Are Millennials Reachable?

Ancient Map

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” (Matthew 21:33-41)

The Church (capital “C”) is facing many significant challenges. Worship attendance has been in steady decline for decades. Most congregations will admit that the average age of their worshipping members is far above the average age of people who live in their surrounding community. Surveys indicate that 23% of Americans identify themselves as “Nones”—people who have no interest in participating in the life of the Church. Surveys also indicated that 67% of Millennials were raised outside of the traditional structures of the Church. And yet, quite interestingly, 61% of the “Nones” believe in God.

We live in rapidly changing times. The “traditional” is being disrupted by the “innovative.” People can create their own radio stations using Spotify, or Pandora. People can avoid spending time in shopping malls by simply visiting Amazon.com in their home. Millennials have abandoned Encyclopedia Britannica, and now find information that they need on Wikipedia. We watch movies using Netflix instead of going to theaters. We can find quality sermons with the click of a mouse. We’re unbundling cable services and learning in the Khan Academy. Times are quickly changing. And the Church must look at its future and its ministry in different ways. Are the “Nones” unreachable? Or do we need to reconsider our approach to a group of modern “believers” who are simply not attracted to the Church’s existing structures and traditions?

“Nones” continue to believe in God, but they tend to sense God’s presence outside of the Church’s traditional box. “Nones” aren’t lost. “Nones” aren’t deaf to God’s voice. “Nones” aren’t unmoved by the presence of the Holy Spirit. But, even as we hold these truths in our minds, we need to stop assuming that the “Nones” are going to find their way back to the Church “when they come to their senses.” We cannot assume that “opening the doors” on Sunday morning is enough to attract people to worship. We can’t safely assume that people in the 21st Century will simply continue to find the “map”—that’s been marked with all of our favorite structures and songs and traditions—helpful. The Church has taught us to navigate through life by using a particular “map” that was meaningful to those who have gone before us, and that continues to be meaningful (at least to some of us) today. Many people in the Church want to believe that a particular “map”—that’s been marked with all of our favorite structures and traditions—will continue to meet the needs of people in every age. Perhaps we’ve lost sight of the fact that the “map” isn’t the “territory”? Perhaps we’ve lost sight of the fact that God can’t be contained in the box we’ve created with all of our traditions and structures? Maybe, we need to listen to the voices of the “Nones”—instead of considering them to be “lost”—so that we can continue to build ministries that help modern people successfully navigate through life, today?

We cannot continue to assume that the “Nones” will suddenly feel an urge to change their course and feel the need to more actively participate in the traditional structures that we’ve created (or inherited), and that we want to continue to control. Jesus once said that we can’t put new wine into old wineskins (Matthew 9:17). Perhaps, the real challenge of the “Nones” is one that continues to invite us to realize that our “map” (our traditional concepts and structures) is not as effective as it once was in helping people to find God in the midst of modern life?

Now it’s your turn to join the conversation:

The tenants in Christ’s parable deeply invested their time and energy in the vineyard; and, in the midst of making that type of an investment, developed a sense of “ownership.” How does our “sense of ownership” in the Church create challenges when we sense that God is trying to move our ministries in a different direction?

Jesus said that we can’t simply pour new wine into old wineskins. What did He mean by that? What does that say to the Church, right now?

Many people assume that “Nones” are people who don’t believe in God. How can ministry be reshaped by a more accurate realization of the fact that most “Nones” are believers— whose faith and sense of God simply doesn’t fit into the Church’s traditional concepts and structures?

Millennials are “unbundling” almost everything in their lives—realizing that it’s alright to seek information and services from a variety of sources. What would “unbundled” ministry look like? How could the ministry of a congregation be strengthened by leaders who focus upon a particular mission, rather than upon trying to be “all things to all people”?

 

Peace with God

Calm to the Waves

Peace has always been important to me.

I discovered, quite early in life, that I could create “peace” in my home by studying hard and getting good grades. I devoted years of my life to studying and to preparing for a career in Chemical Engineering because I believed that lasting “peace” is only found by those who discover their niche in the business world. I remember the “peace” that filled my heart when I received my seminary diploma and when I was ordained by my bishop. I’ve found “peace” in personal achievements. I’ve found “peace” in financial stability. I’ve found “peace” in my marriage and friendships. Peace has always been important to me.

But, as years have passed and as I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to think about “peace” in a different way. I’ve lived long enough to realize that even the best job in the world can unexpectedly disappear. I’ve seen kids, who were raised in a good home, go astray and even prematurely die. I’ve learned that all of our hopes and dreams for the future can be taken away, in an instant, by the words of a doctor. I’ve watched bad things happen to good people, and I’ve seen God answer even faithful prayers with a resounding, “No!”

False messengers of the rapidly spreading “Prosperity Gospel” have tried to convince me that it’s God’s job to keep me happy. Stadiums and auditoriums all around the world are filled with people who travel many miles to listen to the blabbering prophets of “Seed Faith” who proclaim that “peace” is found in the arms of a God who’s nothing more than a circus-lion that’s waiting for me to tell Him which hoop to jump through next. But it’s all a very dangerous lie. There’s a difference between “peace” and personal happiness. I’m treading in very dangerous waters when I base my ability to find “peace” in life upon the willingness of an idol to keep me happy. What happens when the answer to my prayers is “No”? What happens when a young disciple, who embraces the “Prosperity Gospel,” discovers that he’s dying, and that he’s going to leave his loving wife and newborn with an uncertain future? The “Prosperity Gospel” is like an opiate that offers me “peace” by telling me a lie. It’s not God’s job to make me happy. The “peace” that’s so important to me won’t be found in the willingness of an idol to give me whatever I think I “need” today to be happy. There’s something else.

One of the last, great promises Christ gives in the Bible is one that continues to remind me that Christ is always near. Christ is with me when I’m successful, and when I’m not. Christ stands beside me while I’m celebrating the blessings of life, and Christ is with me when I’m sad and overwhelmed. I’ve seen people discover “peace” in the midst of an ongoing battle with cancer that they would lose. I’ve stood beside parents were able to find a sense of “peace”—even as they silently stood vigil at the bedside of their dying child. I found great “peace” on a sunny day in the middle of May—the day when I stood beside my mother’s grave and commended her into the hands of a loving Lord.

I’ve discovered that God’s “peace” isn’t always found in the hands of an idol that simply gives me whatever I want in order to make me happy. “Peace” and happiness are very different. “Peace” is found in the continuing presence of the God who promises to walk with me even as the tides in my life change—not in the promises of an empty idol that has promised to give me whatever I want in an effort to keep me happy in life and that, then, fails to deliver.

Now it’s your turn to join the conversation:

What’s the greatest promise that God’s given to you?

How do you respond, as a person of faith, to the times in life when God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers?

What differences do you see between “peace” and “happiness”?

How can trusting in God’s continuing presence at all time in our lives give us a “peace” that we’ll never find when we believe that God’s primary responsibility is to make us happy?

An Inconvenient Truth

Butterfly

We entered the Season of Lent this week; and, as always, we began our journey in front of a bowl of ashes. People have covered themselves with ashes—as a sign of mourning and repentance—since Biblical times. Lent is a time of the year when we’re traditionally challenged to examine our lives and change course. And the dry ashes that we receive at the beginning of our Lenten journey add immediacy to the task.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

I have to admit that I seldom think about the fact that my days are numbered. I immerse myself in my work, and quickly open my calendar when someone asks for a piece of my time. I spend many of my evenings working late, or in front of a television—while reruns of “Law and Order” provide background noise for time that I devote to simply staring into the touchscreen of my Smartphone. And, before I know it, it’s time to go bed. The sands in the hourglass trickled away, and I have no way to recapture time that’s gone forever.

My sons are grown now and they’ve started a family of their own. My hair is turning gray and I’ve noticed that my body is aging. I’ve lived more days on the earth than I have left. I’m simply amazed that my granddaughter, who was so little when I held her in my arms a few days after she was born, is a toddler now—running around the house—exploring the world. Time passes quickly. And, even though I seldom think about the fact that my days are numbered, the dry ashes of Lent remind me of an inconvenient truth.

We also begin Lent with confession. We all have broken relationships that need to be healed. We’ve all had times in life when we’ve gotten lost along the way. We’ve all had times when we’ve gotten our priorities mixed-up and when we’ve made choices that we later regretted. That’s life. We all have 20×20 vision when we look back over the course of our lives and see things that we could have done differently.

But, each new day, brings a new beginning. Each new day brings with it the chance to refocus our lives and to re-invest ourselves in what matters the most. We can go back to those that we have hurt and apologize—and we can learn to be more gentle toward those who have disappointed us. We can commit ourselves to spending more time with the people we love—and to leaving our work in the office. We can work family-time into our busy schedules and commit more of our time to prayer. We can’t change the past—but we can intentionally shape the future by making the kinds of choices that will lead us into a future that we want to live.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Our days aren’t without number. We can’t always kick the can down the road because, quite frankly, we don’t actually know if tomorrow’s even on the calendar. That’s, most certainly, an inconvenient truth. But sometimes, the path toward new life is marked with harsh truths and with God’s call to something different.

Now it’s your turn to join the conversation:

How can becoming more aware of the fact that your days are numbered help you clarify your priorities and make better choices?

How do you spend your days, right now? Are you focusing upon what’s most important to you, or are you allowing time to slip between your fingers?

If you knew that you only had a month to live, how would your life and priorities change?

What do you think you’ll see when you look back over the course of your life with the 20×20 vision of tomorrow? Can you write a different story by changing your focus right now? Can you start doing that today?