Oddly enough, to claim it seems to put me at odds with what everyone else is exclaiming. By all rights, I shouldn’t even be in church.
I could dive into my personal experiences all of the issues here that other millennials fed up with church have expressed elsewhere. But that’s overkill by now. I think everybody gets it (or should) that because I’m a millennial I’ve never felt particularly wanted in church except as a token young person and my place of ministry is with youth and I’ve never offered or assisted in finding a way to do ministry. My identity, abilities and roles have been assumed, there was no assistance in helping me establish myself otherwise.
Of course there’s also the stodgy bureaucracy and the incomprehensible resistance to any sort of meaningful change until it’s far too late – from people or the institution. There’s much more energy in maintaining the status quo, requiring me to expend just that much more energy in order to do something else that might do some meaningful good in the world.
Google something along the lines of “millennials church” if you’re not already aware of this as a problem.
So why do I remain? And why do I remain as a pastor? I’ve pretty much summed up the frustrations that all the “nones” and “dones” have with church as my own frustrations and yet I remain. Why?
At it’s best there’s something redeeming about church.
Worship. I can and do find wholeness and peace in various places in the world, be it hiking, reading, playing music or writing, but there is something different than the worship I experience and the worship that can occur in church.
Can being the operative word there. I don’t always find church worship meaningful in church, because it can be uninspired and not seek, express or engage our meaningful grander reality. Or perhaps it did make an attempt at that, but the routine has devolved into a Sunday morning feature of plug and play, because the leaders and presiders are far too busy running an institution than to give meaningful time to worship planning.
But worship has every opportunity to be amazing in some way, to express hope, beauty, grief or glory – the fabric of our reality. I can’t simply let it go. Beauty, grief and glory can be seen everywhere, but those experiences struggle to be anything more than isolated expressions of the fabric, impermanent and inconclusive.
In worship, underlying any number of different expressions of reality, is the movement toward hope, completion and finality. Maybe that hope is boldly proclaimed or maybe it’s allowed to be groped for in the dark or maybe it’s simply not mentioned but still not denied. I find that it is only in the union of leaders, presiders and congregants can the reality that I believe in be fully expressed, the reality that underlying my and everyone else’s experience of life is the progression toward an all fulfilling hope.
The Christian expression of reality and hope as understood through the resurrection is final and complete.
Which brings me to my second point.
The living out of the hope and efforts of the new creation in the world. Whether in the world means within the confines of the church building and organization or beyond the walls in the lives, houses and worlds of others. The life of a follower and learner of Jesus is to make other followers and learners of Jesus who bring the life of another world to bear on our current broken one.
Plenty of organizations offer me the opportunity to make a difference in the world, to bring hope into someone’s life. But they cannot offer me the opportunity to corporately live out the hope of a world better and beyond. It would be my personal experience, sure, but it would be nothing greater.
I would gladly partner with any number of those organizations, no matter their theological/philosophical underpinnings. Their missions align well with the church’s, but they stop short of the moving pointing all people to the all encompassing hope of a new creation.
As a millennial who has remained church, I find tension in the practice. In spite of the church’s redeeming characteristics, I want to ditch it and run, because too often I’ve experienced too many parts of the church working against those aspects.
Yet that is exactly why I remain and why I remain as a pastor.
I couldn’t handle the tension if I wasn’t. I remain in church so that I can play a part in leading it beyond the tension into fully expressing it’s redeeming qualities and being the body of Christ in the world.