Allow me to be my snarky self for a bit, here. It has been all over the news media for the past few days, in a report by the Pew Research Center, that those of the Millennial generation are leaving the church in droves. Leave it to the press to publish whatever negative stuff that attracts readers, but not to tell the whole (and often exciting) story. If one probes deeply enough into all that is behind this, it is not all that surprising—especially if one is any kind of a student of what the New Testament teaches about the church is, and how it is to be put together.

In those early days of the Christians church’s birth in the Roman Empire, and in many places of the earth today, one professes one’s faith in Jesus Christ in the context of a very hostile and dangerous setting, so that a person does not casually name the name of Jesus lest it cost him/her, his life and his security. Yet it was and is in such places that the church often defies all reason, and becomes an unimaginably joyous and transformational force. Why? The simple fact is that in such contexts, persons who are confronted with the message that Jesus is, in fact, the answer to the mystery hidden for ages, … and that he is the one by and for whom all things were created, … and that he has come to inaugurate a whole New Creation … then look at such an unimaginable proposition, consider the implications and consequences of it, and decide that it either is, or is not, true. In such contexts, no one jumps in without looking. Jesus makes no secret in his teachings that to become his disciple can cost one his life. This doesn’t produce fragile followers. It is also true that where persons encounter such claims, encounter the life and teachings of Jesus, and then turn and make him, his person, his work, his teachings the focus of their lives, that lives are set free from within, given meaning, acceptance, and hope rippling with a subliminal joy. Such a converting experience in their lives is undeniable. This has happened in ten thousand times ten thousand times over the centuries, and is still happening.So why are Millennials leaving the church in this country in droves? Maybe it is because the ‘churches’ that they are leaving are so shabbily formed, that they have never equipped their members carefully investigate all of the other gospels of this world, and have been too protective, so that they are fragile and vulnerable to every passing cultural virus.

After all, after World War II and in the optimism of that era, too many churches in this country went on a binge of building grand new church buildings, and engaging in colorful membership drives, what with competition between church communities for every potential candidate. But note: Jesus and the New Testament writers never, never even suggested that such church institutions were any part of its calling. Jesus commanded that his followers make disciples, teaching them to observe all that he had taught and commanded them. Such disciple making would create a New Humanity in which Jesus dwelt by his own Spirit, and would equip them to be strong light and leaven right in the midst of all of the other corrosive ‘lords and loyalties’ that were ever seeking to prevail against them, … and to form colonies of such disciples. So in the ensuing generations since World War II we have produced too many such churches that only expressed a religious Christianity, i.e. that used the Christian language, and recruited ‘members’ to support the institutions, but did not form convinced, and converted, and contagious disciples of Jesus Christ. And so who is surprised that such products of the Millennial generation should forsake such irrelevant church settings, and look for another reality? But—take note—the other side of the story is that there are those many Christian communities, including large numbers of Millennials, that are dynamic and growing and are hugely influential in their settings. Those are the realities that the press seems happy to ignore. Such communities of Millennials are sometimes large and vibrant and visible, more often under radar in coffee shops, homes, casual settings, … but are equipping their participants to be tough-minded disciples of Jesus Christ. There is a whole new emergence of such on the scene. Take note Pew Research folk!

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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