And don’t run around with girls that do. My wife and I were talking about this last night. There’s some wisdom to this. There’s enough objective science out there which shows that:
Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful
Smoking causes cancer
And so does smokeless tobacco.
But none of these rules is the Gospel. And the last line (“Don’t run around with girls who do”) marginalizes a whole people group who need to hear that Gospel–the “Good News.”
Right from the get go, people who do those things–smoking, drinking, chewing–get the distinct impression that they’re not welcome in our churches. The implicit message is conform to our expectations, and then (and only then) you can be one of us…
Instead of the other way around, where we say “Jesus loves you, and so do we. Come to him.” It’s not “Clean up, and come to Him.” Rather, come to Him, and He’ll clean you up.
Which brings me to millennials. They’re not good conformists. They’re the square pegs in round holes. They don’t experience God necessarily in the same way you and I do.
But who are we to say they can’t come?
I think this is why they are leaving the church in droves–and this, though the window dressing might be different–is the same reason people have been leaving the church since time immemorial:
They’re fed up with a Gospel of don’ts–don’t do this, don’t do that, Christians don’t [fill in the blank]. Instead of being known for the Big Someone (Jesus) that we’re for, we’re rather known for our rules (which we can’t even quite seem to keep ourselves), for what we’re against.
Hear me carefully here: what I’m not saying that the church is any more full of hypocrites than any other human institution–because it’s no more, or less, so than any other human institution. Hypocrites are like Mr. White in Quantum of Solace, who said, “We have people everywhere.”
What I am saying is that, because of that implicit message we peddle, the church is more open to the charge of hypocrisy. And millennials, like Holden Caulfield, are particularly adept at sniffing it out.
So the $64,000 question: How do keep millennials from leaving? We need to be authentic, get real, and be vulnerable. Admit it when we screw up. And stop lading people down with rules we can’t even keep ourselves.
Moreover, who says it’s our job to keep them from leaving? The Father let the Prodigal go… And maybe that’s what we need to do, too. Watch, pray, and look for the return. But for goodness’ sake we can’t hold onto those who don’t want to be there.
We can’t want something for another more than they themselves want it. Oh, we can, but you know the expression about leading a horse to water, right? The horse has to drink from the fount of its own accord.
So what do we do then? As the late Chuck Colson asked, “How now shall we live?”
With integrity, and with love.
Like Jesus. (A tall order, I know).