A generation specific gospel is irrelevant for all generations: going beyond Rachel Held Evans’ article on millennials

This weekend an interesting article by Rachel Evans made a big splash in the Christian blogosphere. The article, Why Millennials are Leaving the Church, was posted on CNN’s Religion blog. She makes these excellent points:

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.

You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

Evans makes some excellent points, but I think the church needs to move beyond this kind of thinking, and the family model of ministry is a step towards meeting Evan’s goals and beyond. I have three suggestions that would help take her analysis to the next level.

Basing our reasons for doing certain things on the expectations of a particular generation is the same mistake that the boomer church made in developing the empty forms that millennials are now reacting against.

The boomers and Gen-X generations seemed to demand a contemporary environment and experiences that rival their entertainment culture. The expectation became that churches needed to match the world’s style of music, language and architecture to be relevant to these generations. Moreover, they assumed that is true for future generations. Evans points out that this plan isn’t going to work for the millennials. They want more.

The truce that she calls for is one of substance over style. That’s great! But her premise is that the substance would meet the desires of the millennials, specifically- Accept my views of science and faith; Accept my desire for ambiguity in answering life’s questions; Accept my desire for a more formal liturgy. Do these things so the Millennials will be more likely to stay in the church.

There are many reasons to accept more ambiguity in our doctrine and practices, to be more tolerant of different kinds of people, and to incorporate elements of the liturgy in our worship service, Evan suggests that the will of the next generation is the reason. In fact, this isn’t much different than the thoughts of the previous generations who made changes to become relevant to the culture.

The problem is that making changes just to attract the millennials will alienate older generations, as we’ve seen with previous attempts at being generationally relevant. It runs the risk of becoming irrelevant to everyone. We should have learned that a church trying too hard to look like the culture risks becoming just another element of the culture, when it loses sight of the purpose for the church in the first place. The church should maintain a clear countercultural purpose. That purpose is where the family model of ministry is strong.

Our first question should be, “what is the church?”

This leads us to my next point, which is that the church needs to know and be what it is meant to be. To be relevant in this world the church needs to maintain its purpose more than it needs to match expectations of the world. Rather than asking why millennials are leaving the church, the family model of ministry asks the question, “what is the church, and how should it bring the gospel to the world?”

Along the way, we will likely learn from these questions that we need to present our message in a language that the world understands, but these questions will lead us to answers that anchor our purpose in the Gospel. Here is where I agree with Evans when she says, “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.”

The message of Jesus Christ and reconciliation in him is the point of relevance to all generations and all people. This message doesn’t get stronger when the generations are divided. It is stronger when each generation of believers is more willing to be reconciled with the others. It’s clearer when disciples learn to give up their will for the sake of others.

We need to do more to bring all generations together.

The family model of ministry is about reconciling across generations and stages of life in the discipleship process. The family model of ministry seeks to build bridges on the love of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t seek to be more liturgical, but it may find bridges in liturgical practices. It doesn’t make a priority of becoming more tolerant, but it seeks to understand the tolerant heart of our Savior.

The family model of ministry is missional, as it works to become the loving, reconciling force that Christ left on this earth to be led by the Holy Spirit. It is the bearer of Good News to a troubled world.

 

Rachel Evans isn’t at all wrong about what is happening with millennials. I do, however, hope that we will move beyond concerns of one generation, and towards a church that understands and strives for a mission to all generations. As Evans makes the point that millennials will be better served with a genuine, Jesus-centered worship experience, I believe that family model of ministry provides just that in a way that these seekers of genuine community and faith are looking for. The family model of ministry is a cross-generational model of ministry where the church becomes a family of faith. The members care for one another as they serve God by being tellers of his gospel of reconciliation. The church becomes a family of reconciled people.

 

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