Yes, I’m A Millennial! No, I’m Not Leaving The Church: An Unpopular Opinion.
With much hesitation (and eye-rolling), I admit that I am considered a millennial. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing wrong with it, but the term has become so over-used and popularized that it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
Why? Well…because it’s become a one size fits all catch phrase that folk toss around to make declarative statements in matter of fact tones, especially when it comes to church and church attendance of millenials. And at the end of the day, there are so many nuances within the group that go unnoticed.
They say we were the first to explore technological advances. I remember dialing up the internet (only after making sure the phone line was clear), and sitting patiently to see each of the 3 AOL boxes illuminate (I can hear the sound now…lol). And after “looking” around for a bit and maybe AOL chatting, I logged off to go play outside.
I also remember begging my mom for a pager so she could “keep in touch” with me. In hindsight, that was the dumbest thought ever. She could page me all day, with zero knowledge of where I was (my poor mother).
Those were the technical advances in my day, which are laughable in comparison to what some millennials born in the late 80’s/early 90’s experienced.
There have been articles upon articles to relay the fact that millennials are leaving the church. I’ve read countless arguments asserting the lack of respect, the lack of relevance, and the lack of activities to relate to the millennial audience in our churches.
In other articles, I’ve read countless opinions about church hurt (both real and perceived), and the lack of connection to thriving congregations.
However, in all of those articles, millennials have pointed the finger to older generations, the “establishment”, and the church universal. But, I have never ever seen a millennial tackle the state of their spiritual development to answer this question: “Where have I placed Jesus?”
I can almost hear older generations shouting right here “Mmmm Hmmm”, but slow down Sir/Ma’am.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had my own feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, disrespect and church hurt (re-labeled as people hurt; or the damage that comes when dealing with imperfect negroes juxtaposed against an erroneous perception that this imperfection has something to do with God).
I’ve been cast to hell for not “living right” because my desire to hang with friends upstaged my desire to sing on the praise team. My clothing selections have been challenged as inappropriate because they hug my curves (and lets face it...I have curves that show...perhaps a MooMoo would be appropriate? KANYE SHRUG). I’ve been challenged about wearing pantyhose or pants in the pulpit. I’ve been told that my ideas were too progressive. And after all of that, I came face to face, even in my brokenness, that God is still God.
I had a decision to make. In spite of growing up in the church, I was on the verge of leaving. The disappointment and anger I felt towards spiritual leaders made me consider stepping away from the body of believers. And if I left, I wasn’t returning.
While I was trying to “live right”, sing in the choir, usher, serve as a church officer, grease my lips, drink water, eat right, and pray, I was weary with the acknowledgement that while I knew the rules very well, I was severely lacking RELATIONSHIP.
Clearly, Jesus and I had some work to do. I had to ask myself this question “Where did I place Jesus?”
The truth of the matter was that Jesus was the one who came, lived, died, was resurrected, and ascended to be with God the Father. Yes, I believed that. But I couldn’t understand how Grace and Mercy were the foundation for building a long-lasting, satisfying relationship with Jesus. My relationship was based on a set of rules and a never-ending list of sins not to commit. And it felt miserable. It WAS miserable.
I had been walking a “Christian” walk on eggshells with Jesus. I was terrified of failing this huge scary God who could literally smite me off the face of the earth just because. And I was tired of the struggle.
One truth about millennials is this: We do NOT like to struggle. Older folk would say it’s because we are lazy or unwilling to work hard. I disagree. For African-American millennials, I believe this is a cultural phenomenon.
We come from generations of black folk who had to survive the struggle. We are the first generation to be born in an era of perceived upward mobility. I mean seriously, The Cosby Show was one of the first to make us believe that we could live a life of success and personal achievement, and be spared of a lifetime of struggle (Julia was actually the first TV show to portray an African-American professional, but for millennials, this was before our time).
Literally, one motto of our generation is “Let’s work SMART, not HARD”. The other is “Cash Money records taking over for the 99 and 2000’s”…hey, I’m just keeping it REAL real!
Working smart, but not hard, does not speak to a lack of desire to work, but rather it speaks to our desire to work quickly and efficiently.
As an undergrad psychology major, the dumbest thing I ever had to learn was how to manually write out and solve statistical equations. I mean, it would take pages of handwritten notes to arrive at a single answer. To my surprise, I later learned there was a program that could handle that. SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Sciences) was a computer program designed to solve statistical equations…in literally like 5 seconds.
So why in the name of the Father did I have to learn how to solve the equation manually? The rationale for which statistical process to use did not change based on the method used to solve the problem. The only thing that changed was the process to arrive at the answer.
What a total waste of time, energy and loose leaf paper!
I coulda had a V8!
When this construct is applied to our faith walk, it is often easier to walk away and avoid the press, the struggle, the difficulty, and choose to arrive at self-fulfillment in a manner that is less challenging.
However, as a Christian, our victory comes from our press; or our ability to endure during difficult situations!
I don’t think the faith dilemma is solely a millennial phenomenon. I’m certain that across the generations, when presented with a conflict in faith, there comes a point when most people would question. However, I do believe that because of our upbringing, we might be more likely to say “enough with the struggle”.
So, the question becomes “Will we press?” Will we endure the temporary discomfort to arrive at the joy that comes in the morning? Are we willing to sit on the violently rocking boat with our Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees, when mounting facts lead us to believe that the boat is definitely going to sink? Or do we rely on God’s truth, affixing our eyes on God, knowing we will not sink?
Our intellect tells us to run. Our faith tells us that Jesus will rescue us. Our test is in the press.
So many of us walk away from “the church” because our lack of faith has already distanced us from Christ. We’ve decided that the stakes are too high and the added burden of dealing with the “body of believers” is simply too much to deal with. (Like literally, some church folk are just TEW MUCH). Some of us know Jesus, but we haven’t pressed long enough to KNOW know that Jesus WILL get us through the storm.
Those of us that stay connected to the body of believers have learned that Jesus comes before anything and everyone else. And like our parents and grandparents, we’ve tried Him and we know Him. We have endured through pain, difficulty and challenges and we have come to know that God is who God claims to be. And because of that, we are clear that church business and kingdom business are separate.
And despite generational differences, song choice, worship style, and pantyhose selection, there are some of us who realize that most stuff “Ain’t got nothing to do with Jesus” in the first place. And we continue to press!
At a point, we have to realize that our relationship is not based on church activities, but it is deeply rooted in the acknowledgement that Jesus came, lived, died, and is coming back again. THAT is our faith!
Millennials, when we put God in God’s proper context, we can grow the church. We can no longer blame our lack of faith on the fact that the preacher is traditional or that the choir is not contemporary (I can’t get with carpet music anyway). If we can keep it a bean (100), the truth is, we stopped short during the press and we lost sight of who God was/is in our lives.
Regardless of what the press is/was (and I’m sure for some folk, the stories of disrespect, disregard, mistrust, and abuse is severe), some of us quit before we could see God move. Some of us have decided that the pain caused by other people is too big for God to handle and we have moved away from God and God’s church.
Yes, older generations have to recall their own upbringing when they too struggled for independence and respect, in order for them to empathize with us. Yes, older generations have to be willing to allow us to have a safe space to articulate our ideas and concerns. Yes, older generations must realize that there may be a more efficient way to work. Yes, older generations must not discount our experiences, our spiritual walk, and our spiritual gifting, because of our age, our gender, our sexual orientation (another topic for another day), etc. And Yes, ALL of us have to realize that we can speak our respective truths, but it MUST be done in LOVE.
But, we, the millennial generation, have come to a life-altering intersection. The actions we take now have the potential to impact the church for generations to come. And we have to ask ourselves, is our relationship with Christ big enough, solidified enough, and strong enough to deal with whatever issues might arise within the fellowship of believers?
Are we willing to Press?
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