A Call For Authenticity: Duane Arnold
Recently in a thread on this blog, numerous people were responding to a link Michael had posted in the thread on millennials (http://tosavealife.com/faith/12-reasons-millennials-church/ ).
Now, I had read this particular article about a week before and had shared it with several people. While not a message delivered from a burning bush, it seemed to me to make some helpful and salient points.
I was intrigued, however, by both the comments made on the original article as well as the remarks posted in the thread on Phoenix Preacher. There were many who felt that millennials considered themselves entitled and, therefore, should essentially be treated as spoiled children. There were numerous comments, some very amusing, some somewhat hostile, about the traits of millennials – from iPhones to Starbucks to laziness to amoral behavior. My overarching sense, by the end of the comments and the thread, was akin to reading a Margaret Mead essay about the lives and habits of South Sea islanders.
The message, in the main, was that, “They are wholly other”. When grappling with the question of attracting millennials to the Church, the answer seemed to be, “They simply need to grow up and be like us”. There was a subtle, and sometimes not so subtle inference, that this has nothing to do with us and, most especially, that millennials abandoning the Church is not our fault. I beg to differ. I believe it is our fault.
The fault is not in what we have done. The fault is in what we have not done. We have often failed to be the Church or, at the least, failed to show the marks of the Church.
It is not about us becoming hipsters, either in appearance, attitude, speech or even in our forms of worship. I have often noted when involved in “field trips” to certain mega-churches the appearance of millennials on stage as part of the “worship team” looking out on an audience of 40-60 year olds. Does this tell us something? I remember the reemergence of Johnny Cash under the brilliant producer, Rick Rubin. In presenting Cash again to the public, especially younger musical devotees, Rubin did not try to make him something he was not. He did not try to make him appear younger or hip, which would have been an embarrassment, he simply asked him to be himself. Even in the music video, “Hurt”, he allowed Cash to be his age, to be frail, to be vulnerable. You see, Rubin knew that what was valued above all else among the rising generation was authenticity – and, by the way… it worked.
So, how do we attract millennials as well as others who have left the Church?
My plea is for the Church to be authentic. That is, simply for the Church to be the Church. In my opinion, we have injured ourselves when we have aligned ourselves with partisan politics. Seeking a place at the “table of power” has often caused us to compromise core values of faith, love and trust. Our continuing inter-nicene warfare, as we have seen in the recent Calvary Chapel debacle has reduced, not increased, our credibility among those looking from the outside. When we have tried to incorporate the current societal trend of the moment into our worship, we have ended up looking foolish, or worse. In my thinking, we need to return to who we are… to what the Church fathers defined as our marks, our very nature – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
ONE – This is a plea for Church unity. Not institutional unity, but a generosity of spirit toward other believers. Millennials are not really interested in the fine lines of doctrine that divide us. Every time they hear from the pulpit or in a Bible study a criticism of other Christians, they simply don’t understand. They are generally “unchurched”, but they have friends who were brought up Roman Catholic, Baptist, etc., and they are not interested in hearing them or their faith tradition criticized or belittled.
HOLY – This is a plea for personal holiness among those of us who call ourselves Christians. Millennials wish to see that holiness modeled by us. They read the news on the internet. They know about the sex abuse scandals in various churches, especially those involving children. This may surprise you, but I’ve found a deeper sense of personal and sexual morality among millennials than was the case when I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. Our obsession with “below the belt” issues, including LGBTQ issues, is a mystery to them. Please understand, I’m not saying that we should abandon Scripture in these matters, but modeling behavior consistent with Scripture is, I believe, much more effective.
CATHOLIC – Universal, pertaining to the whole Christian body of believers through out the world… not, just our little Church. Rightly or wrongly, millennials believe that they have almost instant access to the whole world, and they are fascinated by that world. Moreover, they want to be connected to that world… and they are everyday. Facebook friends in Italy, Twitter followers in India and all the rest are there in front of them. The Church round the world, including missions and opportunities for service, is something that is of interest… if we are willing to look, direct and lead them, beyond our own four walls.
APOSTOLIC – I remember when I took a millennial friend with me to a service to meet our Roman Catholic bishop for a film we were doing. Later, I asked him what he thought. He said, “It was really a sacred vibe…” Not deep theology, but a good start. As the Church we have a remarkable and sacred story founded on the apostles that we relate through word, music, prayers, liturgy and sacraments. My advice… Don’t dumb it down, don’t make it trendy… keep it sacred and it will communicate.
Authenticity… that is what a rising generation and many others are seeking. We have something unique to offer as the Church, if we are willing – willing to look beyond Starbucks, iPhones, beards, man buns and ink and see some really remarkable people. Now, I may be unique in this, but I have a number of millennial friends. They are not all living in their parents’ basements. The ones I know are working 60+ hours a week. They text because they don’t have time to talk. They drink coffee to keep themselves awake to meet deadlines. They are open to the presentation of something new, but only if it is credible, real and genuine. They don’t want to just hear about the Church… they want to see it… and see that it’s real.
Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD