As we continue our Sunday morning study of Nehemiah, we’re continuing to learn from Nehemiah’s consistent example of persevering faith. Nehemiah has faced enemies, obstacles, and discouragements from near and far, but he has kept his eye on the ball – both as a leader and as a follower of God.
In our pursuit as a church family to become a missional community more than an edifice or an institution, we likewise experience our ups and downs along the way. Sometimes it feels like two steps forward, and three back, but we’re learning that there is great joy to be found in the journey itself. Christ is with us! He is all we need.
I haven’t taken up the subject of Millennials in a couple of months, and I want to keep our heart for that generation alive – so please bear with me as I make a few observations and suggestions for life on mission in and beyond Paducah. First of all, make no mistake, the statistical trends are still clearly in the direction of fewer and fewer of our neighbors identifying with any religion at all. And Millennials specifically, by every indicator that I can get my hands on, are “leaving Christianity” in record numbers (compared to any previous generation). A psychology professor at San Diego State, Jean Twenge, connects this trend – at least in part – to a steady leftward drift among Millennials on key social issues. As an expert on America’s religious habits, Dr. Twenge bases this link on extensive research. Said another way (by me), evangelical Christianity feels more and more distant from most Millennials.
Is there any good news in all of this? Yes. Among those Millennials who do profess faith in Christ, around 96% claim that the Bible is the actual or inspired Word of God. This statistic is in fact considerably higher than the same measurement of the U.S. population at large. Please allow me to translate that: Millennials, once committed, tend to be all in! And Millennials rank Scripture reading as more important than other spiritual disciplines. Perhaps God is preparing Millennial Christians in our day to shake their own generation with Biblical truth. The thought of such a bright light shining among American Millennials in our day should bring gladness to our souls.
Now for some (graciously offered, I pray) suggestions for us as a church family …
- We need to be careful that our political commentary does not overshadow our gospel hope.
If my research is on-target, today’s young adult Christians will track with us in terms of Scripture and even theology. But they have cut their teeth on liberal media, so they’re very unlikely to respond favorably to rhetoric that is more political than Christian in tone. This reality ought to be a very positive check for us, and should drive us back to the Bible, as we never want our main message to be anything other than Jesus Christ. After all, every political worldview has its strengths and its weaknesses – but the only Truth that counts for eternity is Christ. A 2014 Deloitte survey found that Millennials get easily frustrated by the paralysis of indecision that is often caused by outdated procedures and bureaucracies. Let’s show them a church that is less cold-hearted institution and more warm-hearted Christ!
- We need to be honest about our own mistakes, and about our own brokenness.
The Millennial generation has been raised on “tolerance” – but tolerance has a huge downside. Today’s version of tolerance – though this never appears in the glossy brochure – is actually apathetic toward honesty. Let me explain what I mean. Politically correct tolerance demands that we “love people for who they are.” Let me ask you something. Is anyone really happy just being “who we are?” No, we’re not. We all recognize that we need to grow and change. Contemporary “tolerance” robs us of that opportunity. In sharp contrast, Christianity calls us to something higher and better: being conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29)! If we want Millennials to tap with us into the only hope of real life-change, then we’ve got to be honest with them about how far we have to go as well. Honest about our own failures, weaknesses, and regrets. No one will ever admit their spiritual brokenness if the church feels like a museum full of proud people who always have their act together.
- We need to pursue Christ’s kingdom even more passionately than we pursue cultural transformation.
Together in Christ, let’s call Millennials – and everyone else – to radical kingdom living! Jesus said (John 18:36): “My kingdom is not of this world.” As Christ’s life is lived in and through us, His light and salt will bring with it transformative real-world impact in a myriad of ways. But it’s Christ’s life, and not our revolution. As a strong believer in the sovereignty of God, I contend that God must choose us. But I also believe that we must choose Christ (Joshua 24:15). Brendan Carr, a Millennial Christian himself, offers this challenge: “In Jesus, we are free. He came to free us from sin and death … Try regularly praying for freedom from anything that holds you back from being your highest self. It is a powerful prayer, and in the end, it is the greatest motivation of the human heart.”
I’m choosing to see the glass half-full. I’m choosing to see these as gospel-hopeful times. I’m choosing to be all in.
What say you?