What Does the Church Need to Bring Back the Younger Generation: Author Interview

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A few weeks ago, my friend Terri asked if she could interview me for her author interview series. Since she is a great interview-question-maker and a great friend, I said of course!

(Also, she is a very talented photographer–she took my headshot this year in San Antonio, and I am pretty certain the shot at the beginning of her post is of Oxford from our time there last spring. I know that hallway!)

Terri asked so many good questions about the church, its future, and the leadership of young people. Since I am known around these parts as an advocate of the latter (I mean, look at the tagline right up there), I loved every one of her questions.

Questions like:

Many young adults have left the church. What has driven young people away?

How does the church and its people need to change to bring young people back?

I especially love the last question–you’ll figure out why when you read it!

Just part of one of my answers–I hope it makes you want to click over to the full interview.

Jesus came to forgive our sins AND to usher in the kingdom of God with redemption of everything, starting right away. He came to set a broken creation right again. They aren’t separable. Young people find this story credible and compelling. They know the world is broken. They want to help fix it. We’re not just saved from sin—we’re saved toward wholeness.

Get yourself over to her full interview here. Thanks!

 

Is Friendly Enough?

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Welcoming isn’t the same as “you belong here.”

Everyone welcomes you when you’re the new one in the group exercise room. Are they friendly, or are they just grateful that someone in the room is going to look dorkier than they do now? Time will tell, especially when they all politely turn aside when you lose your balance doing side kicks.

Whatever the reason, people welcomed me to the three exercise classes I started attending a couple weeks ago. They smiled, pushed mats over the accommodate me, and asked about my morning. I was going to fit in with this group, despite the fact that they all have grey hair and talk about their grandkids. Who cares? We’re all nice people enjoying our morning together.

But Really . . .

Halfway through the class, we walked out onto the track, and I noticed right away that my celebration had been premature. People paired up. They walked together in twos or threes, talking about whatever concerns life had brought them that day. I’m sure they knew one another’s concerns. I’m certain they walked with the people they were accustomed to pairing with—people who had spent time with them and knew them enough to be used to one another.

No one hung back to walk with me. No one chatted with me about silly nothings or major somethings, either one. I walked alone, while the other twelve enjoyed one another’s company.

Is Our Church “Friendly?”

That’s when i realized the difference that many churches never recognize. There is friendly, and there is welcoming someone into belonging. You can welcome someone to church, but are you welcoming them into the life of the church?

It’s so easy to smile and welcome a person but then turn to those we are used to, the ones who know us, and spend our actual interaction time there. A new person is genuinely greeted with friendliness. We sincerely want him or her there. But then we turn to our accustomed habits. We talk to our comfortable friends. We leave the welcomed person to feel on the outside, finding a friendly people but not finding access to their circle of friendship. 

Being Access Givers

A lot of churches need to work on being access-givers. Often we’ve put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that new people find the process of coming to church seamless and simple, but how much work have we put into making sure they feel like they’ve been to a community rather than an IKEA? How often do we open our small circles and invite someone in who’s standing on the outside?

This is the Church
Photo courtesy of Emptyplatefullheart

I’ve been that person on the outside more times than I like to remember. I can tell you—that person is dying for more than a smile and directions to children’s ministry. Here are five ways to make someone feel like she belongs, not like she’s just welcomed.

  • Open the circle. Literally. Look away from your group of friends and find someone who needs to be pulled in. Go to her. She won’t come to you.
  • Ask questions. She isn’t likely to offer a lot of information. She’s nervous. So make her feel you care by asking about her life. What brought you here? What’s your family look like? How long have you lived here?
  • Find a common denominator. Do you have the same age kids, the same work field, equally annoying relatives? Hobbies/ TV shows? You’ll have to talk a while to find out. There is likely to be something you share that forms a bond.
  • Introduce her to someone. Does she crochet? Introduce her to someone else who does. Is she a mechanical engineer? You might know someone with whom she can talk about those things (I would not be that person. Introduce me to the person who can quote Shakespeare or Dr. Who. Doesn’t matter which.)
  • If it seems right and not pushy, invite her to something else. Lunch after church would be marvelous. A MOPS group. Your Bible study or your planned night out for Margaritas. Whatever. 
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Going for coffee is always good.

Being friendly is something you can get from a Walmart greeter. Making someone feel they belong is the art and the work of Christian community. Let’s do it to his glory.

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” — Romans 15.5-7

Level One

CFL course, NASWI, Fitness
I look just like this in class. Exactly this.

The class is called Strictly Strength. The title and description intimidated me right off. I am not strong, strictly or otherwise.I imagined kettle bells and giant weights and me, collapsed on the floor, begging for the water bottle I inevitably forgot to bring.  Being sick a couple years back took all the muscle I had away, and strength has been a bit elusive since that point.

So while the sound of it was terrifying, the promise was worth the risk. I jumped in as the class newbie.

Level Up?

Surprise—there are levels to being strong. For just about any move the instructor taught us, she explained that there was a level one and a level two—or even three. There are options! There are large weights, and there are small ones. There are heavier bars and lighter bars. (And now I know I have to get there earlier if I want a lighter bar.) There are moves that test your further than other, easier possibilities. I did not have to walk in the room and lift a kettle bell above my head on the first day. Thank you, sweet eight-pound baby Jesus. That would have been ugly.

The most important thing I learned right away though—

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

Oh, I want to be at Level Two. I want to do the harder twists, the longer planks, the tighter crunches. But the part of me that is tired of injury remembers that is why I am doing this—to avoid hurting those parts of me that have gotten bruised, pulled, and pained by doing too much.

So I keep it slow. And steady.

Other people can do the full planks. I stick to the hands and knees ones. Someone else may be able to do double leg lifts. I will happily do them one at a time. Maybe one day I will do those harder things, but right now, I’m at Level One. And that’s an OK place to be.

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Church Has Levels, Too

Some of us show up to church at Level One. We don’t know the songs. We aren’t comfortable singing in public, anyway. We get part of what the pastor’s talking about, but some of the things are fuzzy, and we’re not sure how they apply to our situation. We don’t want to volunteer, because we’ve been burned out, and we’ve been called out by the person who felt we just couldn’t get it right. We don’t understand the unspoken cadence of the service that informs everyone else to stand up, sit down, or dip the bread in that cup rather than drink the juice.

Everyone else seems to be at Level Three, at least.

We want to be. We want to pretend we know the lingo, act like we’ve got our life together. But then we remember why we’re there—because we want to stop the hurt that happens when we are fake. We hate the bruises, pains, and sprains in our hearts over trying to be what we’re not.

Maybe church is a place where it’s OK to be at Level One. At least, we hope so. We long for grace for those who aren’t quite ready for the heavier lifting. We pray there is kindness for the ones who need the lighter weights, and we wish for others who can bear more to offer us their shoulders and their lighter burdens. We hope that, if anyone notices we can’t do what the seasoned attenders can do, they will not point that out but treat us as if there were no differences at all.

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

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Searching for Sunday

Church should always welcome the Level One folks. Partly, because Jesus told us to. Partly, because we were all Level One at some point. Party, because they have something to teach us.

If you’re trying church for the first time, or if you’re back for the first time since something there hurt you immeasurably, don’t push it. Don’t expect to be lifting the 25-pounders your second day. Don’t think you have to know all the moves in order to fit in. Embrace awkward. Know that you don’t know and that it’s OK. Know that sometimes you can’t manage whatever task it seems everyone else is taking on, and that’s OK, too.

Level Two will come.

It doesn’t really matter how long it takes. I makes not one bit of difference how long you have to keep doing one leg lifts. You’ll get there. You’ll grow stronger. Maybe one day you’ll see that person who doesn’t seem to know the steps and you’ll say to yourself, “Oh—I remember that. I’m stronger than I thought. I think I can be a shoulder for her.” That day, you’ll be the grace someone else needs to poke her head in the door and say, “Maybe I’ll try this. It’s scary, but maybe it’s just what I need.”

Dance Like We Just Don’t Care

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I went to three exercise classes last week. You might think that is normal. You are just not me. Three exercise classes is more than I have gone to in approximately three hundred years. I don’t do group classes. I don’t like them. I am not peppy or muscle-y, and I am barely scraping the edge of social. I went anyway, because a body that works when I want it to is becoming more important to me than my preference for private exercise. (By which I mean, no exercise at all more often than not.)

And wouldn’t you know, it occurred to me during the course of the hour, that exercise class is a lot like church. How, you ask? Well, let me tell you. 

Observations on a morning of exercise class:

Observation One: I love exercise classes where I am the youngest member.

Because I work at home, I am able to go to classes in the morning, after the overflow of committed enthusiasts who go before they get behind the wheel for their commute. Those people are scary. I have been at the gym at 6:00 am and seen their classes with accompanying blaring rock music. How can anyone endure that eardrum assault so early? I have watched them race onto the track and actually run, putting feet together in a coordinated, fast motion at that hour.

This is not possible for normal people. They are clearly the spawn of aliens.

But the 10:00 am classes? Filled with retired folk. Do you know what is glorious about an exercise class filled with people over 65?

They Do. Not. Care.

They don’t care how they look. They don’t care if they get every move right. They don’t care if they can’t stretch as far as that girl next to them in the designer purple yoga pants. They do not care the tiniest bit. They dance like they don’t care.

I love it.

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Church people care.

They care if your kids are crazier than theirs. They care if you volunteer as often as they do. They care if your opinions line up with theirs. They care if your clothes are nicer/not nicer/less modest/less expensive/more expensive/more outlandish/more casual than theirs. They. Care.

Not everywhere. Definitely not at our church. But at many.

So the lesson from exercise class? Find a place that doesn’t care or, better still, make a place that doesn’t care. Go to church and pretend you’re a 70-year-old woman doing yoga.

  • That other mom’s kid can’t seem to stop running through the hallway? High five her and tell her she’s doing great at a tough job. I mean, motherhood is kind of like trying to stretch your foot behind your ear while breathing properly (or breathing at all). Those kids’ souls are what matters—not any mess or noise they make. Old ladies doing yoga just don’t care about what doesn’t matter.

 

  • Go talk to that teenager wearing pajama pants to church. Welcome her. Ask her about her day, year, life. High five her for surviving being sixteen. That’s like me managing an hour of swing dancing when I’ve barely got the endurance level of a three-toed sloth. I bet she’s got a lot to share.

 

  • Find the single guy who only shows up every month or so. Ask him what his dreams are. Find out what he’s good at. High five him for wanting something deeper in his life enough to get there when he does. Kind of like showing up for strength training class when currently you’ve got the muscle mass of a hummingbird.

There are dreams and wishes and hurts and yearnings we know nothing about swirling in the hearts of the people right next to us.

It’s freeing to be among a bunch of people doing aerobic foxtrotting with glee and no shame at all. It makes it OK to make mistakes. It allows for someone to not know what comes next. It forgives. It offers a chance to dance with glee yourself.

It makes me want to come back.

What if we were the people who offered those things to the ones who walk through the doors of our church?

It’s OK to make mistakes.

It’s fine not to know what comes next.

It’s beautiful that you have doubts.

It’s great to see you whatever you look like.

I want you to dance here, with joy.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free. Use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5.1, 13)

Make your space a just don’t care zone. And I guarantee, from my experience, people will want to come back.

Consumer Christianity

IMG_6426As during December we focus on the “less is more” theme, a friend blogged about an incredibly important aspect of that idea. Do we believe less is more in church? Or are we fatally treating our churches like our shopping malls–the more we can get in one place, the happier we are?
 
Today I have a guest post from a friend, Stacey Philpot. It’s an important message as we talk about Christmas, consuming, and faith.
 
 
Yesterday, I was sitting comfortably on my favorite spot on the couch, during one of those rare moments when Avery is otherwise occupied and there is no competition for the T.V.  I settled on one of the popular home-buying shows I’ve come to love but never have the time to watch. You know, the kind where they state their max budget and wish list and then end up with the home of their dreams within the hour. 
And it struck me how this has become our approach to life in general. Here’s what I’m willing to invest and here’s what I’m expecting to get in return. I’ll spend x amount of hours with my children each week, doing homework, playing games and in general edification. In return, I’m expecting children who excel in everything, graduate at the top of their class, marry someone who takes them on nice vacations, and obtain well paying jobs which afford them a standard suburban American life. 
 
I’ll spend 4-5 hours a week at the gym and 1-2 hours a week entering my meals into my app. As a result, I expect to be enviably fit, be healthy all of the days of my life, and to appear 10-20 years younger than I am at all times.
 
I am willing to drive 10-20 minutes to a church where I will spend 1-2 hours a week. I will place twenty bucks in the offering basket every other week. In return, I would like programs that make my children all-star Christians, people that become my best friends, a brand spanking new marriage (meaning, I expect to actually like my husband within six weeks or my money back), and free child care for my infant, on demand. 
 
Have you noticed this consumer Christianity in your churches? What about in your own faith journey? 
 
I’ve been to the mega churches where a mass spiritual meal is provided to everyone. As first, this really bothered me and I wondered, “What if you needed something different, something not on the prepackaged plate?” But then I thought maybe that’s what your Monday-Saturday walk with Christ is for. I’ve also been to the smaller churches where you could walk right up to the altar and join hands with your brother or sister and fight together for what you need. Some churches offer small groups or mid week bible studies for the more customized spiritual meals. 
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But I’ve also seen pastors who have 70-80 hour work weeks killing themselves trying to meet the demands of their consumers—I mean members. I’ve often wondered if over time, the members were becoming more dependent on Jesus or their pastor. 
 
In my mind, the local church body is a place where I am served and I serve. It’s a place where I have community and where I share what I have with those who don’t. It’s a place where I do life with others, worship side by side with others, and experience the miraculous grace of God with others. It’s a place where I use my gifts, a place where I grow and where I train up others behind me. It’s a training center and a hospital. 
 
It’s a place of beauty and laughter, living and loving. Imperfection and grace, power and anointing. But maybe not shopping?
 

Getting Friendship Backward--What Really Goes First?

So, I’m curious. What does church look like to you? Do you believe our modern churches are a reflection of Jesus? Are they effectively loving and revolutionizing the world for Christ? Are we playing the part we were created to play or still trying to decide if it’s worth the investment? How many amazing churches have we passed up because they didn’t have everything on our “wish list”?  Is it possible that we’re missing the point? Are we consumer Christians? 
 
Stacey blogs here at A Life Repaired. She is, as she says, “a wife, mom, step-mom, and proclaimer of the good news that no life is beyond repair.”
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Community: You Keep Using that Word


Is community a game of risk?
As you might know, I’m working on a book. Rather, we’re working on a book. (We as in two of us, together.) Just Hear Me Out: Conversations in the Generation Gap. And you can find out all about it here. (We have a fun video!)

It is, as the name implies, a conversation. About church, faith, leadership, and all the messy bits in between that cause generations to argue and be general turkeys rather than work together. About what we value, envision, and fear as different generations. One of those recurrent themes is community.

Conveniently, community is also my blog theme for October. So today, I thought we’d run with an excerpt from the book.

Community—You keep using that word.


Emily (the Millennial):What do we value in church? Community, first-off. We want to be accepted as we are, which can be good and bad. Everyone wants a community they can belong to, though. We just need to make it clear that this is a community that goes both ways, and that while we accept everyone, we also push everyone to look at issues in their lives.

Or full of loaded questions?

Jill (The Baby Boomer): Community may be your new buzzword. Yet almost all the Boomers we talked to for this book also cited community as an important value in church. Everyone wants that family feeling. But if you’re not feeling it, either we’re doing it wrong, or we don’t mean the same thing by that word. One difference is that when we Boomers talk about loyalty to a church body, we are also talking community. The two are not separable to us. The church we are inisour community. It’s the same word you use—but it means something subtly different.


Emily:Like what?

Cheers for Friends


Jill:Companionship, social events, comfort, friendship, welcome. These are all mentioned as important church considerations to the Boomer generation. Basically, I think we all hope to find our best friend at church. We all hope to fit in there and find people we can be like, talk to easily, and rely on in times of need.

We still operate under smaller circles of interaction than you do. Yes, we are on Facebook, but we don’t really have the global “families” that you do. Ours are closer to home. We still look to our nearest outlets for friends and companionship. The family comes first. Work is often second. Somewhere in there, the church is a consideration, especially if the family doesn’t work out the way we had hoped. And when we go there, we seek an atmosphere like that iconic TV show of the 80’s, Cheers—a place where everybody knows your name.

Your generation found the same thing in Friends. The difference was, in Cheers, they still went home to family in the end. In Friends, those people were the family. A not so subtle shift.

Does just trying feel like a trivial pursuit?

Emily: The concept behind Friends is independence and community outside of immediate family–a building of a chosen family. It’s odd that the show is called Friends, then, instead of family. Perhaps it’s because all of the main characters have messed up relationships with their actual family, and so the Central Perk regulars decide to hold Friendship up to a higher standard than their memories with Family.


Jill: But knowing one another’s name isn’t the same as knowing them. Most Boomers, like Millennials, say that they yearn for a place to be real, to tell the truth and be accepted with their messy lives. But again, you aren’t getting that vibe from us. Truth is, I don’t either, so something is clearly more important to Boomers than the genuineness we claim to want as much as you do.

Safety versus Authenticity


And something is. We value safety. We value looking good and presenting a stoic front over being vulnerable. Where you find it safe to be among peers telling true tales, we find it safe to pull in privately and keep our stories to ourselves. That’s changing, between pressure from our kids (you guys) and simply being sick and tired of the whole false front game.

Or maybe we just don’t have a clue.
In a larger worldview, where your response to a frightening, unpredictable world is to say “What the heck, let’s go kayak a waterfall, it’s all the same,” ours was to wall ourselves off and play Risk with our lives, strategizing political and social moves to protect our territory (while preferably expanding it). So those values of authenticity and community? We like the sound of them, but we want to define the terms.

Emily: As a Risk enthusiast, may I just say this is game usually ends in multiple people upset and one winner lording it over everyone else. Until the next game. When everyone gangs up on the last winner and distrusts any alliances formed.

Jill: Community and authenticity. Two hallmark values of your generation. Two words we want to love but pull back from. Where are we going to come together, then, in faith and doing church if we can’t agree on the definition of these terms?

And bonus–our favorite community-inducing
board game. You’ll get to know each other.
Fast.

Spoilers? No, we are not going to give them to you. What do you think the answers to that question are? I would love your input, your definitions, your experiences with community and faith.  

And . . . If you’d like to be part of the ongoing research/launch/fun team for the project, find me on facebook and talk to me.

Screaming Comets, Hot Messes, and Grace


I have been blessed for the last several months to be a part of the launch team for Jen Hatmaker’s new book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards (available here on Amazon).
But guys, the wild unpredictable can be gorgeous.


This is the final installment of my series taking chapters of the book that spoke to my work and discussing them. Thus far,we’ve covered crazy self-imposed expectations of parenting, responding to the millennial generation, and allowing the gospel of Jesus to be what He said it was.

This week: grace. That’s it. Just grace. The topic of my seminary thesis, so you know, it is just a tad important to me. However, that thesis was written twenty years ago, and you know what? I had no idea what the word meant.

Oh, theologically, sure. We were told to choose one word that defined what we believed and described God and the gospel, or something like that. I chose grace. Somehow, I knew it would be a very important word for me. Or God knew. But really? I hadn’t a clue.

More life had to be lived before I would have any idea what grace meant. Far more hurt had to be experienced, far more gratitude realized, and far more pride peeled away before I could even get a start on a kindergarten comprehension of that word.

See, I was a high school debater. I was also high school valedictorian. You know what all that means, in addition to being facts I can trot out to impress approximately no one at this point? I specialized in persuasion. I knew how to argue, I knew how to research, and I knew how to get it right. When I became a Christian, I took those skills with me into the brave new world of belief.

I soon discovered they could be used as weapons.

I believed in grace, but it was mostly grace for those who had already repented. My concept of grace looked more like forgiveness for those who already had figured out how to get it right.

Now, I understand the truth of what Jen says about that line of thinking.

“We tend to formulize the mysterious, opting for a more manageable gospel than the wild, unpredictable one we have. We’d like one with clearer edges and better boundaries, because who can fathom a Savior born in a barn who washed the feet of His followers before dying for people who hated Him?

It is no wonder humanity has long preferred legalism, which involves much cleaner territory. Give me a rule any day. Give me a clear “in” and “out” because boundaries make me feel safe. If I can clearly mark the borders, then I am assured of my insider status—the position I feel compelled to defend, the one thing I can be sure of. I want to stand before God having gotten it right. Doctrine is tidier terrain than flesh and blood.”


I wanted life, and grace, to be manageable. It wasn’t until life got so unmanageable for me, beyond the capabilities of my valedictorian credentials, that grace screamed in, stunning and electrifying, like a comet with a star-streamed tail across my dark sky. Disorienting like that, too.

The God who spoke from a flaming bush and pushed his way into a cattle stall swaddled in blood and fluid never offered us clean lines. He brazenly led the way to coloring outside the clean lines when he dined with prostitutes and called tax collectors out of treetops.

God led us into the wild terrain of unmitigated, incomprehensible grace. And sometimes, we don’t like it.  .It messes with our clean lines. It defies our borders. It threatens our safe standing.

Grace forces us to stare at the depths of our own capacity for sin. Honestly, I’d far rather stare at the depths of someone else’s.

Looking at our own forces us to look at those others differently, as folks just like us. The place this is the most difficult, sometimes, is right in the chair next to us on a Sunday morning. Because if anyone should have it right by now, it should be those other church people, right?

Wrong.

Church can sometimes be like this, right? And this is FUN.

“Church people are regular old sinners too. If I could fix this, I would. As it turns out, the church isn’t a gathering of shiny new pennies. It lets anyone in the door! All sorts of hooligans fill the sanctuaries: kind and good ones, angry and cynical ones, mean and judgmental ones, smart and funny ones, broken and sad ones, weird and awkward ones, precious and loving ones, scared and wounded ones, brave and passionate ones, insiders and outliers, newbies and lifers and trying-one-more-timers. Just a whole bunch of human people. Every church has all these folks. It is just the hottest mess, but clearly you belong here because everyone does.”


Grace. A church throwing open its doors and admitting to the world that it is what it is. Not a bunch of people who have it all right and are waiting for the world outside to realize it. A bunch of people who, like the Israelites of old, have gotten it wrong time and again but who still show up, still try, still ask God to take them just one step closer to what He wants them to be. People who do not cover up their awkwardness to welcome the awkward into their world.

We don’t see it often. But when we do, we recognize it immediately. It’s grace.

“The breadth of God’s family is mercifully wide. Grace has no discernment, apparently. Jesus created a motley crew, plucking us from every context and inaugurating a piecemeal clan that has only ever functioned with mercy. We should be grabbing hands, throwing our heads back, and laughing that God saved us all, because surely this is the messiest family ever and He loves us anyway. Our shared redemption should keep us grateful and kind, because what other response even makes sense?”



That last line. That’s grace. 

A favorite quote from another great book.