In an old discussion between the two of us, Cal and I talk about a generational dissatisfaction with the church as a whole.
Historical Christianity is a fascinating thing. It is the same God that we worship today, but the way He moved and reached a nation has changed for every generation. It is amazing how in the early American days and even up until World War 2 the gospel that was preached was a ferocious breed of ‘fire and brimstone.’ William Finney and Jonathon Edwards spoke the wrath of God boldly, placing an emphasis on repentance and holiness. This type of message spoke to those people, and instilled in them a real reverence and ‘fear’ of their heavenly father. The next generation of baby boomers were a group that respected their parents so much that they trusted everything that came out of their lips, especially that of faith. My mother has a faith so firmly embedded in who she is, birthed through her parents, that she doesn’t need to develop a systematic theology. The children of those types are what I am a part of. A twenty-something who needs to know ‘why’ things are believed rather than finding out ‘what’ I should believe from a person I respect, or getting ‘fear’ seared into me.
And here is the problem I am seeing with my generation. So many of my friends are unhappy with established religion. They find all these problems, inspired by these books on the ‘emerging church,’ and while these books are great in that they offer another option to religiosity, very few of them offer solutions to this ‘holy dissatisfaction’. Rather they challenge current beliefs, current church systems and budgets. They point out where ‘baby boomer’ Christianity falls short for them; they point out where ‘fire and brimstone’ gospel impinges on their rights as an individual and how they have incorporated this thinking into their lives and their church. For your average layperson, they have no outlet for this dissatisfaction other than to disparage the established church. Rather than doing something about it, they choose nothing over established Christianity. A few people started house churches but they soon fizzled out to a lack of structure and motivation. Others desire an organisation like Philadelphia’s ‘Simple Way,’ but God-forbid they would have to organise it themselves.
So there is a group of Christians who choose nothing over structure. I felt this dissatisfaction, and for a period did contemplate leaving my church, but thought objectively about what that would achieve, which was very little. So I set out trying to change things from within. I joined my church management team to see why financial decisions were made and picked a couple of issues that I would see brought up. I stayed within the church and saw a change in culture where it became more community focused, groups became more inclusive and missions became more important on the agenda. People started praying more and seeking God’s heart for our church and I saw how the important thing with dissatisfaction is to find an outlet for it. If that is to start up a new organic community of believers then do it, if that is to be the change in your church then do that, but don’t choose nothing.
I see my friends who don’t go to a church now craving community. They need that outlet for their love for Jesus, because at the moment they are becoming dulled. ‘Take a coal away from the fire and it will soon cool down’ in the words of my pastor. That dissatisfaction comes from a true grasp of the gospel. They have seen where their church has been falling short and it is up to them to speak that word of truth to the body. The church needs to change to speak clearly to the new generation of believers and our Lord is doing that step by step through us. It is up to us to challenge existing church culture and structure so that we don’t become stagnant and stuck in our ways, but it is possible to do that and to stay within the established church.
Did you write this mate? It’s excellent – absolutely fantastic – but it overlooks one thing: the extreme selfishness of Gen Y. We are children of privilege and have become accustomed to getting what we want, when we want, to diversity and change, to events, people and places that stimulate all our senses. I think the dissatisfaction with the church can come from a true grasp of the gospel, but often it represents a dissatisfaction within ourselves that we are not being serenaded in a way that makes us feel special. The idea of serving consistently and without complaint is basically foreign to the me-first generation that want to be given to rather than give themselves. This is a strict generalisation and I very much agree with your point that the church needs to change, but I also believe it is crucial we all examine ourselves carefully as to our motivation for dissatisfaction. Is there something really wrong with the church? What can we do to change it? Or is it our own desire to be given a show, a spectacle, entertainment from on high? And whatever the answer to these questions, we should frame every one of them around the question, “Is this where God has asked me to serve?” If yes, let’s change it. If no, let’s move on.