Charlie was in my youth group when I was a pastor. He was, hands down, one of my favorite kids, and he and I have stayed friends in the decade since I left the ministry. He read my post on Tuesday and asked if he could respond. Here’s what he wrote:
Every week I go to church, not necessarily by choice, but by way of employment. I have been working at medium sized church in an affluent community for the last five years. When I realized that the the pastor was actually preaching on topics I could relate to I began to wonder where all of my friends from our forty-person confirmation class had gone? I even felt scared to admit that I went to church or worked at a church.
When I saw my friends on Saturday nights at the bar, I began to realize that this is our church, the bar, the social scene, dinner nights out on the town, not some suburban palace.
Growing up in a youth group run by Tony was a different experience than most high school students in our city. The “other kids” had flashy events, vibrant worship, and thrilling trips to go on, or so I thought.
In his latest post Tony highlights a conversation with his niece in which he responded to her questions with a question. I do not recall that being the case in which our group was conducted, but then again the maturity and development of my analytical skills had not been fully realized at that time. Maybe he did. This is where I ponder his statement:
One of the things that most frustrates me about church life is how quickly people abdicate their hermeneutical authority to clergypersons, and how quickly and easily clergypersons take up that authority.
In my generation, Millennials, we were raised to listen to our elders and soak up all the bullshit that was thrown at us. Then in college we learned reason and doubt and that there were other ways to look at the life we have been given. No wonder so many of my friends have run from the church, we never had an option to explore and question what we were being told. Furthermore, we were left feeling betrayed and probably in some cases lied to.
Thank goodness that God granted us forgiveness for our sins and to those who sin against us. So let us forgive the people that took advantage of our young minds. But also if you are in youth ministry, give the young minds a chance to sit in the unknown, let them question, do not tell them the black and white, instead let them and/or encourage them to explore the grey area. Stop being upset that kids are exploring something other than the environment you have created at your church. Culture and church should coexist and be embraced.
My generation loves culture. If you want us to come back to church, embrace who we are and where we are. Be real, question your own theology as a pastor, come to a bar with us, bring us into your vision for the church, walk with us toward Jesus, do not lead us or push us toward Jesus.
For some reason I have found myself working at the very church that I learned about faith, yet still questioning, exploring and wrestling with it all. My friends, they’re at the bar discussing women, work, and life. Yet I find myself there too, it still feels comfortable and rich with life and community.
Maybe as a church we should be teaching our young people as Tony puts it:
We should have given them the tools to further investigate the existential questions that are inherent to the life of faith.