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The Millennials are Leaving the Church!  

The Millennials are leaving the church!
The Millennials are leaving the church!


Seems like every blog, every book publisher is trumpeting the ecclesiastical crisis of the moment: younger folks are leaving church.

We hear all about how they're sick and tired of the veneer that boomers have called Christianity…how they're weary of being “hurt” by church...ignored and even judged by the previous generation. We read surveys that highlight the mass exodus of Millennials. But I, for one, want to say, “Just hold on a minute!”

It's one thing to say, “I'm in a bad marriage.” Or “I wish this relationship didn't strain me.” It's quite another to get a divorce and universally declare the idea of marriage itself as broken.

But in unplugging from church as an institution—that's what many Millennials are really doing--they're divorcing themselves from church.

When you receive Jesus as your Savior, you—in effect—are saying, “I've signed up for a relationship that I intend to honor...until death us do part.” That relationship is with the bride of Christ—inevitably and only expressed in the church universal AND a local fellowship. Even if—and when—the church fails us, it is never an option for us to simply unplug from the idea of church itself.

Understand I'm not saying it's wrong to switch churches—and maybe find a local fellowship that's more millennial oriented. But I AM saying that throwing out the entire notion of church is biblically wrong.

So while I feel the pain of the Millennials (I actually find myself more aligned with their frame of thinking than that of boomers), I find their exodus from church untenable and unacceptable.

Because Dad and Mom might have called it quits over “irreconcilable differences” in their marriage, doesn't give Millennials the right to do so with church. Neither choice is biblical.

Someone needs to say “While you have the right to express your pain, your dissatisfaction, you do NOT have the right to walk away”--to throw the bride of Christ aside in search of a self-actualized spirituality. So I say, let's get together—Millennials and boomers—and fix what's wrong...rather than abandon it.

“Do not forget to assemble yourselves together” is not optional advice. It's a command—not just for boomers, but also Millennials.

 
Sacred Silence  

You've heard the expression, “there was an awkward silence.”   Or... “There was an uncomfortable pause in the conversation.”  Increasingly, I'm noticing that ANY silence is awkward for most people.

Imagine eating out a restaurant...without music blaring in the background.  Heaven forbid we should actually be able to hear each other converse without straining.  (By the way—exactly what IS the advantage to it being so loud that you have to yell to be heard?).

Or try to imagine shopping in a store without a pulsing pounding musical background that's really in the foreground.  

But the assault on solitude has likewise infiltrated the church.  Take communion service for example.  I've probably taken part in communion in 50 different churches.  And almost every single one of them features music as the bread and juice are shared.   This is supposed to be the time when we follow the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 11:28 to “examine ourselves” lest we fail to discern “the Lord's body.” 

I'm not suggesting that music in the background at communion is wrong.  But I am suggesting it's a problem when we can't NOT have it.  When we can’t just have silence....and pray. 

The reality is, we're so used to getting into our cars and turning on the radio...so used to hitting the health club with our ear buds and smart phone or mp3 player...calm is no longer calming. We have so jammed and crammed our lives full of iTunes and iPhones and iPads, there's no room left for “I pause.   I ponder.”  And  silence—valued as “golden” in previous generations--is seen today as a rusted relic.  Just plain awkward.

But how can we expect to “Be Still and know that God is God” if the soundtrack of our lives is always pumping?  How can we learn to meditate on the Word of God...when we've already allowed other background sounds to compete for part of our meditative focus? 

We need a return to quiet.  Planned pauses.  Sacred solitude. 

 
  

In all the world, it is doubtful that any single spot recollects more agony per acre than Israel's Yad Vashem--the Holocaust museum in downtown Jerusalem.

Within its cement walkways, there is more sadness per square inch than any place I have ever visited.

In addition to what you might expect--photos, letters, artifacts--there was something I had NOT expected: video testimonials.  Large monitors by the dozens recounted the personal agonies of holocaust survivors.  

Behind glass display cases, I saw things I wish I had not: a collection of shoes taken from people entering death camps....faces of men who would be shot just seconds later...photos of rabbis who had just been hung...

In one display there were gallon sized cans of pellets used in gas chambers. 

To me what is most disturbing is that in many instances, these were neighbors committing atrocities against former neighbors. The difference?   One set of neighbors had so dehumanized the other that any proper sense of evil had vanished.

When a neighbor is transformed into a nameless, faceless, worthless lump, the road from greeting them to gassing them is very short indeed.

In many ways, evangelical Christians today are undergoing a similar kind of dehumanization that the Jews experienced in World War II.

It begins with unkind stereotypes--"Bible thumpers", "Jesus freaks".  It progresses toward increasingly vicious labels, as Christians are now often said to be as dangerous as terrorists or the Taliban.

Once dehumanization is achieved, the step toward outright persecution is both natural and easy.

Christians, beware: Israel's Yad Vashem is more than a cross section of cruelty past.  It is a faithful mirror of an evil alive and well. 

 
The Lady Behind the Curtain  

As I write this, I am sitting in a hospital where my wife is recovering from surgery.  A mere curtain separates me from a conversation between the lady in bed #2 and those trying to give her the care she needs. 

“Do you have any children?” the team asks.

“Two grown sons.”

 

“Do they live in the area?” the team inquires further.

“I don't know” is the woman's reply.

 

“You don't know where they live?”

“No.”

 

“When was the last time you saw them?”

“About a year ago.”

 

“Did you have a falling out?”

“Our family's always fallin' out” comes the lady's sad reply.

 

“How often do you drink?”

“Every day.”

 

“How much?”

“Almost a gallon of vodka.”

 

“How long?”

“Thirty years.  No.  Wait.  I've only been on vodka for 15 years.”

 

“Do you use drugs?”

“No.  Yes. Only on weekends.  With my boyfriend.”

 

“Have you been admitted previously to a psychiatric unit?”

“A lot.”

 

The lady moans constantly and cries out violently in her dreams (or are they withdrawal tremors?). She is nauseous and calls over to my wife, who is on the other side of the curtain, recovering from kidney surgery.

A friend's text suggests that Christ would have us show this woman His love. But how do you love someone on the other side of a curtain?  What would Jesus think or say or do?

The woman throws up, and I assure her I will summon a nurse.  She thanks me. Maybe that's the first step.

Twenty minutes pass and the lady mentions an AA Bible on her chair.  I get up the boldness to read to her from John 3, explaining and extending Jesus' invitation to be born again. Her answer is confusing and morphs back into her drinking problems. 

Honestly, I am grateful I am not her.  Yet even as pride seeps in, I am reminded that this woman's ultimate problem—and mine—are both spelled the same: S-I-N.

I’m still wondering—as should we all—how do I reach out to the person behind the curtain?

 
Lost in Wonder  

It is a strange moment.

As I write this, my wife and I are on our way to meet a new family member.  Our grandson.

He has been alive for eight hours.  But we have not met him.  Do not know him.  We’re desperate to see him, grab him, love him.  But it hasn’t happened yet.

Strange.  His fingerprints bear my DNA...there is something of ME in him...somewhere.   Yet I really don't know him. 

Lord willing, we will look back years from now and talk—together--about “when he was a teeny tiny baby.”  There will be shared experiences and funny sayings and laughable moments.   That is all before us.  But right now, I've never held him, never touched him. Never heard his voice.  Never even laid eyes on him...other than the two photos our daughter texted.  Like I say, it is a strange moment.

I am drawn to the mystery captured in David's prayer in Psalms 139:

 

Psa 139:13  You are the one who put me together inside my mother's body,

Psa 139:14  and I praise you because of the wonderful way you created me. Everything you do is marvelous! Of this I have no doubt.

Psa 139:15  Nothing about me is hidden from you! I was secretly woven together deep in the earth below,

Psa 139:16  but with your own eyes you saw my body being formed. Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything I would do.

Psa 139:17  Your thoughts are far beyond my understanding, much more than I could ever imagine.

 

There are times in life when writers like me are unable to write.  Unable to find words that paint the pictures in my heart.  I can only see them.  Sense them.  Ponder them.

As I say...it is a strange moment.

I am thoroughly…totally…lost in wonder.

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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