I want to say a few more things about Sam Eaton and Darrell Bock’s table talk over at DTS recently on the subject of Millennials leaving the church. My first post was deliberately uncooked and quite direct. I am frustrated with “Christians” leaving the church. And I am equally frustrated with men who obsess about it. True Christians do not leave the church. Now, by church, I mean the true body of Christ that gathers each week to commune with one another, to encourage one another, to study God’s word together, to worship together. The last time I checked, the Christian community, all of us, are imperfect sinners whose motives always have to be checked at the door. We tend toward selfishness, toward laziness, toward wanting our share of attention. We tend to allow the culture to influence our thinking more often than we should and we never should. We are sinners in need of a Savior. We are people with faults of all types, in desperate need of grace and mercy. The thing is, Millennials and Xers and Boomers and whatever else this narcissistic culture wants to call itself, are all sinners. And if we are in Christ, we are all sinners in Christ. We each have our sinful struggles, our sinful proclivities. We are all part of the problems are in our church and we are all also part of the solution to those problems.
The writer to the Hebrews said it this way: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. This seems to be the exact opposite of what Millennials are doing. If you see an opportunity to stir your brother to love, take it. If you see an opportunity to stir your brother to good deeds, take it.
According to Luke, the early church devoted themselves to the new way, to the cause! And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42) That word devoted is proskartereō, and it has the sense of holding fast to something, to continue in it, to persevere, to be persistent in a thing. There were four things the early church is said to have devoted itself to in this text: 1) the apostles teaching; 2) the fellowship; 3) breaking of bread; 4) prayer. Is the church required to be perfect before we will devote ourselves to these things? I hope not. The ancient church in this text was brand new! It was not only not perfect, it wasn’t even close to being spiritually mature.
There is no shortage of reasons for leaving the church. Connection with others is one of the most obvious ones. I have no idea why it is such a massive project to get close to people in the community, but it is. It did not used to be this way. I remember when it was easier. Second, the lack of education and real training in the church is inexcusable and irresponsible. I know that most people don’t want it. But some people do and everyone needs it. Fluffy, high-level lessons that fly so high and so fast over topics that there is hardly enough time to really teach people the meat of the issue are for the most part a “check-the-box-waste-of-time-feel-good” exercise of futility. The lack of true discipleship is another reason for leaving the church. Why leadership is not organized in a way that places leaders inside the lives of families in the church, deliberately, intentionally, is mind-boggling to me. If you want to lead, then be prepared to get involved in people’s lives. If you want to teach Sunday School, be an elder, a deacon, then be prepared to block time on your calendar each week to reach out to those in your care if for no other reason, to chat. Find out what is going on in their lives. Discover who they are. Serve them when you can. Identify opportunities for others to serve them.
I could list a number of reasons for leaving the church in addition to those above. But what I have not said is that I cannot list one good reason for leaving the church. And that is because there isn’t one. Millennials are leaving the church because they are focused on themselves. Xers are leaving the church because they are focused on themselves. No one who is focused on God, who is interested in selflessly serving Christ and his body leaves the church. It is only those people who are in it for themselves that leave the church. Think about it. If you want to serve, then serve. If you have ideas about helping the poor, then go ask for help, take what you can get, and get it done. Do it.
Millennials, Xers, and Boomers, and anyone else I may have left off the list; know this – when you leave the church you reveal your true character. You tell us what you are really about and who you really are.
So, why do people leave the church?
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19
What is cure for all this “leaving the church” nonsense?
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Heb. 13:7
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Heb. 13:17