There was an article that appeared a couple of times on my Facebook feed over the weekend. It’s an article by Rachel Held Evans on Why millennials are leaving the church. There is so much about this article that I celebrate. I appreciate her encouragement to drop the “church-as-performance” model. Furthermore, I think she’s largely correct about why millennials are leaving the church.
Yet at the same time that I celebrate much of the article I remain a tad befuddled. At one point the author states, “we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances”. And she then makes the argument that “what millennials want is a change in substance”. After this she lists several things that this generation wants from church.
Her striking conclusion—the point that the whole article is driving towards—is that “we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” And that is what confuses me.
Why I’m befuddled
If what she means is that churches aren’t preaching Jesus then I think millennials ought to leave. But it isn’t the church that millennials are leaving its a social club with a cross hanging on the side of the building. Maybe a mass exodus out of social clubs calling themselves a church isn’t such a bad thing.
But I don’t think that is the whole story. I wonder if maybe we millennials are the very thing that we say that we hate. On one hand we say that we want Jesus. But I wonder if it’s really Jesus that we want.
If what we really want is Jesus, then we ought to drop our “wants” and come running—not only to Jesus but to the messy church that he bought with His blood. Listen, the second that we come to Jesus with a list of our wants we’ve moved away from being a disciple and we’ve become a consumer. Which, again, is the very thing that Evans says millennials dislike about the church.
If you leave when you don’t like something that is the mentality of a consumer, not of a disciple.
Jesus and Millennial Wants
As I scan through the Gospels, I’m thinking about how Jesus responded to those that approached him as consumers. On one hand our Lord is always stooping. He reaches people where they are. And if this happens to be as a consumer—the Lord stoops and speaks to them on that level. But he always challenges them.
I think of the Rich Young Ruler that viewed Jesus as a good teacher that could nail down this question that has been nagging him. He left sorrowful because Jesus wasn’t a product to be consumed but a King to be followed.
I consider the throng of people that wanted to make Jesus a king because of his culinary skills. They left that day without their king because Jesus isn’t merely an earthly king to be hoisted onto a temporary throne, He’s the eternal ruler and sustainer of the universe.
I’m left to wonder whether or not millennials really want Jesus. Because if we do then we’re probably going to look more like Paul who gave himself to the church for the sake of Jesus’ sheep. And that doesn’t look much like leaving a church because it doesn’t look like what you want. It looks like staying, and pleading, and praying, and surrendering, and repenting, and changing, and growing, and messing up, and being involved in the yuck of church until the day Jesus returns and we’re all transformed.
So yeah, I’ve got to be honest and say I’m not really concerned with asking a group of millennials what they want out of church. I’ll talk. I’ll listen. But at the end of the day I hope that we both begin to ask what is it that Jesus wants out of the church. And I just bet it will be a little more than a fickle and consumerist commitment to the Bride of His affection.