Too many of our ministry efforts prepare people for a world that doesn’t exist, under cutting our witness and passing flimsy faith to the next generation. Because, honestly, we are scared.David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock
I love to travel. Seeing new things, experiencing different settings and ways of doing things…its exciting! When I was younger I took traveling for granted—my family did it quite a bit—but as I have gotten older I have increasingly seen how travel shapes a person. When we get out of our local “bubble” and see different perspectives, we gain a broader view of the world.
The great Mark Twain wrote a book by the name of The Innocents Abroad on his travels around the Mediterranean coast. In it he wrote, “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
It’s easy to allow ourselves to be rooted in one place and to become accustomed to doing things a certain way, and that’s ok to a point. However, we must understand how that can affect us. For example, I grew up in a rural farm community, moved into a downtown metro area for a decade, then moved back to a rural farm community. I have friends in the metro and rural areas, and some of them have no concept of how different they can be from each other. There is just an inherent different way of thinking. And, the farther apart we are, the more different we become.
That distance is more than geographical too. There are generational differences that simulate thousands of mile of distance and the thinking and ideas that go with it. Todays Millennials (and Gen Z behind them) are dramatically different than the generations that came before. Its easy to criticize over these differences, and some criticisms are always warranted, but the reality of those differences will remain.
Our conservative evangelical churches, for a long time, stubbornly remained in a singular way of thinking. I’m sure it changed small-bit by small-bit from time to time, but largely we remained…consistent. Over the last couple of decades, however, things have changed, and a new openness and desire to reach out seems to have gripped us. There are always struggles that go along with change, but it has pushed these churches forward in growth while other churches have dwindled.
We now face a new challenge in engaging with Millenials during a time that there is rapid growth in the number of people that identify as “Religiously Unaffiliated”. These individuals have either never had a significant church experience, or they have left the church behind. We now have the challenge of reaching out to these individuals, and doing so without the power of being the dominant cultural belief system in our nation.
Faith For Exiles was written by David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock after years of research for Barna, a Christian research organization. They specifically looked at trends that led to individuals leaving the church compared to those that stuck around and grew in their faith, and they identified 5 practices of those that stayed: experience intimacy with Jesus, accurately discern culture, form deep and meaningful relationships in the church, receive vocational discipleship, and engage with a counter-cultural mission.
Relationships are meaningful when we are devoted to fellow believers we want to be around and become.David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock
My take-away from all of that is this: in churches, we tend to say a lot of things like “we value relationships” and “we are founded on the Bible”, but we don’t tend to be as honest about how difficult what we say really is. “We value relationships,” but we only spend a few minutes a week together. “We are founded on the Bible” but we pick and choose what we like and don’t like, and we add our interpretation as equal to the words of the Bible.
That may sound harsh, but that is just the reality of what it means to try and live out our faith. It is hard. It takes honesty, humility, and authenticity. But, when we approach that reality from a broader perspective that we gain when we seek to understand something or someone outside of our “bubble” or comfort zone, then we can start making some progress with it.
So…find a way to open your perspective. See things from a different angle. Then, use that to help you better connect with those around you.
We have to look for ways to offer deep explorations of Christ and not just go through the motions of church. As church leaders, making Jesus our true North means prioritizing these eager followers who are so passionate for Jesus – not running a spiritual club.David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock