"All human life on the earth is like grass,
and all human glory is like a flower in a field.
The grass dries up and its flower falls off,
but the Lord’s word endures forever.
This is the word that was proclaimed to you as good news."
— 1 Peter 1:24-25
I often find myself in the position of being the youngest person in the room. Being 22 in Mainline Protestantism in the Bible Belt, that is no surprise. I hope you won't be offended if I break the news to you that you’re not cool. (For the record, I’m not cool either, but I do know some cool people and I know what’s cool, so I’m qualified enough to judge.) It is a great temptation for the church to do everything it can to stay relevant, to conform to the surrounding culture.
The trouble with that little-L law ‘Thou shalt be relevant,’ is that in pursuing relevance or coolness, the church often loses its soul. Even if it does find the world and bring in numbers, those numbers often are not translated into true disciples. Coming to a concert in an auditorium where the five letters J-E-S-U-S are on the sign or are said from the microphone is not the same thing as being brought into a sanctuary, falling on one’s knees at the altar, and receiving Christ.
My generation is interested in authenticity. Most churches are focused on issues of style when it comes to reaching young people, and yet substance is so much more important than style for today’s young people. So as a delegate from 20-somethings, I want to set you free from that self-imposed law, “You must be cutting edge” and encourage you to embrace the rich tradition that we have as Christians. I could not be less interested in the latest trends in Christianity and church. Trends come and go. What endures forever, as the apostle Peter said, is the word of the Lord (and not just any ‘word,’ per se, but the Word of the Gospel, the good news that was preached to you, the word of absolution, the word that ‘we believe in the forgiveness of sins,’ as the Creed says). That Word will endure forever.
I work as the youth director at a medium-sized church in North Alabama, and in my year-end report for 2015, I included a statistic from a report I read recently that stated that the average high-school student today has the same stress level as a patient with clinical anxiety in the 1950s. Now I can’t confirm how true this is, but I do know from working with students, most of them have pressure coming at them from every angle: school, parents, work, sports, band, and not to mention the inevitable law of ‘be cool’ that comes to them from hours of seeing impossibly cool people on social media. It is also probably not news to you that the general pattern for young people today is to graduate high school, and graduate from church at the same time. I believe this may have a lot to do with their high school experience of church being just another avenue of the crushing demand that meets them from every direction. The last thing they need is for the church to be one more expression of that pressure to "measure up."
Perhaps, as the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson sang, ‘I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.’ I’m not only interested in church, I actually find myself steeped in the works of John Wesley, Martin Luther, and the like. I read daily from the old Book of Common Prayer. My testimony is simply this: in the works of these reformers and in the ancient prayers of the church, I have found a safehaven from today’s do-more, try-harder, do-it-yourself Christianity. I have found the good news that I need to hear over and over again, news of prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace.
That’s what matters. Most of our attempts to reach millennials have to do with putting together lights and slideshows that end up being really ugly and doing nothing but cheapening what we really have to give them. The people who make TV are really good at what they do. The problem with the Church is that instead of doing what we do best, we’ve tried to compete with TV. We’d like to make our services more entertaining and our screens more exciting. Let’s let TV have TV and we’ll give people what we have: the body of Christ broken for them and the blood of Christ shed for them.