The other day my wife and I were arguing over something trivial. If I remember correctly it was what TV show an actress in our current show, had been in previously. Without needing to know who the actress was or what the TV show might have been… I can, with reasonable certainty, tell you she was right. I’m terrible at pop culture. The point, however, is what helped us decide the answer. When we could not agree, I said, “well google it”. An endearing phrase we hold close to our heart. In fact just today a co-worker and I were teasing each other over the random crap we choose to type into the search box.
We live in a world where the answer is quite literally at your finger tips. Even if the request is something absolutely insane like, “hitler mustaches on cats”. What you seek, you normally can find.
Armed with this prescription of today’s quick paced question and answer lifestyle, to me it’s no wonder the church continues to take a backseat. Now, to be careful here, I want to clarify a few things before moving forward. While the ‘church’ I reference is one of a Christian origin, based in the ideology of grace through a cross, I believe fundamentally all of us who find ourselves at the center of any faith can agree we are challenged in today’s quick resolutions.
The agenda at hand is to create a dialogue around an ever growing question the church is faced with… Why are people leaving? Why aren’t people coming? And I don’t mean this just physically – I mean this emotionally as well.
Personally this question is painful for me to process, it hurts in a way. I don’t mean that to say I’m offended or you’ll find me in Union Square park anytime soon preaching on the corner. It hurts me because it sheds light on the deeper issue – the ever growing gap between a world of innovators and a church of decreed absolute.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know the whole answer. Like most things in life the answer is normally the sum of multiples, but I do believe we can begin to understand a piece of it. To start pulling at the the root of this there is an assumption we need to get our hands around first. This assumption that the more we know, the more technology that advances, the more science that surfaces, and the more innovation that comes to life – the less of God there is. Or at least the less of the church there needs to be.
I agree with this, but maybe not in the way that you think.
I think the old, dusty way of “because I said so” needs an upgrade. Some will immediately argue with me, with ruffled feathers, assuming I’m in the business of changing God or defacing biblical messaging for my own use. This is what some have become comfortable with calling “alternative facts”. I have no intention of changing God, because well… I can’t and second because I don’t need to. Hear me out.
One of my life mantras is centered on the belief that we can only give and understand as much GRACE as we’ve been given. The basic principle here is that if life has been easy for you, if your greatest struggle was not getting into your first college choice or favorite wedding venue, or getting a speeding ticket… then you have had a blessed life so far. We celebrate that and are happy for you. In the same breath, your need of grace would be less than someone who has lived a rougher story and therefore your understanding of that need of grace would be less. However, if your life has been difficult… if you have experience the pain of loss, the depths of loneliness, or the darkness of rejection/self hatred/ hurtful decisions… then your need of grace (either now or in the past) is much greater and therefore your understanding of that need much higher.
You can only understand grace to the depth of which you have received it. I sincerely believe this (and am happy to talk more on this further another time!). If that is true, then we can also take it a step further broadening the topic and ask – what if that is the same about God? What if we can only understand God to the depth we’ve been able to discover him?
There are so many arguments around not allowing the church to grow as our culture grows – that God should not morph to our ever changing standards (inclusivity, gender issues, etc). I’ve never seen it that way. I believe the more we are able to grow ourselves, see outside ourselves, and inside the heartbeats of those around us – the more we realize God is far more complex than we can or ever will be able to imagine. We are not changing God as we grow, we are simply catching up.
I believe that pews are collecting dust on Sundays in far too many churches, but I do not fault the ever changing times… I fault the never changing church. We cannot remain grounded in theologies that no longer make sense now that science and generations have shown us otherwise. It’s like arguing that it’s not raining, while it pours down on your “I have to be right” parade. It doesn’t make sense, there is literally profound evidence all around you saying otherwise, and it’s not effective. In fact, it is hurtful.
I have about a million wounds from the church, which I suppose is a story for another day. What I did learn from the church, however, at a young age that has stuck with me through the times are two things 1) Love one another and 2) remain humble. Over the years how I understood those two things, how I often failed at them, and how I came crawling back to them has brought me here… to this point. If our job as messengers of grace, as walking stories collected through experiences, is to love… then turning people away doesn’t work. If our job is to remain humble and open to those around us… then rejecting the changing norms around us doesn’t work. If our job is to defend the gospels above all else… then preaching fire and brimstone doesn’t work.
There are so many gorgeous torches of grace around this world right now. Eager pastors and counselors and reverends and just every day folk wanting to share the real light of love. And I want to be careful that I am not saying all churches, everywhere are falling short. I am say too many churches, anywhere are not taking up the calling to grow as God opens our minds to grow.
Think about it this way… Science, culture, technology allowing us to have any known answer right in front of us at any moment, actually allows us to know God more. We have the opportunity to know God more than any generation before us. To understand how other cultures and communities worldwide praise God, see God, and respond to him. To learn, in detail, the reasoning behind different denominations who agree with us or disagree with how we, ourselves, respond to God.
Opportunity, however, is a choice. A choice on which lens you use to view the world, technology, God, and grace. Pews fill when hearts feel safe. Hearts feel safe when the message of acceptance is circulated. The message of acceptance is circulated when people are able to more openly hear and learn from each other. And the list continues…
In a generation of innovators and pace changers, overly educated millennials have a responsibility to motivate the church back to its center. To create grace space.
Romans 14:1 “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”
Grace calls us to seek understanding in one another – not through judgement, but through a sincere desire to let each story to be heard and celebrated.
Let us keep seeking – to learn who God is and the glory he can create through his creation. Through the people around us, the stories they are writing, and the challenges they are overcoming.
Let us keep hoping – to learn more through all the channels we are now so freely given.
Let us keep growing – to never believe we’ve come to the end of God… but merely continued to learn yet another beginning.