millenials

Sacred Work

By Rev. Mindi

When I was preparing for ministry in seminary, I imagined engaging the sacred when I raised my hands in prayer during Sunday worship, or lifted up the bread and cup. I remember practicing baptisms in my Baptist polity & theology class, and while we laughed and splashed each other in the baptistery of the First Baptist Church, I remember the first time I held someone in the water, and baptized them in the name of God the Creator, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In the years to come, I found those sacred moments were found much more often in sharing a cup of tea with someone in their nineties, sharing prayers of blessing and thankfulness for a life lived over one hundred years, and holding the hand of a woman who had been in worship on Sunday morning and had suddenly passed away by the next morning. Sacred moments were not the ones I had practiced and prepared for, but rather the unexpected.

And after even more years I have recognized the sacred in late-night laughter at youth lock-ins and campfire singing; in the curious questions of children in worship; in the tear-filled prayer requests during Joys and Concerns.

Today, however, the sacred was found in holding a pencil and trying to multiply decimals with a fourth grader.

We began an after-school program today at my church, one that we have been preparing for now for months, but it took this long to get students to come—and they came. And they had fun and want to come back. I had to erase and start again a few times—as the new math curriculum breaks things down into steps—but in those moments of brushing away the remains of the eraser, I had that feeling that this was a sacred moment. A moment in which an adult was listening to a child and learning as the child taught the adult how to do new math.

However, it wasn’t just me. As I looked around the room, longtime members of the church and new volunteers from the community were taking turns reading with these students, helping with homework and playing games, getting to know each other. We always assume mentoring is to help the younger generation, but I’m convinced that the adults were the ones who may have had a spiritual awakening today.

We prepare for sacred work in ministry; but those sacred moments most often happen unexpectedly, and in my experience, between generations. Someone once said the church is the last institution in which we naturally gather together across generations. Maybe instead of trying to figure out why certain generations don’t want to come to church or don’t want to associate with others, as the plethora of articles in church life over the last five years seem to suggest—we ought to be celebrating our inter-generational nature and finding ways of connecting and finding sacred moments there.

Grow up, Grownups!

By Rev. Mindi

I went to hear a prominent Christian speaker today and she was excellent.  She spoke about our current cultural dynamics, broken down by generation and religious affiliation, and that the future of the church is now. 

The speaker mentioned how those in the 18-29 age range are adults.

Then an older woman made the comment, “Legally.”

SERIOUSLY?

And we wonder why millennials are not in the church?

Right after the woman made that comment, several people shouted back, “NO” to the woman, and “They are adults!” The speaker confirmed gently that yes, they are adults and we need to reframe our thinking.

But this comment by one woman is a symptom of a much greater problem in the church. The fact is, we treat young adults like they are children and what used to be middle-age like they are adolescents.

Look at your church board. Is there anyone under 40 on it? Anyone under 30?

I have seen this happen in the churches I have served. As a young pastor, I’ve been called “kid” many times. Ironically, when my hairdresser recently asked me about coloring my hair I said no. I need my grays that are streaking in. However, the larger issue is that regularly, people in their 30’s and 40’s in the churches I have served and known are referred to as kids (because everyone probably remembers when they were kids and their parents probably still attend that church), but what’s worse, they are often treated like kids.  I have seen adults in their 70’s and 80's scold the 40-year-olds in the church over various things—their attire, their tattoos, the way they teach Sunday School—and we wonder why even younger adults are not there.

We have to stop this symptom. We have to change our attitudes. We have to treat millennials and Gen-Xers as adults. Gen-Xers are middle-aged. Millennials vote and work.  We are adults. We have a vested interest—perhaps even more than others—in the future of the church and if we are not included right now, treated with equal value and respect—then why in the world would we want to stay in an institution that doesn’t treat us this way?

This symptom, of course, is a symptom of a greater issue—power and control. I remember in a previous church a group of young 30-somethings complaining about some of the decision-making in the church and how they were excluded from it. Even though they served on the board, their ideas were dismissed and opinions ignored. They often joked, “When we get to be their age, then we can be ornery and stubborn and make the church the way we want it!” That was said tongue-in-cheek, but it reflected the behavior of the boomers and the seniors in the church leadership at that time.

We shouldn’t divide on generational lines, and as was shared by another participant in this conversation, the church is one of the last institutions that can be truly intergenerational and was intended to be that way. There is value of all people of all generations being together, and we know the value of diversity within those generations. But all too often, we are dismissing “younger” adults as not being an adult, not capable of participating or making decisions or being trustworthy or having the right skills. News flash: if your church is in decline and all your leadership is above fifty, you might want to consider that you may not have the right skills for leadership today.

We cannot change all of the reasons why younger adults are leaving the church, or why they haven’t come in the first place (that would take another article, plus we would need to address the assumption that we still need to get people in to the church, and that perhaps we need to rethink our models of church, but I digress). But we can do better. The first step is changing our attitudes about younger adults. The second is to be intentionally intergernational and to break down our stereotypes of all generations.  It’s going to take all of us, together, to nip this in the bud.

Walking in the Desert Isn't the Worst Thing to Happen to the Mainline

By Terry Smith

The mainline is dying. That’s no surprise to anyone. Conservative denominations are growing though. In America, the only steadily growing denomination is the Assemblies of God, a conservative evangelical Pentecostal denomination. Many mainline denominations (my beloved Disciples of Christ, included) are grasping at straws to stop from fading into obscurity.

But, “obscurity” isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Disciples of Christ and other mainline denominations. The worst thing that could happen to us is that we flake on our call to be the prophets in the wilderness. The worst thing that could happen to us is that we manipulate people into joining our churches with fear-driven sermons. The worst thing that could happen to us is that we stop being the voice of justice in the wilderness. The worst thing that could happen to us is not spending 40 years in the desert, but the worst thing that could happen to us is that the fear of the desert drives us to compromise our beliefs.

Walking in the desert isn’t the worst thing that happened to the people of Israel. Not everyone made it through the desert though. Not everyone has what it takes to follow the cloud of the Lord and survive off manna from Heaven. Let those who need to survive off their bastardization of God. Let them make God into an American and Jesus into a Republican, but do not let us compromise our beliefs and the message God has given to us for fear of the desert.

It is in the desert that we learn to trust God, because we have to. And it is then, when we have no other choice but to trust God and each other for our sustenance that true community happens. And on the other side of the desert, the Promised Land stands and our giants of church debt, tradition and pride will have to be fought to find hope in the Promised Land. But the desert isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to the mainline or the people of Israel. The worst thing that happens to us is when we stop being the JUST people of God and start relying on the religion of the state to sustain us.