The Old Ways
This irritated me not because of the question it poses. Young people are leaving the church (although in nowhere near the catastrophic numbers it implied.) We should talk about why that is. And there are ways the church can change – we are called to live out our faith in this time and place, not another. But it irritated me because the sophomoric solution it offered was just another version of the sophomoric solution that is always offered, and I find it supremely unsatisfying.
Look, I am a millenial, albeit on the side of that demographic in danger of being too old to count as the current “it” age group. And I can tell you exactly how to get millenials in your pews. You tell them that their moms and dads were horribly wrong and misguided, and that they are actually much better informed and more correct than their parents. Just like they've always suspected. And then you explain that, actually, Christianity is exactly what all the cool people they want to like them say it should be. And they will come, because that is a brand that sells. Who doesn't want their youthful arrogance stroked and the social cost of their faith removed?
But it won't last.
As I am often privileged to do as a pastor, this afternoon I got to visit a few aged saints in nursing homes and read them some Scripture and share the Lord's Supper. And it reminded me of this article, and the futility of all these enterprises set on rebranding the gospel.
The problem with such attempts to draw millenials through a reworking of Christianity is that it won't endure. It can't – if you make your theology like you make an Apple product, you are guaranteed that 1) people will love to buy it and 2) it won't last much past the launch of next year's model. The thing you need is the iJesus 7 – it's like the iJesus 6, but with all the bits you didn't like removed!
Something happens when you sit with saints looking at the far side of their 8th or 9th decade. You watch them take that bread and that cup in shaking hands, you hear them talk about how God is good and faithful and how every morning you need to cast yourself on the cross, you hear them sing those old hymns with the archaic words, and you realize that these things have been what's animated them for nearly a century. This apparently-outdated faith carried them through marriages and divorces and miscarriages and cancer and the deaths of their parents and their siblings and their friends. It still carries and sustains them through their loneliness while their too-cool grandchildren and great-grandchildren are busy talking about a hip, relevant faith that somehow never encourages them to visit these wizened saints.
More than that, this apparently-outdated faith is what has animated the church for 2,000 years. It is bread and wine and baptism and creed and a bloody cross and an empty tomb that sustained martyrs and missionaries and monks and men and women in the field through wars and famines and persecution and a hundred changes of generations. Abandoning it is like dismissing a cathedral because the tent we bought at REI has oh-so-many cutting-edge features.
This is what I want, and what I need. Not a message that will put young butts into pews for a year or two, but one that can carry them for eighty or ninety. Which isn't something any of these “latest greatest” theological reimaginings has to offer. We young people want a flash in the pan, but what we need is and old cast iron skillet. It doesn't look sexy, but it gets the job done far longer and better than the latest gadget claiming to replace it.
Keep your cool rebranding of the faith. It is a far greater thing to break bread with saints who have one foot in glory, and pray that just a little bit of that glory might eventually be formed in my young and restless heart as well.