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You’ve seen the signs. Literal signs on billboards, flyers, T-shirts, banners and bumper stickers. “Come As You Are”, I think, kind of set it all in motion. Kurt Cobain would have been proud. Now you see everything from “No Perfect People Allowed” to “Rock and Roll Church” to “Not Your Grandma’s Church”. I have to admit that last one kind of bugs me. I’m old enough to be a grandpa myself, and I have to admit, I like me some good “rock and roll” worship music from time to time. And that is a small part of the problem. But I’ll get to that later.
I do not believe, with the possible exception of the “grandma” thing, that there is anything inherently wrong with any of the above slogans or labels. You could argue that any of them are accurate, especially if the church is living up to their proclamations.
Everywhere you look, churches are cropping up with catchy names that cry out, “Hey! We’re not Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians or any thing at all. We are simply believers!!” In just about any city with a population of 50,000 or more you can open a phonebook(they still make those don’t they???) and find cool names like “Celebration”, “Journey”, “Oasis” or “_______Family Worship.” We even have one in my city named “A Church Called Mystery.” I’m not certain what they are about, but I have heard good things about them.
As churches move away from what they consider to be denominationalism, the names become increasingly vague. Again, I personally see nothing necessarily wrong with that. Especially if they are facilitating worship. In my experience, I have attended or served in practically every denomination there is. I have even been labeled at times a “church-hopper”. I have yet to find that term in the Bible, and I am certain the Apostle Paul might take issue with it.
Now I do not want to lump any of these bodies in with those who have left a church to start their “own”, in order to avoid submission to authority. It is sad and all too common an occurrence when a person will start a church because they do not want someone telling them what to do. Often times you will find that the “pastors” of those churches actually own the building, control the finances and hand pick the board, if they have one. They are in essence accountable to no one, and rarely recognize any accountability to God. Many border on cult status.
There are however, many churches trying to reach a different generation in what they view as the best way they know how to. And they are succeeding in ways beyond our imagination. Many churches that are targeting in on the 20 something demographic are seeing numeric growth way beyond what they could have ever predicted. However, some of these approaches are inadvertently breeding an improper rebellion that if not recognized, could contribute more to division than actual unity. They have cloaked this potential division under the garments of “musical tastes”, “casual dress” or even “concert lighting.” They insist on “doing” church differently and have definite ideas as to what “their church should look like.”
Sometimes, these “new churches” are birthed in and remain under the umbrella of the “main” church. “Come to our new ‘Contemporary’ service in the gymnasium!!” or “Make sure and attend our Young Adult service immediately following our regular service” is becoming a new standard within many large fellowships. This gives some folks an “out” without ever having to leave “their” church. Jesus had some definite words in respect to division, and they were not favorable. Increasingly, we see the younger generation distancing themselves from the older generation, and the side effects are not good.
Instead of engaging with the “older” members of the fellowship to see if they might add to the existing structure, they created a “new” structure, so they could do church the way they wanted to. This may work with the middle-school aged worshiper (although that may also be worthy of further consideration), but when you are in your 20’s, segregation is not necessarily the answer. When you are in your 20’s, you have increased potential and voice to lead or otherwise add to the overall mission of the church. Another aspect of becoming a 20 something is, like it or not, joining the rest of intergenerational society. Face it, you have to integrate. So as a result, the tendency is to either start a church within a church, or an entirely new fellowship that caters to their tastes and expectations.
My purpose here is certainly not to place blame or guilt on anyone. People are attending church, and that is certainly a good thing. But part of the problem faced by the 20 something’s is that many of them have come out of a carnival like, happy-feely, lights-camera-action high-school youth environment that served more as a baby-sitting service, while trying to somehow keep them interested in Jesus; than actual discipleship. Many children and youth in church today spend more time bouncing up to the next level of catchy classroom titles, than they ever spend in actual spiritual growth. And honest pastors and other leaders are often times to busy catering to cry-babies on the “board” that they do not have time to see what is really going on during Sunday school or children’s church. In many cases, church has become a couple of hours of spending time with “people just like them.”
And if we indoctrinate our children and young people into an environment that motivates them to only desire to spend time with people “just like them”, we may very well be cultivating a form of “self-worship.”
The truth is many of us, including a 50 something like me, are hungry for something more than what we grew up in. Three hymns, an offering, a message and an altar call just aren’t cutting it. And those of us, who have a passion to reach this generation, while refusing to isolate or otherwise disregard our “older” generation, are desperate to find “something” that “works.” Especially if we have taken the time to look at the statistics, that cry out for a revolution.
Since they have been keeping track of such things, it has been evident in business and culture, and increasingly in the church, the recognition that the “younger generation” functions like a type of radar, seeking out and reporting on what is happening in culture, both good and bad. The younger generation has an understanding of where things are headed way before anyone else. This is one reason why churches are beginning to look and sound more like what young people are feeling and/or experiencing. Major corporations have tapped into the reality of this “radar”, and use it to their full advantage. Companies like General Electric and Texas Instruments proactively rely on the ideas, and even leadership of younger people. Young adults in the church offer much of the same insight, but are too often faced with resistance from the older generation. The results of which continue to perpetuate a division that has its roots in the removal of children from the sanctuary for being “disruptive.”
So besides the counter-productivity that comes from such division, another element is slowly rearing an ugly head:
I hesitate to write this, but I rarely follow my own hesitation. At any rate, there are churches all over this country, which will remain nameless, that have the most arrogant bunch of people attending that I have ever heard of. It sickens me how they are so elitist that they poison the Gospel as far as I am concerned. The sad part for me personally is that I know several well meaning seekers who attend them religiously. I pray for them. And I mean that.
But the arrogance is not just among the younger set. It’s coming from both sides of the aisle.
And whenever arrogance is present, it is almost always accompanied by a heart unwilling to submit to authority. The result of which causes one to pull away from, or out of, the church you have been part of. So we either create a church within a church, leave to start our “own” church, or leave church altogether.
The truth is that this spirit of arrogance festers in both competing generations. The older generation has refused to heed to the younger voices around them as contributing members of leadership. At the same time, the younger generation has put their own tastes and desires ahead of those whose wisdom and dreams paved the way to the front door of the church. The common denominator is fear, which provides the fertile ground for the broken relationships between the generations to flourish. The older folks are often afraid of change of any sort. Even if they may be in favor of a “new” idea, they fear their inability to execute it. They fear disrupting the “way things have always been” or fear what their peers may think. At the same time, the younger generation is afraid that they may be forced to conform to traditions or “dress codes” that will result in the loss of their identity. These fears become a breeding ground for division, and whenever fear is present, control tends to be the natural response.
Regardless of which generation we find ourselves part of, when we think of “church”, we all have different ideas as to what that means to us. We would be wise, in any generation, to reexamine what Peter stated in the 2nd Chapter of Acts when he quoted the Old Testament prophet Joel:
“Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
This is a timely reminder that any significant movement within the Church will be an inter-Generational one that is sensitive to the Spirit of God. God gave that dream to Joel thousands of years ago, but each of us should consider the present day application of it. A combination of the dreams and visions that God is so generously pouring out through His Spirit, to the old and young alike, will unite us to become a force equipped to storm the gates of hell.
In any generation, the men and women who have made worthwhile and lasting contributions to the Kingdom, have had a touch of rebellion attached to their actions. Attacking the institution of the church, as opposed to the dream of God known as The Church, is a worthwhile use of this rebellious nature. We must get past our arrogance and fear, regardless of our age, to become a responsible and productive part of this time in church history.
We must get past the “next generation” and “church of the future” mentality to begin accomplishing this mission. We limit ourselves through terms and labels that divide instead of unite. This so called “future generation” is using mass-media, they are earning and spending money and they are starting families now. They are not on the side-lines, they are in the game. Yet in the eyes of too many elders, deacons and pastors, they are looked upon as going to “someday” be part of the church. The truth is, they are parts of a body known as The Church, and they are actively living out the visions God has given them. But unless we actively work to keep the body together, we will continue to see “new” churches popping up that cater only to the tastes and wishes of those who start them, and lose the dream God gave to Joel.
As a 50 something, I have to take some responsibility for the division I have helped to create. Partly because I personally dig the “Come as you are, no perfect people allowed, rock and roll, church unusual, perfect place for imperfect people” places of worship I am drawn to. But the thing is, it’s not about me. And if I insist on church being designed to cater to my tastes in order to contribute, then I completely miss the purpose.
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