Last week I wrote about the elephant in the room of most evangelical churches: Gen-Z and Millennials are persistent in deconstructing. If you haven’t read that yet, it may be helpful to start there.
In this post I want to offer some thoughts on what we as the Church can do to help those who are deconstructing. Rather than demonizing them and kicking them in the butt on their way out the door, I suggest we care for them, listen to them, and learn from them. I’m convinced that the way we respond to this deconstruction movement will be vitally important for what comes next.
I can see in myself and in the generations just above me (I’m part of a group that has recently been given the unfortunate title “Geriatric Millennials”) a desire to fine tune the faith, get all of our doctrine and practice just right, and then hand that complete setup to the next generations with the warning: “Don’t touch anything or you’ll mess it up.” But as Søren Kierkegaard warned his generation, every generation must begin again for themselves. A generation can’t ever fully “inherit” what their ancestors figured out. Because faith must be wrestled with. It must be owned. If Gen-Z and Millennials were to simply take the churches, doctrines, and practices from their ancestors without making any adjustments, taking great care that they must do everything just as instructed by their predecessors, that would be living in a dead, lifeless faith.
Throughout history we can see generation after generation swinging the theological and ecclesiological pendulum back and forth. One generation overemphasizes doctrinal certainty, so the next pushes the pendulum back toward experiential encounters with God. Inevitably they push the pendulum too far, so the next generation must push it back again. We’re tempted to see the goal as getting the pendulum in the precise center so that all future generations can stay balanced without redoing the hard work of centering the pendulum. But it’s not about answering all of the questions and establishing all of the doctrines with precision. It’s about each generation taking ownership and exerting all of the effort required to swing the pendulum. That’s the work of faith, and each generation will have to do what it must to pursue a meaningful encounter with Jesus.
This means that the churches, structures, practices, and emphases that Gen-Z and Millennials create will likely look different than the ones we’ve grown used to. Is that okay? If it’s not okay, we’re likely to end up with churches that resemble religious museums in which every important thing is behind glass—to be admired and viewed but never touched and certainly never used for any new purposes.
To my fellow Geriatric Millennials and to the generations who have come before me, I urge us all to pray for those coming after us. Let’s not let them simply come after us. Let’s learn from them now. Let’s hear their concerns and have honest conversations. Let’s do what Francis Schaeffer modeled so well and offer “honest answers for honest questions.” I’m certain those younger than us can help us deconstruct some things that REALLY need to be deconstructed. I’m also certain that those younger than us can use our humble and reciprocal mentorship. We can help them see why the Bible means so much to us and help them avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater. In return, they’ll likely help us see that some of the things we’ve considered to be “baby” are actually “bathwater.” And vice versa.“The churches, structures, and emphases that Gen-Z and Millennials create will look different than the ones we’re used to. If not, we’re likely to end up with churches that resemble religious museums.”
I encourage all of us to be praying for the future of Christianity. There are some ugly things in our churches, and some beautiful things as well. The current season is ripe for building something new and exciting. The current political landscape doesn’t give me much hope for seeing something new and life-giving emerge. But the Church ought to be different. I believe God will break through some of the negative trends and do something powerful. I trust the Spirit of God to move and lead people who believe differently than I do. And I trust him to move and lead me. He has something exciting ahead, I’m certain of it. Let’s go there together, with tons of humility and a passionate pursuit of Jesus and everything he’s calling us into.