It’s confounding. It’s perplexing. It’s causing anxiety across the board in the church today. In my denomination of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) we are scrambling to find out who and why are leaving the church. Statistics and studies show that young adults (I abhor the label, but for lack of a better term I use it, they are also referred to as the Millennial generation) who are in their late 20’s early 30’s are leaving the church in droves. We have also seen an exodus of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers as well. The CRC has established the Young Adult Leadership Task Force (YALT) to try to look into this occurrence of Millennials leaving the church. To tell the truth, I myself have been curious about Gen Xers leaving the church. Why do they? What’s going on here?
To be honest, the world has changed. The world is different than it was in the 50’s, than it was in the 70’s, in the 80’s and 90’s and even in the Aughts. Things are changing at a rapid pace. And the church doesn’t know what to do.
We know that Jesus calls us to be the salt and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14). Jesus says to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). And we know that we are to live distinctly and differently than the world around us (1 Peter 2:9-10). The question we are encountering as a church is how do we do this in a changing world?
We are facing issues of how do we act like Jesus to the LGBT(Q) community who is our neighbor or how do we act like Jesus to our Muslim neighbor, our Buddhist neighbor. How do we live in a world where the culture and climate is changing in such a way that the church is scrambling to catch up to the 1980’s? Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers are calling for the church to rethink itself. To re-imagine itself. How can the church be the body of Christ today in 2014 in the world as a whole.
Two centuries ago the western world in its own haughtiness sent out missionaries to India, Africa, Korea, and elsewhere. Now churches in India, Africa, Korea, are rising up into their own and even sending missionaries to the US, to Europe, to the ends of the earth. What’s happened to the church in North America?
Christendom has fallen. The church is no longer the center of the community nor the society. The church needs to recognize that. The church needs to see that. People are wanting the church to adapt and move forward in reaching this changing world. But how?
The question was raised recently about what type of young adults do we want in the church, particularly in the CRC. The blog I read recently stated that they wanted people strong in the faith and not willing to bow down to the whims and changing winds of the world.
Who do we want in the church? Who do we not want in the church? Do we want to bow down to the changing culture or cling to the past saying that there will be revival if we just go back to the way things used to be?
I say throw open the doors! Jesus says in Matthew
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
Notice the word “all” there. Jesus doesn’t say “Come to me, all who fit the moral mold.” He doesn’t say “Come to me, all who want to be righteous.” He doesn’t say “Come to me, all who come from a good white male middle class background.” No. He says “Come to me, all who are weary.” And when we limit who we want to be behind our church doors, we close the doors and don’t let anyone else in to join in finding rest in Jesus.
Throw the doors open wide! Let the hurting come in and find rest. Let the struggling with their faith find rest. Let those who are uncertain and have doubts come in and find rest. Let those who have been burnt by the church come in and find rest. Let those who struggle with what the Bible says and what the world around them says come in and find rest.
Now some will say that we have to minister and disciple those inside the church in order to raise up leaders for the church. Some say those are the people we need to pay attention to first. Even those sitting in the pew each Sunday morning might be struggling with doubt in their faith. They might be struggling at reconciling (especially in the CRC) Reformed heritage and what the world around them says. We shouldn’t assume that young adults in the pews have “made it.”
We need to leave room for both those young adults, and others, who are inside the church to grow in their faith and have a safe place to work through issues they are struggling with. We also need to throw wide open the doors for those who want to know more, who need that rest Jesus speaks of. This is the scandal of grace. Those who you wouldn’t expect will come, and those you’d expect to stay might leave.
Now, the scandal of grace can be abused. I’ve seen it. We shouldn’t bow to the whims and changing winds of this world, I agree. At the same time, we need to see how the church (and how the CRC) can catch up to this changing world (and not just to the 80’s and 90’s). The church is no longer the center of the community. The church needs to raise up and build up those in the faith inside its doors and to be able to be that beacon of light in an ever changing world. When we throw wide open the doors, we’ll see amazing things of what God will do.
Are you ready?