As church planters, my husband and I have been through quite a bit of training and coaching in the past few years. As I’m sure you’ve probably noticed, studying and understanding the millennial generation is kind of a big deal these days. We look at trends and polls to see just exactly what is going on with this generation that has been leaving the church in droves. My husband and I actually fall into the Millennial category (he more so than I), so it’s been really interesting delving into the thought processes of our peers.
One of the main themes we’ve seen from studying our generation is that authenticity is a HUGE deal to us. We want to be free to express our doubts, fears, and just our REAL selves without the fear of being judged or answered with platitudes and pat answers. We are not big fans of wearing masks. I LOVE that about my generation. With all our flaws, at least we are willing to own them (sounds like a Bastille song)! We are tired of playing games.
It’s easy to sit back and blame the people who leave the church. I know because I’ve done it myself.Surely it’s not OUR fault they’re leaving. But have we really done some honest self-reflection? Are we willing to at least LISTEN to the concerns of those who have left our ranks? Are we willing to take our own masks off and admit that maybe – just MAYBE – we have been part of the problem?
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a Christian family. They did everything “right” for the most part. They went to church 3 times a week, and the dad was even the part-time preacher of the little congregation they attended. The mom was a stay-at-home mom and home-schooled their 3 girls. The dad was an educated man with a respectable secular job. Everything looked great from the outside.
But they had a secret.
The dad had a drinking problem. It was starting to get out of hand. The mom didn’t know what to do. He was still “functional” (as most alcoholics are). He held down his regular job and his supplemental preaching gig without anyone knowing what was really going on. It was agonizing sometimes, the chaos of not knowing what to do. The mom asked a few trusted friends for help. They said, “I’ll pray for you,” but they had no idea what else to do. “It’s not our sin to confess,” the mom and daughters would say. So it continued.
The oldest daughter eventually moved out and married. The second daughter went to college. Still the problem continued. One day, something miraculous happened: a godsend by the name of Mike crossed their path. He, too, was once in the same predicament as the dad, but he had finally “hit bottom.” After he had lost almost everything, a church had taken him in, and it was his mission to help others if he possibly could. Mike helped the family through intervention. The dad entered a 12-step program and became sober for the first time in years. The family was, of course, grateful, but still the lingering question…
Why?? Why did this awful cycle continue for so long?
I’ll tell you why: fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of taking off the mask we all wear and actually being genuine and known for who we really are. Fear of authenticity.
By now, you have probably figured out that I was one of those daughters, the oldest, in fact. We consider ourselves immeasurably blessed to be where we are today, having been in recovery for 7 years.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the same experience we did. Some people, for whatever reasons, would rather leave their church than face their congregations with the reality of who they really are and what they really think. Why??
Because they’re tired of pretending.
Because they’re afraid of rejection, having seen it firsthand.
Because they just haven’t seen the church deal with their questions in a healthy way.
Because church doesn’t feel SAFE.
Why do you think they would have that impression? It isn’t coming out of thin air.
I realize that some of those who leave do so for other reasons. But I have studied and visited with enough de-churched millennials to know that many of them are struggling with issues that their church — the very place they should be able to have authentic community — just wasn’t able to address in a healthy way. Maybe it’s having an open discussion regarding LGBT issues. Maybe it’s a secret struggle that they feel is unspeakable for “church” people. Maybe they feel that science and the church’s traditional, unwavering interpretation of the Bible is just too big of a hurdle to jump.
And so they leave.
I left out a big part of my family’s story. The part about what happened once our family secret was all laid out in the open. Guess what? The sky didn’t fall. Our little community supported us, cried with us, and helped us through the ups and downs. My dad still preaches for that little congregation where I grew up.
And that is one of the big reasons why church planting is in my blood. Because I realize that not everyone has had the same positive experience I have. I have seen the dark side of church, too, of not wanting “those people” sitting in the pews alongside us, with our airs of purity and holiness. I want to help create a healthy community, one like I have been blessed with. A place where you can be you, where we can face reality and deal with it together, in a healthy way. No pretending, no masks. As they say in recovery, “You’re as sick as your secrets.” So, so true.
So whether it’s doubts, secrets, resentments, or anything else, I have found that healing and understanding come through confessing those things and praying for them within a healthy community (James 5:16). For too long we have swept things that we have found too difficult to deal with under the rug. We have dismissed people for leaving the church when the reality is that it’s our perverted communities they have really rejected.
So let’s do better, church. Let’s stop being stumbling blocks and start building bridges. It starts with US, by creating a safe place to voice concerns. And that means stepping out of our own denial, and admitting that we, too, have some things to confess. Are we going to identify with the Pharisee or admit that we have more in common with the tax collector?
Luke 18:9-14: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”