2015 may be late in the game to be bringing up David Kinnaman’s 2011 bestseller You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith.
But last week I attended the “Prone to Wander: Ministry to Millennials” conference at Dallas Theological Seminary, which was keynoted by thought leader Gabe Lyons and which alluded to Kinnaman’s work. Seeing as I both am a millennial and (try to) minister to millennials, this conference discussed my work, discussed my friends, and quite honestly discussed me. It was, at times, like being a lab rat amidst an auditorium full of psychologists. Very friendly psychologists, to be sure. But the tension remained.
According to You Lost Me, we millennials tend to view the Church as overprotective, shallow, anti-science, repressive, exclusive, and doubtless. On the contrary, we tend to be interested in cultural engagement, depth, science, freedom, inclusion, and doubt.
And I think it’s true. Sometimes painfully true.
But what pains me isn’t so much the doubts of my generation. What pains me is the defensive reactions of (typically older) generations that have said: “What are we going to do about those darn millennials?” That have talked at us more than talked with us. That have warned us all through our formative years to be wary of science, listen to more KLOVE, vote certain ways or else, “pray the gay away,” and shrug off our doubt with a devotional. (No joke, I once arranged a meeting with a pastor to express some significant doubts and received little more than a devotional booklet and a distracted pat on the back. Please, people, even if you don’t have a single answer, we can all listen and love a little better than that.)
So what are you going to do about us darn millennials? I hope you’re going to point us toward — and try to emulate — the Christ who over and over saw people in need and “had compassion on them.” Point us toward the Scriptures and Creeds that were developed in the founding days of the Church, that have been uniting us all these years, and that elucidate what matters most to our faith — but that do not actually dictate how exactly we should interpret science or sexuality, abortion or art. Most importantly, I hope you’re going to sit with us right in the midst of our struggles — maybe even admit that you’ve had some struggles too.
I hope you’ll take a cue from a good workshop speaker, Mark Matlock, who gave these suggestions at my recent conference:
- Provide some sanctuary, some quiet space away from our iPods and iPhones, bars and big concerts
- Offer reverse mentoring, in which you’re willing to both teach a young mentee and learn from the young mentee
- Engage in true collaboration, inviting millennials to both learn and lead
- Create for positive impact. We long to make a difference in the world.
- Create time and space for fellowship. We long to feel connection with others.
Here’s my point: Church, you almost lost me. Almost made me another one of the “nones” you love talking about lately. Why do I say almost?
Because of writers like Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber who speak about things like “faith unraveled” and “accidental saints.” The campus minister who reminded me often of the saying “unity in the essentials, liberty in the non-essentials, and love overall.” The pastor who met me in a moment of struggle, ordered us drinks, rolled up his sleeves, and gave my worries a heartfelt hearing. The lady at the conference last week who was there solely to “understand her children’s generation” and spent the lunch hour dialoguing with me about our differences and similarities.
I’m convinced that, when institutions hurt, individuals can help. That when institutions very nearly drive us away, individuals can very kindly draw us close. For God’s sake, let’s be those individuals.