Anyone involved in American Christianity on any level at all would have to be in a coma to have missed the anxious discussion about the departure from the church of the millennial generation. They’re called “the nones” because of the way they answer the religion question on census surveys. We’ve had that discussion at FCC and it was and continues to be an important dialogue. FCC was founded almost thirty years ago by people who were trying very hard to “major on the majors of the Christian faith and minor on the minors … It would be inclusive of all people, contemporary in style, yet conservative in beliefs …” addressing the deep longings of the human soul with sensitivity and insight. Only God can say how effective we’ve been at fulfilling that dream, but I can say that we’ve tried very hard.
Nonetheless, some of the criticisms of the church brought by the millennials are important. It is far too easy, as baby-boomers, to be seduced by the siren song of politics. As Cal Thomas rightly noted in a recent post: “The moral quality of America did not improve during the two terms of Ronald Reagan, who rarely attended church, or the one term of Jimmy Carter, who did. The moral compass did not point in a different direction during the two terms of George W. Bush, who said in a 2000 presidential debate that his favorite “philosopher” was Jesus.” And contrary to some of our most cherished notions, post-modernism may turn out to be a greater friend to evangelism than modernism ever could be, as it at least allows for the idea that truth might be determined by something other than the material sciences.
These and many other explanations are cited as the motive for millennial disenchantment with Christianity, but as I meditated through the Gospel of Luke recently I came upon another, much older reason. It’s buried in Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower, which comes just before it in Luke 8:4-8 (which you should read).
Before I go on, I’d like to ask my millennial friends to think of me, not as “Pastor Dane,” but as a regular guy, just like you, with the same struggles and problems you face, only I’ve had twenty years longer to work on mine. No, make that thirty, (gee I am getting old!).
In answer to his disciple’s request to explain the parable, Jesus says:
11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
In Jesus’ explanation, people leave the faith not for sociological reasons, not because of politics, and not because of worship styles; they leave for spiritual reasons. In some cases, the seed bounces off of hardened hearts and the word of God is easy pickings for the king of thieves. Never discount that. Some just don’t want to hear. Others aren’t clearing the ground for God’s word in their lives. They have shallow souls, strewn with rocks and rootless, no match for the tests that will surely come. Finally, in Jesus’ assessment, many are spiritually overcome, too focused on worldly – as in “not-spiritual” – concerns and drunk on pleasure to experience real growth. They like the whole spiritual life thing, but they like pleasure better and they’ve realized they can’t have it both ways, so they leave.
From that I draw two conclusions that I would like to offer to my millennial friends:
First, it takes a certain, well not exactly arrogance, but shall we say, overconfidence, for a 20-something adult with no job, no spouse, no children, no mortgage, no house to care for, pretty much no responsibilities and a liberal education his parents probably paid for, to tell people who’ve served the kingdom for twice as long as he’s been on the planet that they’re doing a lousy job of carrying on the Kingdom’s work. Go do all of that, accomplish something, see how hard it is, and then start and staff your own church, or pour yourself into serving in just one of the ministries of the one you left, and you’ll learn that it’s a lot tougher than we make it look.
Second, take a look in the mirror. Ask God, “What is the condition of my soul? If you were to drop your seed in it today, what would happen?” And listen for his answer.
By God’s grace, we’ll still be here, chugging along doing our best to keep the Kingdom going, when you’re ready to come home and go to work.