None & Done?

If you ask a lady in a black tunic what she is, and you ask many young people what kind of faith they have, their answer will sound the same, but mean completely different things – Nun, and None. You’ve heard of the rise of the Nones, haven’t you? Not little ladies in religious habits, but young people who’ve given up religious habits.

The rise of the Nones (people, many of them young, who claim to be atheist, agnostic, or have no religious affiliation) has caused no small amount of angst. As young people exit the Church, with hardly a wave goodbye – or, who have no experience with church, or desire to experience church – there are plenty of people sounding the alarm bells. Understandably so. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 1 out of 3 millennials (born between 1981 & 1996) claim to be a None. Nearly 1 out of 4 American adults now identifies as a None. Or, put another way: for every person in America who moves from outside a religious community into one, four are going out the door in the opposite direction.

Not only are they disconnected from communities of faith, they are very skeptical of Christians. Of young people in our country who don’t participate in church, Barna says that 87% say they see Christians as judgmental, and 85% label us as hypocritical. And when given a choice of four images that they believe best represent the Church, most millennials (and most Americans) pick the picture of a pointed finger hovering over an open Bible. barna church images

There’s no sugar-coating it. These stats and facts are hard to swallow. American millennials – and Americans – are rapidly changing. The old assumptions don’t work for us anymore; we can no longer take faith for granted in the wider culture.

All of this can lead those of us who carry the name of Jesus to be pretty discouraged. Or frustrated. Or fearful. Or resigned to the way things are now. Or apathetic. Even angry.

Which of those words would I pick to describe our current situation? None. (Pun intended.) The word those stats point me to? Opportunity.

I see our current reality as a real opportunity to really be what we say we are; to really live what Jesus calls us to live. Instead of agonizing over the rapid changes in our culture and the resulting skepticism, we have an opportunity to stop taking things for granted, and get busy being the Church.

And what millennials need to see is a Church that loves like Jesus loved, and values what Jesus valued. People. The hurting, the heartbroken, the hopeless. Millennials – and all Nones of all varieties – need to see followers of Jesus who are focused on what matters, united around grace and pouring it out in ample supply.

The days for arguing over unimportant stuff are over. But so are the days of trying to entertain or excite people with the latest and greatest. Instead, the path for a renewed Church is rather simple: Live and love like Jesus. Speak his truth, not sacrificing grace or truth. And don’t just talk about grace; live it. Worry less about what people think about Church, and point them to Jesus. Be less focused on their hairstyle, or tattoos, or clothing choices, and see in them someone to love.

What if every millennial had a parent or grandparent-type person (biological or spiritual) who cared so much for them that they met them right where they are, staying connected to them, loving them like Jesus loves them? What if, instead of worrying so much about how we do worship, we spent more time caring about who is missing from worship? And what if, instead of seeing the younger generation as people to preach at, we see them as persons to welcome into?

All of it, I think, begins when we see this present age, not as something to fear, but as a season to embrace – to receive as a God-given opportunity to show His grace to a new generation.

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The Point of Church

Everybody comes to a church service on Sunday, looking for something. For some, that something is inspiring worship and engaging preaching. For others, it’s a sacramental experience and a sense of authenticity. For still others, it’s to feel something – and still others, it’s cultural relevance. In some ways, I guess, the list for what people expect on Sunday is as long as the list of people who come on Sunday.

We’re told that millennials are leaving the church in droves. And this rise of the “Nones” – who claim no connection to Church or organized religion – is a cause for concern that has churches responding different ways. Some seek to be on the cutting edge of church – with cool music, the right ambiance, and a hip preacher. Others seek to be authentic, and focus on a spiritual experience. Both, it seems to me, can work – and are working.

But it causes me to wonder: in both cases, is the focus on the wrong place? In both cases, are we trying to figure out what millennials want – instead of what they need? For that matter, do we try to do that with every generation and group within the Church?

It’s so easy to do what I mentioned in last week’s blog – divide people up by voting bloc. And while it’s no surprise that political candidates do this, should we do this in the Church? Should we be asking: What do millennials want? Or seniors? Or single people?

Instead, should we be asking: What do they NEED?

In strikes me that Church will always be one step behind culture when it comes to trying to figure out how to appeal to people’s wishes, wants, and desires. How would we ever think we could beat Madison Avenue and Hollywood at their own game? For that matter, why would we want to?

Our job isn’t to meet wants or felt-needs, but to point people to Jesus. To lead them into His presence, where they are changed. This doesn’t mean we ignore methods, or opportunities. It doesn’t mean church should look like it did in the Golden Age (whenever that was). In fact, churches often think they are standing on principle when they choose to resist change – when, in fact, often they are standing on traditionalism. This is when we confuse method with message. Tradition is the truth handed down through the Church through the ages. Traditionalism is the way WE feel most comfortable handing down that truth. And frankly, in too many churches, traditionalism trumps the tradition.

All of this is to say: There are plenty of ways to get church wrong, and only one way to be sure we get it right. Focus on Jesus. Trust the Spirit to guide. Lead people into the presence of God. And all of this is done with the goal of changed lives – lives changed by encountering the very real presence of a Living God.

If this is our goal, and our direction, how we do worship quickly fades behind the more important issue: Who we worship.

So, give me a cool band, or no instruments at all. Give me a preacher who is 28 and hip, or 78 and needing a hip replacement. Turn off the lights and light the candles, or turn up the lights and pull out the hymnal. Sit in a pew in a grand cathedral, on a folding chair in a “big-box” church, or grab a patch of dry ground under an olive tree. Share communion in little cups filled with Welch’s, or in a chalice filled with wine. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, or a prayer from the heart.

None of these are the point. The point is simply: what helps bring us into the presence of God, where we can be changed? What matters most is not what we see and feel, but what is and what becomes. And what is, is God. Among us. With us. Leading us to become more like Jesus. And that’s worship where every one can find their place.

And that’s it. Unless you, dear reader, are a part of the church I serve – Fern Creek Christian. If so, read on. Sunday, the sanctuary will look a little different. With renovations nearing completion, we are beginning to use the new lights we have installed. This means that, beginning this Sunday, the sanctuary might feel different to you. Some will like it. Some, I’m sure, will not.

I only ask that you remember what matters most: now how we feel, but what we become. So, while I am very grateful for all that we have accomplished in our building renovations, I am most excited about what God is accomplishing in our lives.

There’s No Way to Replace Mom

Have you heard about the Pain Experience Camp? If it doesn’t sound like the kind of summer camp experience you’d like, you’re probably right. The Pain Experience Camp is put on by a hospital in China, and it’s designed for dads. Simply put, the men have electrodes attached to their abdomen, through which they receive electric shocks – in an attempt to feel what their wives feel when they are giving birth.

“The pain is intended to create more loving and caring husbands,” says the hospital’s general manager. One Chinese man, Li Mengke, received the “treatment,” and described it as creating a three-part sensation: “hot steel balls dropping on his stomach and then a hook being gouged into him, followed by the ripping of his innards.”

Ouch.

But here’s the thing. The electric shock is only applied to the guy for 3-5 minutes. Three to five minutes!

Big deal, I can hear most moms say. That’s nothin’.

And you’re right. But apparently it’s enough to get a taste of what moms go through. At least, it was enough for Li Mengke. After his Pain Experience Camp, he had one response. “I treated her to a French dinner,” he said.

You see, there simply is no replacing a mother.

Not that people don’t try. Nina Keneally is a real mom of two who also works as a mom. At her website, she offers to be a mom for millennials who are looking for mom-type help, without having to worry about their actual mom nagging them, or criticizing their new hair color. For $40 an hour, she will listen (non-judgmentally), help with your resume, iron your shirt, or make you a pecan pie. She will even send your real mom a present for you, if you want her to (and pay her, of course).

Of course, Nina knows she can’t replace a real mom. But she does remind us that we all need a mom-type figure in our lives. No matter how you were raised or how old you are, you still need someone to listen to you, encourage you – and, yes, even tell you that your new electric-red hair looks goofy.

So, don’t forget mom this weekend. And if your mom isn’t (or wasn’t) there for you, pray for her. Consider how you might show her some grace. Or forgiveness. At the same time, find someone to encourage you with a good listening ear – someone who will do it, not for money, but because they love you, like a mom.