings are marvelously functional as opposed to artistic, the music is as close to FM radio quality as possible (even if they must hire a band), the Sunday services are seamless with perfect transitions (just like television), the preaching is entertaining and informative (but not so deep as to offend visitors), and the plants on stage are beautiful (but artificial).

As a result, according to Dieter Zander, the next generation has concluded that "everything is image," and therefore nothing can be trusted. Church is too slick, too good, too polished to be real. And the twenty-something hunger for raw authenticity just doesn’t fit in.

(posted aug 27

on a 'day off' while on mission in sri lanka, i was talking with a twenty-something (whatever that means) friend of mine about this phenomenon.

in the late 80's and on into the 90's, the quest for quality became the new (or not so new) idolatry... at the expense of relationships. as part of this battle for a culturally relevant environment in reaction to the christian counterculture that had risen up with its own radio and television stations, its own celebrities, colloquialisms and inside jokes, the family of God became institutional with a capital I. although there was a real drive to, by means of a quality production, reach those who had yet to hear and respond to the gospel, the whole relational element of evangelism and discipleship became almost secondary to the correcting of the mistakes of the church's forefathers and, with boomers at the helm, the assembled church became this thing that was the anithesis of everything the they had restlessly sat through growing up.

and so now the next generation of pastors and worshipers slowly (or not so slowly) moves into position to take hold of the wheel and turn this thing off of the superhighway and into the bush where their adventure is.

great. boomers, step back.

here's the thing, though. within every new reactionary method, there is wisdom and there is folly. just as the pursuit of 'quality' was great for reminding us that our best was important to give to God, it also belched out a bi-product of mass spectatorship. people started inviting their friends to church because of the programming, the music, the yada yada yada and stopped inviting them to Jesus. it was possible in this environment for one to be in active ministry, having perfect church service attendance for a decade or more without ever actually connecting with God one-on-one.

with gatherings so well-produced and facilities so shiny-looking, it was easy for many to slide back into consumer-mode simply because they felt somehow unworthy to serve in the upfront stuff and were mildly unaware of (or, let's face it, disinterested in) the behind the scenes stuff. social marginalization took place in the church and one of the key groups that felt marginalized, as cited above in the observations of brian d. mclaren and dieter zander, was the group of younger people that would grow up to eventually inherit this monstrosity.

it wasn't, in our church's case anyway, that the youth and younger adults were excluded from invitations to serve. it was simply that the time commitment implied by involvement in many of the ministries, what with some pretty intense type-A leadership styles and over-achieving work ethics, left little room for a life. it became quite common for everyone to be about reaching a hypothetical crowd with the gospel, since very few of us actually had any time left in our lives to develop relationships with those who weren't doing the same ministries, much less with those who didn't know Jesus.

so many of the prodigal heirs left home without their inheritance.

they were not abandoning their faith as such... they were simply checking out of the infrastructure before they got stuck trying to maintain something that they didn't believe in- something that had air so conditioned that they were left feeling a bit chilly, daydreaming of the beach.

house-churches and alternative services now rise up to attend to all the failings of the I-Me-Mine church. fair enough. in the tradition of their fathers, a new generation of church leaders moves into position to have a go at seeing the great commission realized.

i only hope that new approaches to authenticity in faith and fellowship result in a deeper walk for all generations, not just in producing environments where the children growing up in these emerging churches 'fix it all' again when they come of age by returning to the hard wooden pews, hellfire and brimstone homilies and eloquent hymnals of their grandparents' worship experience and tradition. otherwise we're just riding a generational wrecking ball back and forth as it destroys worship environments to the left and to the right in a forty-year arch.

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Blogger Cinder said...

"they were not abandoning their faith as such... they were simply checking out before they got stuck trying to maintain something that they didn't believe in- something that had air so conditioned that they were left feeling a bit chilly, daydreaming of the beach."

great post jb! this quote explains where i was at when i chose to leave my childhood denomination. people thought i was abandoning things, but i was simply looking for something that suited who i was and what i needed. i wasn't dismissing where i came from, but simply acknowledging that it wasn't what i needed if i expected to strengthen and have any concreted relationship in Christ.

it makes you dizzy sometimes seeing the pendulum swing so radically from one side to the other. i think many try to find something which will please everyone and the truth is that you'll never please everyone.

i recently had a discussion with a family member who felt our church choice wasn't the best for our family. because i knew it was, i carried on the discussion and eventually got to the wasn't the church they would pick for them and for some reason, that should come into our decision-making in finding a church for our family. my response to them was that we pick our church based on our family's needs and it exceeds and is exactly what we need...we don't pick our church for when extended family comes to visit, we pick it for us!

i think as we listen at a deeper level to where Christ wants the church to go, we will begin to find a more gradual process of change and maybe finding some points of common ground, instead of swinging around like a wrecking ball after a certain number of years!

Blogger SocietyVs said...

Great post Beggar! I hear this resentment sounding in many of the blogs of the Gen-Xer's who I talk with on a almost daily basis (in blogs I mean). The 'kids aren't alright' I suppose.

I welcome the change to the existing structure and almost demand it, if I can be so bold. Church let me and a lot of people around me down, it just wasn't all it had cracked up to be (or claimed to be). I left for 6 years to find out what I wanted from church, what was the purpose, and who really is Jesus anyways? I came back with better answers by leaving (wilderness experience) and then coming back (to the synagogue) only to say I 'won't play that game'. Love those biblical analogies.

I see the need for caution in that single question 'what should the church become to be relevant?'. Even I am searching for that answer, I am onto something, but I can't say I cracked that problem. I guess my biggest thing is taking the church into reality, this realm...armed with the idea's of helping those in their neighborhoods. Developing programs that deal with the issues around us and not ignoring them anymore. I guess I want a 'gospel' that helps people, accepts people, cares about their plight and offers them some semblance of a home. I want real community for God. Will I ever get it? Yes.

One thing I learned is I am not alone in my plight for a different way of doing church. Guess I came back to challenge the ideal that church has to be a power structure when in reality that power is a 'supposed' one. There is no need for a power structure anymore, it was wrong to base a church in the idea of 'some hold the ministry' while 'others are ministered too'. It's both arrogant and misses the point of the whole community being ministers. I guess this is my type of 'hell-fire' but I base it in the now, not the then.

Blogger jollybeggar said...

that's right. the writings of paul to the early church seem to be all about affirming the role that each member has in the larger body.

it is important to remember that some are given to be leaders and pastors and teachers and the like, but that this doesn't make them hierarchically above others... only holding a different role.

leaders have to lead. it's one of their divine endowments from God. likewise, those who have not been given this role need not resent it, but rather just recognize that, without them- the ones who are called to follow visionary and empowering leadership- the leaders are not able to attend to their responsibilities in the body of Christ.

sometimes i think that we canadians with our authority-figure issues sometimes forget this, choosing instead to quote randall from the film 'time bandits' in either word or action.

R: do YOU want to be the leader?

OTHER: no, we agreed no leaders.

R: right, so shut up and do what i say!


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