Real; Relevant & Revolutionary
To keep young adults in our churches we must find a way to connect where they live. What they seek is not much different from what their parents sought twenty or so years ago, but of course that was when we were “anti-establishment” rather than being the establishment. It is time to find ways to be real; relevant and revolutionary and to foster those tendencies in our young adults rather than fighting against them.
This generation knows that the Christian faith is not about “happily ever after.” They are the products of single parent homes, gangs, drugs and STDs. They realize that just because you bend an knee at an altar and commit to Christ doesn’t mean that when you get up your life won’t be just as difficult. They understand what it is to be “real.” To be real is to be completely authentic and to tell the hard truth. They are the product of about 3,000 commercial messages every day and don’t appreciate infomercial Christianity.
How does this translate to the church? First, no false promises. Don’t promise their lives will magically come together or that they won’t have existential struggle once they let God in. Rather, help them understand that our power is in the power of the shared community, the mystery of the sacrament and the foundation of a faith system that will endure even when our lives are unendurable. Help them realize that this is a battle not a theme park and that it will be a struggle. Let them know that faith is a daily decision and not a mushy feeling you get at camp, that way when they go home they are ready for the fight.
Secondly, look around. This is not the world of the past, it is the world of now. Wil Wilimon once said when he teaching at Duke Divinity School that if the fifties ever come back the United Methodist Church will be ready. Amazingly (at least to me) being relevant is not about having electric guitars and fancy graphics as much as it about helping them connect the unchanging Gospel to an ever-changing world. They are saturated by the culture and only get a sprinkle of the Truth. We have to give them real tools to help them cope rather than generic platitudes and churchy clichés that fall apart when assaulted by their real lives.
Being revolutionary is even more of a struggle than being real and relevant. It is against our nature to embrace revolution. The status quo is where we have learned to live; allowing a complete turnover of all that makes us comfortable is hard to embrace. If we have done our jobs and been good mentors, allowing them to test their leadership skills and grow in their faith, we should feel fine with giving over the reigns of leadership to them. Let them create, develop and lead. Provide areas where they can stretch their revolutionary muscles. Let them fail. That’s right, helicopter parents and hovering pastors, let them fall flat on their face and flop. There is no better way to learn than to fail, as long as failure is done in a loving community that will pick you up and give you another chance.
Lastly, embrace the revolution. Support it and make way for it. Certainly, serve the congregation that is but make way for the community that is coming next. Were it not for the life-lengthening work of modern medicine most mainline churches would already have given the reigns of leadership over to this generation or have ceased to exist. Just because we are living longer does not, necessarily mean we deserve to strangle the church and mold it to our preferences. Remember, its not about you…it’s about the Gospel.Gracious God, who created out of chaos, grant that we can embrace the chaos of revolutionary creation once again and let your Holy Spirit lead our church back to life. You who lived in a real world, allow us to be real, You who caused a revolution, let us embrace the revolution that you are bringing again. In the name of the real revolutionary, Jesus, I pray. Amen