Ministering to Millennials (PART VI – My Recommendations regarding Social Renovation, Drama, Apologetics, and Change)

(image credit to workforce.com)

(image credit to workforce.com)

Redemption and Renovation, Not Avoidance

As mentioned previously under the “Judgmental/Exclusive” section, Millennials don’t like the idea of running away from the world and hiding. They’d much rather enter, impact, and improve existing institutions. It’s not as though there isn’t historical precedent for such an idea either. Historian Rodney Stark reasons that the early church, instead of creating their own institutions, were known for joining and enriching existing ones.[1]

In other words, Christians today have the resources to build private schools, make Christian pop music and Christian movies and Christian TV and radio stations, and basically mirror and Christianize nearly everything we see in the world. Millennials appear more interested in popping that bubble and working to better the world, the institutions, and the people around us.

What implications this has for our churches and church body is hard to say. We have a long history of privatized schools. Perhaps the main issue that comes up today regarding the continuance of this system is birth rate. If our church body doesn’t grow, our schools will shrink due to decreasing birth rates. A separate issue, however, is that Millennials are probably going to be even more difficult to convince that such exclusion is necessary…or good. And when it comes to the survival of an institution, as far as recruitment is concerned, leadership is going to have to be very careful to not cross a line of binding consciences to what Christian nurture and education must look like.

Finally, another important aspect of this topic is the realm of vocation. As already mentioned, countless Christians have difficulty attaching meaning to their current work lives in the secular world. In fact, it’s not uncommon for adult Christians, once they experience some period of spiritual growth, to take that as God’s hand moving them into fulltime public ministry. Their current employment is not viewed as spiritual enough. While public ministry may be a legitimate option and noble pursuit for some adults, for others, it is not. Adults need to be able to think through what infusing their work environment with gospel grace would look like – patience, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, etc.

Millennials prefer to redeem what exists if possible, not avoid it and create a separate alternative.

Make Christianity as Dramatic As It Is

The next generation of Christians doesn’t appear to want easy. They seem to want their lives attached to a meaningful narrative that involves high expectations, sacrifice, and surrender. Would you expect less from a generation that was largely shaped in the movie theatre? Think about it – what was the last movie you saw (or book you read) where the main character had low expectations, always played it safe, and sacrificed nothing to advance any causes? Who would care about such a character? You wouldn’t. And yet that’s exactly how a younger generation perceives many Christians today – boringly safe.

Contrast this with the early Christians who were tossed to the lions, took care of the sick, shared everything with the poor but shared their beds with one or none. In the ancient document, The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, we read about the early Christians:

They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all.[2]

Christianity spread in the Roman Empire because the Holy Spirit was not only working through gospel proclamation, but also because the Spirit was attracting people to that message by having gospel effects visualized in the day-to-day lives of the early Christians. That was the same “Institution of Church” as we have today, but arguably more beautiful than what we often see from churches today. No?

This high stakes drama, sacrifice, and risk-taking all actually fits in quite well with how Millennials think. The nonchalant, slacker “whatever” attitude of 80s/90s Buster teens is largely gone. Millennials care about stuff and aren’t afraid to tell you. They want to use any status and influence they gain to do good. They have a true sense of ownership in making the world a better place. Churches should be affirming this desire and tapping into the healing power of the gospel, explaining how Jesus too came here not to condemn the world, but ultimately to work for the betterment of human existence (John 3:17; 2 Pet. 3:13).

Put differently, if you are spending a majority of your time as a church communicating where you’re at in your unified budget, expounding on the dangers of interdenominational prayer fellowship, and debating the merits of various worship styles…all while Coptic Christians in Egypt are being beheaded, you’re going to lose your Millennials, or at the very least turn off any potential new ones. The Christian faith is not a line item, it’s a lifeline, and it needs to be communicated with every ounce of drama and passion that it deserves.

Update Catechism Curriculum to Include Apologetics

Atheistic thought never really gained traction in Europe until the French Revolution and Age of Enlightenment. Consequently, aside from giving some time to the Natural Knowledge of God, Luther’s Catechisms aren’t really major resources for Christian Apologetics.

With the rise of New Atheism[3] and increasingly secular academics, the Christian Church is in desperate need of good apologetic study. While the research is debatable as to the exact percentages[4], there is no denying that “university professor” is one of the most atheist professions in our country. When young, impressionable adults then enter into college and sit before men and women who are well-respected in their given fields and the students find these professional educators making disparaging comments about the accuracy of Scripture, they feel ill-equipped to defend their faith. I’ve received countless texts, emails, and Facebook messages over the years from college students who were asking for clarification on biblical stances, because their professor had made a comment blatantly disregarding the Bible in their psychology, sociology, philosophy, biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, etc. courses.

I have no doubt in my mind that apologetics is a more pressing need for God’s people in the twenty-first century, post-Enlightenment western world than in sixteenth century Germany. We need to build some of this into curriculums starting at an early age. Fortunately, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel on a good portion of it. Ken Ham’s group at Answers in Genesis is phenomenal.[5] And they have an enormous collection of age appropriate study materials. Let’s start there.

Willingness To Change

All of my recommendations here require a willingness to change. Now, any Christian who truly knows the gospel understands the gospel must never change. To the degree that you believe it can or should, by definition, you’re pushing yourself outside of God’s Kingdom. However, in proportion to seeing that saving gospel clearly, you also understand that everything but the gospel can, and sometimes must, change. If you don’t understand that, you’re guilty of the manmade religion that the Apostle Paul so readily condemns. (Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 2:11-21)

Change is difficult for religious people. Sinful hearts tend to self-righteously latch onto certain practices, certain clothes, certain patterns of saying things, certain music, certain programs, certain systems, and then condemn all that is different. Our sinful hearts do this because they are hostile to Christ (Rom. 8:7). By nature, we want to justify ourselves before God apart from Christ. As a result, we make up rules, we do our best to keep them, and we condemn all who don’t abide by these rules to the same extent that we do. Then, in our minds, we are, relatively speaking, closer to God than others. The subconscious, self-righteous goal all along was to bring ourselves to God apart from Christ. The motor was unbelief. This was the same engine that powered the Pharisees. (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7)

Again, Millennials are almost perfectly calibrated to embrace the beautiful freedom of forms that the gospel presents.[6] Millennials understand that change is simply a natural part of life. Accelerating technology means that communication, organizations, and life itself are ever-changing. But the essence of humanity stays the same. Consequently, the gospel is brilliantly BOTH non-negotiable AND tremendously flexible.

As Christians, we should reflect that in our churches too.

….

Next week is the final installment in the series. I’ll share with you the results of my efforts to practice what I preach.  

(image credit to coca-colacompany.com)

(image credit to coca-colacompany.com)

[1] Stark, pg. 55

[2] http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diognetus-roberts.html

[3] In short, New Atheism (led by voices like Richard Dawkins, the now deceased Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett) is “new” in the sense that whereas atheism in the past merely said that God didn’t exist, New Atheism is saying that organized religion is dangerous to society and should be eradicated, at least from the public arena. For more insights and details on its impact, check out Adam Lee, “Rise of the New Atheists,” http://www.salon.com/2012/07/30/should_atheists_make_an_alliance_with_religious_progressives/

[4] Amarnath Amarasingam, “Are American College Professors Religious?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amarnath-amarasingam/how-religious-are-america_b_749630.html

[5] https://answersingenesis.org

[6] Yale professor Lamin Sanneh has some great insights on this in Whose Religion Is Christianity? The Gospel Beyond the West. Raised in Gambia, he makes the case that the reason Christianity is burgeoning in Africa today is precisely because, in contrast to other faiths like Islam, the Christian faith didn’t de-Africanize the continent. Rather, it enriched Africa’s pre-existing forms.

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One thought on “Ministering to Millennials (PART VI – My Recommendations regarding Social Renovation, Drama, Apologetics, and Change)

  1. John Huebner says:

    It’s hard to get a handle on the new (or new, new) ahteists right now. I expected,too, that post-Hitchens and Dawkins there would be an explosion of open attacks on Christianity in places other than the universities supported with our tax dollars. I think they have come in a more subtle way, such as attacks on biblical teaching about lifestyles and justice and through rampant political correcteness.,. Here is an article from a British publication that seems to indicate that atheists are struggling to answer the question about human “frailty” (the Bible calls it sinful nature/sin). http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8885481/after-the-new-atheism/

    And Christians, like anyone else, value things and forms that have stood the test of time, such as certain traditions, music, etc. That’s not all wrong. It takes work to make the necessary effort to adjust to change and most of us are unwilling or unable to see it or do it. Some things probably don’t need to change (the Word doesn’t change, of course).

    I think you are right on about the need for modern apologetics information. Just went through about 50 sites to find useful stuff.

    I still run into young persons who say,”whatever”, though 🙂

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