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!

 

Are We Muzzling the Next Generation?

(further commentary on Jen Hatmaker’s new book, For the Love)


I have been blessed beyond expectations 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 now on Amazon).
For the next few weeks, I’ll be taking chapters of the book that meant a lot to me and discussing them. Please, chime in.

Given my current book writing project (and it is very exciting!), it should not be a surprise that Jen Hatmaker’s chapter “Jesus Kids” both broke my heart and validated everything I know about raising the next generation to be followers of Jesus.

Not followers of me. Or a political party. Or a church. Or a code of behavior.

Of Jesus.

It makes a huge difference.

Seventy-five percent of our younger generation is leaving the church, and the worst part? Some people seem almost glad about it. Their us-them outlook on following God allows many folks to say good-bye to the backside of anyone who criticizes the church with self-assured conviction that theirs is the high ground of defending the faith. (See her chapter “Dear Christians, Please Stop Being Crappy.” Just the title . . . yep.)

But isn’t it about time we stopped wringing our hands over how unhappy being criticized makes us feel and started being more unhappy about losing an entire generation for the kingdom of God? Isn’t it time we stopped building our own little kingdoms and looked around at the havoc defending those personal fiefdoms is truly causing? Do I want to stand up for His kingdom or mine? The former may not look like what I think it looks like. It may not even look like what I want it to look like. But it will be His.

Jen mentions a great first step.


First, pay attention to the grievances. This is no time to defend our perspectives and dig in our heels. We have to raise the kids we have, not the kids we were. Young adults are abandoning church, so we can either listen carefully or watch their backs as they go. We cannot be more committed to our methods than our message. Do we want to raise disciples? Then pay equal attention to what isn’t working as much as what is.”


She pounds out a message you’ll hear continually on this blog. A message central to the book I’m working on.

Listen.

Just. Shut. Up. And listen.

And realize that we have churned out a generation who knows what movies are OK, what books will send them straight to the devil, what clothes are not God-approved, and what groups of people are untouchable.

But they have no clue why any of this matters.

They know Jesus loves them and wants them to be good. But they do not know Jesus. They don’t know what the width of their shoulder straps has to do with the gospel. They see this kind of gospel as lacking anything of substance for meaningful life.

And they are right. I can’t say how much I love her take on this:

Are we arrogant and judgmental? Do we subtly (or overtly) teach our children to suspect anyone ‘other’? Do we put mainly defensive spiritual tools in our kids’ hands, fostering an ‘against them’ rather than ‘for them’ posture? Do we emphasize behavior over character? Because good behavior won’t guarantee anything. If they don’t love Jesus and people, it matters zero if they remain virgins and don’t say the F-word. We must shepherd their hearts, not just their hemlines.



Shepherd their hearts. To do that, we need to know their hearts. We need to hear them. We need to just stop talking long enough to listen to the heartbeat that informs their life and gives them passion. Then shepherd them into using that passion for the Kingdom. But it can’t be done if we care more about setting them straight than showing them Jesus.

I so want to hear the heartbeat of the next generation. I want to see them unleashed to do what God has put into their hearts to do. I do not want to hold them back, even as I do want to make sure they are equipped with all the truth they need to pass on in their turn.

This book has great insight into how we do that. 


If you want more information on our own writing project on this theme, visit here

To order Jen’s fantastic book, available today–click here. You will not be sorry.

Are you interested in a book club discussion of her book? Comment below!


For the Love of Five Great Quotes


As I mentioned in Monday’s blog, I’ve been blessed 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, (officially releasing next week!). It has been a ride I won’t forget for a book that should be on everyone’s bookshelf and heart. This Friday, we are linking up to share our favorite five quotes from the book. Let me tell you, this was tough. Five? Five???? I have, like, five hundred. But here we are. I whittled it down. Here is a quick taste of why I love her words.






“If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true. 
Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere. This helps untangle us from the American God Narrative and sets God free to be God instead of the My-God-in-a-Pocket I carried for so long. It lends restraint when declaring what God does or does not think, because sometimes my portrayal of God’s ways sounds suspiciously like the American Dream and I had better check myself. Because of the Haitian single mom. Maybe I should speak less for God.” 


This one has gone into a sermon already. And will again. Amen, sister. Soooo amen.





“May I suggest a starting place as truth receivers? It is okay for someone else to struggle. Furthermore, it is okay to not fix it/solve it/answer it/discredit it. Another believer can experience tension, say something true that makes people uncomfortable, and God will not fall off His throne. It is not our responsibility to fix every mess. If someone steps onto the scary ledge of truth, it is enough to acknowledge her courage and make this promise: I am here with you as your friend, not your Savior
We are not good gods over one another; we are better humans beside each other.”




“Are we arrogant and judgmental? Do we subtly (or overtly) teach our children to suspect anyone “other”? Do we put mainly defensive spiritual tools in our kids’ hands, fostering an “against them” rather than “for them” posture? Do we emphasize behavior over character? Because good behavior won’t guarantee anything. If they don’t love Jesus and people, it matters zero if they remain virgins and don’t say the F-word. 
We must shepherd their hearts, not just their hemlines. 
The best we can do is give them Jesus. Not rules, not behaviors, not entertainment, not shame. I have no confidence in myself but every confidence in Jesus.”

“You’ll never regret parting with grace, but you might deeply regret burning a bridge that might one day be safe to venture back over again.”


“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?”



Is this enough to make you preorder the book? Take a look on Amazon? Well, you can right here. Be back Monday with more.

Searching for Sunday — Why So Many Are Looking and Why Evangelicals Needs to Listen


“Wrapped now in flesh, the God who once hovered over the waters 
was plunged beneath them at the hands of a 
wild-eyed wilderness preacher.”

She got me at the beginning with the sheer beauty of that sentence and never let go. Rachel Held Evans, in her new book Searching for Sunday(out today), calls the church to regain its sacredness, passion, and yes, even its weirdness. As an evangelical who dearly loves my tradition and (usually) its people but has her eyes wide open to its harmful aspects, I breathed this book in. I live her frustrations and her passions about the church.

I don’t always agree with Ms. Evans. But I always love her humor, her willingness to “go there” on tough issues, and her heart for God. This book is no exception.

This book is above all a call to listen to, respect, forgive, and love beyond all of our abilities and even preferences for the greater reason that there is a Kingdom at stake, and we are spending too much of our time arguing over who should be in it and far too little making it look like Jesus.

We spend a lot of energy, time, and research in pinpointing why younger generations are leaving the evangelical church. I know I do. It’s a writing project I’m working on now, plus a topic dear to me as the mother of three in that generation and a former high school teacher with an unaccountable enjoyment of young adults. Yet the church tends to get defensive whenever someone actually tells them the truth about they ‘whys’ we wring our hands over.

Ms. Evans tells the truth. Her voice speaks for thousands who are feeling the same doubts, concerns, and fears but who simply leave without voicing them. Of course, “simply” is a poor word choice, because that decision is often anguished, never simple.

An excerpt of that truth in her own words:

“I was recently asked to explain to three thousand evangelical youth workers gathered together for a conference in Nashville, Tennessee, why millennials like me are leaving the church.

I told them we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known for what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff—biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice—but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.

Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.”

To flesh this out, she discerns our sacred need through themes such as baptism, communion, confession, and marriage. In each section, she poetically, theologically, and compassionately examines why we find these sacraments meaningful. What attracts Christians through the millennia to these same rites, these same words, these marks of Christ in life?

And how can we come to them trying to bring reconciliation and renewal to a church that desperately needs to see and hear those who don’t feel welcome in its doors?

In the chapters on baptism, for example, I love the bottom line truth of what it stands for that we can and should all agree on, whether or not we agree on dunking, sprinkling, or just about anything else.

“Baptism declares that God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if you want in on God’s business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock-bottom, scorched-earth, dead- on-arrival corners of this world—including those in your own heart—because that’s where God works, that’s where God gardens.

In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love.
There’s nothing normal about that.”

The book is a cry to the church to stop trying to fix people or give them checklists to make them ‘OK’ before God (and more importantly, before us). It’s a call to come beside people and hear their faith cries. It’s a passionate request to be with God being with people, not over them.

Searching for Sunday should be read by anyone in ministry, and there are many definitions of that, whether or not the reader is an Evans fan. In fact, I’d say especially if not. If a person truly wants to be a minister, he or she needs to delve into the truths of how the next generation (and many above it) are feeling about church and all its baggage. We dare not ignore the warnings that people are giving up on the institutional church (and their faith). We cannot pretend the reasons behind it have no basis – not if we say we are people of the Word who speak and believe the Word. We need to have the courage to listen.

Searching for Sunday is an informative and beautiful step in doing that.

I have been privileged to be on the launch team for Searching for Sunday, and I am lucky enough to have read its words before everyone else. But now — you no longer have to wait.

Find it on Amazon now.



Discipling Today’s Kids Like Yesterday’s Church

Because kids can sign a church charter.
And mean it.
Third installment of discipleship articles published in Light and Life Communications.


Most Christian parents have one main goal—ensure their kids grow into mature believers. But we also know the scary statistics. About sixty percent of those raised in Christian homes walk away from their faith. Only four percent of Millennials attend church regularly. Discipling kids has never been so important or so challenging.

But what does that discipleship look like now? A lot like it looked in the beginning.

Community

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer….They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need….They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2.42-46).

The number one reason youth stay in the church is they have seen a Christian lifestyle modeled with integrity–first in their parents and then between their parents and other church members. Their parents genuinely love God andhis people. They’ve grown up in a community—not a building.
An Acts-like community of believers doesn’t seem very normal in today’s disposable-relaytionship culture, does it? But if we could keep our kids in church, would it be worth it to start making some changes in our priorities, schedule, finances, or church programs to create that community? What would it look like for your family?
Relationships

When Priscilla and Aquila heard him (Apollos teaching), they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18.26).

Barnabas mentored Paul and John Mark. Paul mentored Silas and Timothy. Priscilla and Aquila mentored Apollos. It’s tough to find a place in the new church where relationships did nottake priority and disciples were not made as a result. Young people remain in churches where someone took individual time to listen, model, and mentor.

*If you have teens, who in your church could come alongside your child in this kind of relationship? How will you move forward on that?

Empowerment

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (1 Timothy 4.12, 2 Timothy 1.6).

Paul felt young people should be active in the ministry of the church, not fans watching the game. When young people feel valued, they are much more likely to find value in church. We need to stop calling youth the church of tomorrow and empower them to be the church today. They are not a threat to our power. They are our hope. Yes, they will make mistakes. So do we. Life is an imprecise science.

*What gifts do your children have from the Holy Spirit?
*How can you help them fan them into flames of ministry?

 *Where is there room for that in your church?

It’s not as difficult as we make it to disciple kids. Just–listen. And take time. Not much has really changed in that respect in 2000 years.