“Kids are leaving!”
“Change or die!”
“The church is doooomed!”
It has become quite trendy in the church to make sweeping pronouncements such as these. Consultants, coaches, superintendents, bloggers, experts of various levels of expertise, and so on - all seem to be chipping in these days about how awful the situation is, and getting worse every moment.
If you have read my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably read something I have written on this topic. I find myself a bit outside of the mainstream when it comes to questions of the church’s imminent demise. I’m not inclined to hand-wringing and navel-gazing. Instead, I find myself inclined toward resurrection.
It is from that perspective that I read the piece that made its way around the interwebs last week. It was called “Why Millenials areLeaving the Church,” written by Rachel Held Evans.
I almost always like reading what Rachel Held Evans has to say. She writes a lot, and I haven’t read everything she’s written, but what I have read I like. But I will admit that I definitely cringed when I saw the title to her recent post on CNN.com. “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church” is a title that sets the stage for another hand-wringing, navel-gazing lament.
At first, I was upset with the generalization that an entire generation of people has a rather uniform critique of religion that the church was struggling to hear and understand. Been there, heard that. At first, it was just more of the navel-gazing same. But then I realized that this was clearly not just another “Change or Die” piece written by a church insider.
“We long for Jesus,” she said. “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we long for Jesus.”
Evans’ short (and easy to read - I hope you do) piece is a call for substance, for meaning, for theology. It is a call to rid ourselves of obsession over superficial style and moralistic sermonizing and reclaim the depth, the complexity, the challenge of truly following Jesus.
Yes! Yes, please, and more of it.
Now … Can we please not frame that in “I-told-you-so” language? Can we please not write hand-wringing headlines for pieces with such life-affirming truth? Could we please re-do the prelude to this service so that it doesn’t set such a negative tone for the proclamation of the Good News?
The church does not need to change because we are dying.
Rather, the church is changing because God is at work in the world.
The choice that faces church leadership is not whether to change or not. The choice that faces church leadership is how exactly we will cooperate with the vast and transformative changes that clearly are taking place. These changes, I believe, are no less than a great resurrection movement of the Holy Spirit.
Much of that movement seems to be taking place outside of the outdated structures of the church. It’s happening over in the garden while the disciples are sitting in a locked room, wringing our hands and worrying. However, many, many churches are responding to that new movement in exciting and creative ways, and that’s where I believe church leaders need to place our focus.
No need to wring hands, no need to lament, no need to get all worried! God is doing a powerful, wonderful, brand new thing. A healthy doctrine of resurrection will convince you of that.
Come on, church. Let’s go out to the garden with Mary and see what God’s up to these days.