Church, Millennials & The Growing Divide

The music plays softly in the background. Emotions are stirring within the hearts of the crowd. Reverberating through the seats, a thunderous summoning for the people to rise to their feet. A tearful plea. An appeal for the listening multitude to accept Jesus, “Come. Walk down the aisle for personal salvation!”

The great crusades of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had success in the proclamation of the gospel. Especially regarding the Great Awakenings. However, concerning discipleship and the ecclesiastical community—not, so much.

Nearly two hundred years removed from the remarkable orations of George Whitefield and John Wesley. One hundred years since the preaching of D. L. Moody, or even just a decade of the marvelous Billy Graham crusades—we still hear it … You need a personal salvation.

Observations are only observations. Sometimes we can learn from them and sometimes, not. Observation does not necessitate a cause—as many factors may contribute—especially regarding the Western church decline.

However, I perceive—by research and observation—that some of the Western church’s dilemma resides in “personal” salvation. There is a growing divide between church importance and millennials, and it’s not getting any better.

Growing divide

Only two in ten millennials (ages 30 and under) believe that church is important.[1]While we could equate spiritualism, intellectualism, humanism, evolutionary science, and other factors into the equation—59 percent of millennials who grew up in the church, no longer attend. Why don’t we be honest—the problem is the within the church, not within culture.

The truth is—the Western church is horrible at reproducible disciple-making (less than 20% of Christians partake in discipleship[2]). Why are believers horrible at following the one chief command given (Matt 28:19–20)? I believe there is a correlation between “personal” salvation and the collective imperative of the ecclesiastical community.

Failure to be connected

Almost 90 percent of individuals who claim to have faith in Christ do not attend church.[3] There is an overwhelming majority that believe they can “love Jesus” but not love the church. Unfortunately, this is an erroneous human construct. The Church is the body of Christ—you can’t hate the church and love Jesus.

Jesus declared the “gates of hell” ineffective against his church, not the individual believer (Matt 16:18). Our faulty understanding of the word church, has much to do with our dilemma. Without diving into a Greek ocean of vernacular—the term church is defined as gathered, called out ones.

There can be no disconnect between salvation and service—at least according to the apostle Paul. In Ephesians 2:8–10, Paul distinctly declares salvation as a work of God, by faith, because of being created for good works. Paul’s Epistle professes an overall appeal for the unity and praxis of the church.

I believe a major factor in the growing divide between church relevance and faith is caused by some of the teachings of a “me” centered gospel. Let’s face it, if God solely focused on personal salvation, he’d “rapture” people at conversion. Albeit, believers represent the incarnate body of Christ on earth—a collective living and breathing—relevant—body.

Factors for change

The Millennial generation is larger than the Boomer generation—can we say, “Houston, we have a problem”—an astronomical problem!

Barna states, “Millennials who are opting out of church cite three factors with equal weight in their decision: 35% cite the church’s irrelevance, hypocrisy, and the moral failures of its leaders as reasons to check out of church altogether. In addition, two out of 10 unchurched Millennials say they feel God is missing in church.”[4]

I would agree that the church does not maintain a healthy balance between charismania and academia. But after all, the church is a gathering of sinful people cleansed by Christ, but not perfected—we know we have our faults and dysfunctions.

Regardless, to close the door of the divide, the church must relate the importance of salvation for the collective community—the power of God on display—through prayer, proclamation, and praxis.

[1] “Americans Divided On the Importance of Church,” Barna.org, March 24, 2014, accessed, https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/.

[2] David Kinnaman, “New Research On the State of Discipleship,” http://www.barna.org, https://www.barna.org/research/leaders-pastors/research-release/new-research-state-of-descipleship#.VqDcJFJQmDU.

[3] “Meet Those Who “love Jesus but Not the Church”,” Barna.org, March 30, 2017, accessed, https://www.barna.com/research/meet-love-jesus-not-church/.

[4] “Americans Divided On the Importance of Church,” Barna.org, March 24, 2014, accessed, https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/.

To Be Effective, Seek Health Before Goals

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Recently, I completed my doctoral work. It was an arduous journey—physically and emotionally draining. Life doesn’t stop because you’re tired. Juggling the many “hats” I do, burnout was no laughing matter. Merriam-Webster defines burnout as “an exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”[1] That was me.

I think we’re obsessed with goals. We read gads of leadership books about how to be “successful.” Recently, I read an article about how Richard Branson, Tim Cook, Bob Iger, and Tim Armstrong became successful—they awoke at 5 am.[2] I thought, “I get up at 3 am—guess I’m doing it right!” Hashtag—Fail.

Success isn’t about cramming hours into a day. Reaching goals should be easier.

So, I researched goals and burnout. I dove deep. Out of the oceans of reasons, I was seeking a life-preserver—something to bring balance during the waves of life.

I discovered a parallel between the imago Dei (image of God) and the missio Dei (mission of God). God created man to work—pre-fall (Gen. 2:15; Eph. 2:10). Work is not a curse, but a blessing.

Man is a creative leader—like the Creator. Place hammers, nails, and wood in a room with monkeys and maybe—if you’re lucky—you get bent nails and broken wood. But with man, you get something creative! We were made for work and to have “dominion” (Gen. 1:26). Man was created for working-leadership.

So why burnout?                        

How come when we reach our goals, we’ve sacrificed relationships, health, and faith?

A man once questioned Jesus about which of the commandments was the greatest. Jesus responded, “The most important is … you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater” (Mk. 12:29–31). God’s command was unified, but we separate them. We burnout because we fail to strive for our goals—healthily.

Mark Strauss validates, he writes, “[The] four distinct features of personhood … do not represent separate components of human life, but function as a [unified whole]. Loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength has at its foundation and motivation in the transforming love that God poured out on us. The natural response to this overwhelming gift of love and grace is to love others with the same kind of self-sacrificial love God has shown us.”[3]

I’m a big fan of tools—the right one makes the job easier. So, I developed a tool. The Health Before Goal, tool.

The Health Before Goal tool emphasizes the categories of the great commandment: spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational. When we focus on our goals, instead of our health—if—we reach the goal, we have sacrificed an area of health (spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational). If we seek health before goals, we reach our goals healthily.

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Spiritual

As the imago Dei, we are spiritual beings. When we put anything before God—we’re setting ourselves up for spiritual failure. We’re sacrificing our soul, for success. When we focus upon God first, our spiritual health matures and flourishes—the imago Dei aligns with the missio Dei.

Application? Focus on quiet time for prayer, reflection, reading the Scriptures, prayer journaling and walking, fasting to place the spirit over the flesh, and devotional reading.

Emotional

The next logical step is emotional health. Life is exhausting. Archibald Hart advises, to “Pay careful attention to developing an awareness of your limits … take a good Sabbath rest at the end of every day.”[4] No one likes a grouch.

Application? Fast from social media an hour before bed, get adequate sleep, meditate, prioritizing your schedule, and practice short nap-taking.

Physical

Until a little over 100 years ago, man traveled by foot. God created man with physical activity in mind (Gen. 2:15). A moderate amount of exercise benefits: increased strength, feeling of well-being, reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, blood sugar levels, reduced body fat, anxiety, depression, and an overall balance of life.[5]

Application? Try walking, running, lifting weights, or cardiovascular activity a few days a week for overall heart health.

Relational

Man needs healthy relationships. When goals become priority, people do not. Stepping on others may get you to your goal—but at what cost?

Application? Jesus commanded us to, “love one another” (John 13:34). Simple.

Conclusion

If you focus on the four areas of health, in order, you’ll achieve your goals healthily.

 

[1] Merriam-Webster Online, “burnout,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/burnout.

[2] Marcel Schwantes, “Richard Branson and Tim Cook Wake up at This Ungodly Hour (And You Should, Too),” Inc.com, July 15, 2017, accessed September 14, 2017, https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/richard-branson-and-tim-cook-get-up-every-day-at-t.html.

[3] Mark L. Strauss, Mark (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), ed. Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 542, 545.

[4] Archibald D. Hart, The Anxiety Cure: You Can Find Emotional Tranquility and Wholeness (Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 124.

[5] E. Topol, “Exercise for Your Heart Health,” Cleveland Clinic, October 2016,

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/exercise-for-your-heart-health.