In this series on young voices, I am blessed to have Hannah Pannell with her consideration of church and her generation. I love it! Don’t tell me the young have no depth of theology. This woman knows exactly why she needs her community, and she knows it from reliance on scripture. Read on and be blessed.
After graduating from high school, I attended a large Christian university. I quickly found myself involved at a local church. Girls on my floor often remarked that finding a church that felt right was difficult. After a year, many of my friends were still attending a different church every Sunday.
Eventually, someone asked me how I had found a church that felt like home. My answer was simple: I hadn’t. My church was not a perfect fit for me, nor did it immediately feel like home. I had connections, but mostly I just kept showing up.
For the first year, I went to nearly every service and event the church offered as I tried to get to know people. By the time I graduated, my dearest friends were people from my church small group. We prayed together, cried together, forgave each other, and loved one another.
Don’t get me wrong–my time at that church was anything but easy. I made mistakes, which made community with people I had hurt and been hurt by incredibly difficult. Many Sundays I sat in my car and cried before going in, but I went in anyway. My decision to stick with a church doesn’t make me any holier, or even right, but it did teach me a lot about God’s people and this gathering we call church.
My generation is cited as being nearly non-existent in the church, and as seeing the largest decline of all demographics. I seem to be an anomaly. Although I’m still in my early twenties, the church and I have been through a lot. My parents are church planters. I have had a backstage view of ministry. I have seen the ugly, the extraordinary, the hard, and the mundane. I have never walked away, though, and I love the local church more deeply today than ever.
Here’s why this millennial is sticking it out:
- God expects us to be part of a local body of believers. Our salvation in no way hinges on church involvement, but our sanctification does. I know at times great hurt and confusion may necessitate a break from the church. In no way do I want to discount the difficulty of finding a good church, but sometimes we are the problem, not the church.
No church is perfect and neither are we. So take a break, do some digging and healing, and then get back in the game. Many millennials claim the global body of Christ as their church. The kingdom is a powerful group of believers, but it does not replace living with other believers in love and accountability.
Instead, God call us to “not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25 NIV). Nearly every great act of God in Scripture takes place within the context of believers gathering together. After all, God promises, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20 NIV)
- At the 2016 Passion Conference, pastor Louie Giglio called attending and serving in the local church a “radical act of defiance.” He introduced sixty thousand young people to the idea of radically defying the low expectations society has set for us. There’s always been some rebel in this pastor’s daughter, so his words clicked for me.
As a generation, we like to swim against the current. Our rebelliousness can fuel cynicism, or we can defy the odds and be the generation that reawakens the church. You lose credibility critiquing from the sidelines. However, when you’re a key player, people listen to you.
Perhaps if we want to see our churches changed from the inside out, we need to be inside. Maybe millennials need to write a few less open letters to the church and instead need to build credibility by filling seats each Sunday and serving throughout the week. If we want to influence the heartbeat of the church, we have to be part of it.
- If we’re honest, church isn’t really about us. Discipleship is critical, but without evangelism, there are no disciples. Our churches must insist on an outward focus. We cannot expect the people who most need us to show up at our doors each Sunday. Instead, we must go to them. We have to meet them where they are and infuse hope into their lives. Then we invite them in, we save them a seat, we hold their hands.
Relationships allow us to practice love, accountability, forgiveness, and reconciliation. If we stick it out long enough and let the Lord work, relationships are mended and disagreements settled because we share a common bond and mission. Walking away when things get tough doesn’t allow for reconciliation. Perhaps this is why Scripture calls the church the bride of Christ. Working out our relationship with the church mirrors a marriage relationship. We miss the growth if we walk away.
At its best, the church is a bunch of messed-up sinners. With all of our broken, jagged edges, we inevitably cut each other deeply at times. This is the cost of doing life with broken people.
We need each other.
This post originally ran on The Glorious Table.
Hannah Pannell is a wonderer and a wanderer. She is a southern-speakin’, Jesus-lovin’ coffee consumer who writes about life, whether pretty or messy (usually leaning toward messy). She is the daughter of two amazing, brave, church planting Jesus followers, the sister of an amazing worship pastor, and a lover of Jesus. She blogs at thissweetlybrokenlife.com.