Church as a War Zone?

During this series on young voices in the church (which will soon be interrupted by the most wonderful time of the year, Good Friday and Easter), I want to rerun some work I did with a very familiar young voice—my middle child. Here is one of our conversations on the topic of intergenerational faith. I loved it. I hope you do.

What is the church?

Is it local or global? Made up of a stable body or fluid? Can a few people in a living room be considered the church, or is it more than that? At what point does the “church” become the “Church”? And which deserves our loyalty, if either?

Do Millennials and Boomers really have completely different answers to these questions? As “they” are leaving “our” churches, or as “they” are shutting “us” out, can we worship in one body whose parts we all recognize? Or are the current battle lines merely going to make a corpse of that body?

In our very random quest to answer these questions, we somehow landed on a warfare metaphor. This does not mean we believe the generation are at war. At least, we hope not. Nevertheless, the metaphor gives some good insight into what we might be doing wrong we we try to do church together.

The Fear of Death

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Photo by Andrew Stutesman on Unsplash

Jill: Are our two generations really at war when it comes to the church? In the seeming battle to determine who “owns” the church and who will lead it, how do you see your generation responding?

Emily: Not a war, but let’s run with that metaphor.

We Millennials know that sometimes abandoning a battle is another way of winning. Like that story they tell in history class about how Russia killed Germany’s plans to invade simply by retreating and burning everything in Germany’s path.

We are Russia. You Boomers are Germany. You may think, as you gain more traction and pass more old-fashioned laws, that you are winning. But we aren’t leaving behind anyone or anything for you to build on.

Eventually, your resources will run out. And then we’ll be back to reclaim our place, free of your restraints and rules. High ground isn’t much good without a shelter to keep out the wind. Moral superiority won’t help build a fire.

So stop fighting us. We’re younger, stronger, and larger. There’s no way you could win this if it became an all out antagonistic fight. Diplomacy. Recognition that we are a source of power. These are the new trades of war.

Jill: Actually, I think traditional Boomer leadership is more like the UK than Germany. We already occupy the territory; we’re not out to conquer it. But we will bloody well (See? We’re British here) hold that ground and not back down, should any stronger forces try to storm the gates.

We will bar the gates and wait you out for as long as it takes. Yes, we will grow old and grey inside our churches, but we will still insist it is your loss because you would not cooperate.

Unfortunately, the churches that do that Will. Die.

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Photo by rolf neumann on Unsplash

How can we pick one or two verses out of the overarching story of God and claim we follow God’s purpose?

No Enemies Here

What we’re missing is that if you are Russia, you are our allies. (At least, if we maintain the WWII history here. One must suspend disbelief of all history since then.) You’re not our enemy.

You don’t need our stupid little island; you’ve got access to an entire Eurasian landmass if you retreat and do your own thing. And one day, those of us who are left will come out from behind our walls and discover that there is no longer anyone there. That’s my little world conquerors metaphor, there.

Emily: An excellent metaphor. Way to run with it. It’s a similar idea with dystopian novels–in almost every novel is a world whose leaders are corrupt and horrific–-a position of power that was often set in place as a means by which to counteract a specific threat.

Yet years after the threat is extinguished, the extinguishers are still in power, power has inevitably corrupted them, and everyone just deals with it because it’s all they can remember and anyone who “remembers” differently disappears.

Now, I’m not saying we’re living in the apocalypse. I’m not even saying it’s coming this week. I have no idea when it’s coming. (No one has any idea, actually.) But we need to recognize that our actions will always push the world in one of two directions ( I am loathe to use the pendulum simile, but there it vaguely is), and sometimes it’s really difficult to be certain that the action we choose really will push that pendulum the direction we were expecting it to.

Discipleship as a Missing Link

Jill: “We Millennials know that sometimes abandoning a battle is another way of winning. We aren’t leaving behind anyone or anything for you to build on.”

It sounds like your strategy is to withdraw and create your own version of church, where the judgment and antagonism you often feel doesn’t have to be faced. You’re going to “unfriend” the Boomer church so you no longer have to deal with their drama-filled statuses. In fact, that’s what the church sees happening.

That’s a key we Boomers need to grasp. We know all the data about 60-75% of Millennials leaving the church. But often, we dismiss that data with the glib assurance that you will behave as we did. You will return once you start to settle down and have kids. You’ll yearn for the security of a church and a belief system that stands through the ages. And brings you casseroles. That’s our assumption, because that’s what we did. Except in your case, it will be gluten free, vegan, locally sourced casseroles.

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Photo by Klára Koszeghyova on Unsplash

Emily: Oddly, in our world of multi-accepted truths, it’s becoming harder and harder to be Christian and to belong to The Church. This is only partially because of the stigma attached to The Church.

The other part is–-in a catch-22–-because going to church is no longer the norm, we therefore need to know what we’re doing. We no longer have the excuse that the service is in Latin. Science and Christianity have declared a centuries old war on each other and I’m not even sure who started it.

We need to know our faith in order for us to be able to defend it. And, for better or for worse, that is just too difficult/time-consuming/pointless a journey for a lot of people. Those of us who are still in the church are stronger for it, but most days we’re as much at a loss as you guys are about how to get the rest of the gang interested in working for their parents’ faith.

We don’t want to be discipled into knowing about God. We want to be discipled into knowing him.

Jill: So part of the reason you’re leaving is that you haven’t been discipled to know what you believe. You can’t commit to “church” because you have to know and believe in what you’re getting yourself into to be comfortable jumping in. That’s fair.

But your inherent skepticism, coupled with that technology-induced immediate gratification thing, don’t allow for “knowing” anything. That makes our job a bit rougher.

Emily: But it’s not our fate to remain blind. We allow ourselves to be blind by repeating actions and ignoring consequences, without taking time to study and learn God.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

How can we buy a present for a friend when we don’t even know what kind of coffee she likes? How can we know what kind of getaway weekend our parents might appreciate if we don’t listen to their interests and get involved in their lives?

How can we pick one or two verses out of the overarching story of God and claim we follow God’s purpose?

We don’t want to be discipled into knowing about God. We want to be discipled into knowing him. Then, we might stay and find somme common ground.

We can avoid being Russia.

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