Why Reading the Bible is Turning Millennials Away from the Church

“Almost every major branch of Christianity in the United States has lost a significant number of members, Pew found, mainly because millennials are leaving the fold. More than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 percentage points since 2007.”

Let’s talk about this.

I grew up in the Church. Both my maternal and paternal grandpas are pastors. My parents served in youth ministry my entire life and are now missionaries in Colombia. I grew up in RA’s, Awana, VBS, Sunday school, homeless ministries, church pews, youth group, small groups, men’s breakfasts, youth retreats, and bible studies. You name a church thing and I probably participated in it at some point. I’m a Millennial Christian. I was raised in a certain culture and am who I am today because of it. A ton of people were raised similarly, but are leaving the Church and the faith and the Savior that I hold so dear. A lot of you older Christians are very confused by this. You try desperately to make youth group deeper, to get us in Scripture more, to get us to go to Bible schools and study theology and pursue God. What many of you don’t realize is that much of where you’re pushing us is actually leading us away from God, but not for the reasons you might realize.

I studied theology a bit in college. I took some classes in which I ate stuff up. I love God’s Word. I love when God corrects my beliefs or teaches me new stuff. But what confused me for a while was that these classes killed the faith of many. People actually got angry at the school and reported professors for, in their minds, discrediting and destroying faith. People across campus still talk about how the UFND theology classes at SPU pushed them away from God. In my mind, this almost has to be because the faith of these students had been placed on the wrong foundation by their churches, teachers, and culture. Rather than being taught that all of this is stuff God meant for us to encounter and wrestle with and figure out, they were taught that a challenge to previously held notions or beliefs was wrong. When all of these challenges suddenly came on, there was no foundation in the critical absolutes.

“If _____ wasn’t true, then everything could be wrong. Many of us don’t even think that _____ isn’t “true” per se, but that it can just maybe mean something else than what we’ve been taught.”

A memory of mine that has firmly shaped my theology today is that of a few words from my parents when I was a kid. It was a Sunday, the pastor had preached a good message, and I was talking to them about the service and Church. I’d left my Bible at home on accident and they reminded me, “Make sure to bring your Bible. Make sure to read your Bible and double check everything that’s said and taught. Because even though Pastor is a good guy, he could still end up teaching something that isn’t sound. Anyone can. That’s why you have to be ready to check everything against what God Himself says.” Thank God for my parents. Luckily they trained me up in a way in which the reality of my faith was dictated directly by Christ and His Salvation and what God says in His Word. A lot of us weren’t taught to challenge teaching and the Church from within it. A lot of us weren’t taught that we should be questioning and finding things that seem to conflict. A lot of us were taught that Scripture is inerrant and that this means that something that seems to conflict can’t be real, rather than being taught to dig even deeper and find the proper interpretation. A lot of us tried to resolve these things and were just shot down by leadership as if we were challenging the existence of Christ Himself. Because if ____ wasn’t true, then everything could be wrong. Many of us don’t even think that ____ isn’t “true” per se, but that it can just maybe mean something else than what we’ve been taught.

What’s happening today is what happens when you have a church with a faith based not on Christ and the Gospel, but on doctrinal teachings, culture, family, music, morals, and politics. What’s happening today is what happens when we ignore Paul when he said that he “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” What’s happening is us Millennials decided to study Scripture further than anyone before us and couldn’t reconcile Scripture with what we’d been taught was foundational. What’s happening is seminary is nicknamed cemetery because of how much people’s faith dies in it as God’s Word seems to conflict with things they’ve been taught. What’s happening is a deep confusion between pursuing and knowing God and what to do when we discover things that run counter to what some have taught us “Christianity” is. What’s happening is we’re further into Scripture than ever, with an abundance of head knowledge, but our churches are failing to emphasize heart knowledge.

As we dig and dig, we’ve found things that seem to conflict, both with what was taught to us and what Scripture seems to say. We dove headfirst into Scripture and for many of us it destroyed our faith; a faith that some of Christian culture had pushed onto the wrong foundation. The Church told them that women can’t lead in Church or society. They found Deborah in the Bible. The Church told them that homosexuality is wrong based on Leviticus (Seriously, why not base those beliefs on Romans 1?). They found that you eat shellfish and that the Law was fulfilled in Christ. The Church told them that the world had to have been created in 7 literal days. They found that Jews saw the Creation account as poetry and that chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis give different orders and accounts of Creation. We found that Jesus’ ascension happened in completely different places in different parts of Scripture. You told us to dig and dig and dig. We did. And we came to you with questions. You told us that Scripture all aligned and all meant X. Much of the Church, rather than acknowledging these tough questions and trying to figure them out with us and properly interpret them, just said they were wrong, misinformed, or even blasphemous.

So what happened?

Many millennials decided it ALL must not be true; that it all must not be real. Many millennials said that if their church wasn’t right about _____ in Scripture, it might not be right about anything. Many millennials dove into Scripture and found everything they’d been taught to be challenged and at that point just said, “What? This doesn’t make sense.” And with no foundation built on challenging and deciphering Scripture, with no foundation on the essential truth of Christ, the importance of Christian community, and how to figure out seeming paradoxes, Millennials left the Church. I’ve seen this happen right before my eyes. You’ve seen it happen. Many of you just don’t seem to get why it’s happening.

“I do not believe that I am inerrant or that my pastor is inerrant.”

I believe Scripture is the inerrant Word of God. I believe it is a tool that God gave us to figure out life, to guide our morals, and to know Him. But I believe this means that we must follow Scripture over culture. I believe this means we will find things that challenge what we’ve been taught. I believe this means we will learn we were wrong and God will grow us. I believe this means that when we see stuff that doesn’t make sense, we have to dig into the Greek and the context because there really is reason for the differences. But I do not believe that the Church is inerrant. I do not believe that Christian Culture is inerrant. I do not believe that I am inerrant or that my pastor is inerrant. It seems that we’ve mixed this stuff up here in America.

I know this has been long, but I want to leave you with this encouragement, both for you Millennials and for those of you who want to make this right or dig into this stuff yourselves. The Protestant Church exists today (and the Catholic Church is better today) completely because one man found a false teaching in his church and, rather than leave or abandon the Church, attempted to teach and reform it. Perhaps you’ve heard of this Martin Luther guy. Let’s all be a little bit more like him (minus the anti-Semitism and crazy stuff from later on) and be unafraid to dig into Scripture and continue shaping and reshaping our faith forever. Let’s not abandon the Church, but wrestle with guiding it from within. Let’s not lose faith because we find God seems to say things that “Christianity” doesn’t, but rather shape our faith to the new things God teaches us constantly. Let’s be a learning and mobile Christianity.; one Body dedicated to Christ, under His grace and salvation, and living lives of sacrifice for His creation, people, and Kingdom. Amen.

What The Heck Am I Doing?

Proverbs 16:3,9
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans…
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.”

I graduate in basically three weeks. I keep worrying about life and how to dedicate my time. What to pursue primarily. Whether to work in the non-profit sector or business. At what pace I want to (or even can) grow my business. Should I momentarily take a break from Zima as I figure out the rest of life? What if I make the wrong decisions right now? Am I even supposed to stay in the US? Or am I supposed to be in Africa asap? Should I even work in the non-profit or business sector? What if I just work in ministry as a pastor or something? I could definitely see myself as a pastor. Should I look for some openings in that? Am I even qualified for that? I studied Global Development, not Theology… And then would I be able to leave my church for ministry in Africa at some point in the future?

Again, where does Zima lie in all of this? It’s really hard to start a business. I don’t feel adequate. I don’t feel like I know how to do this. But God can carry it if he wills, right? What if it isn’t his timing though? Then again, people are depending on me, on Zima. So many people across the developing world are already seeing hope and opportunity in Zima. And we’ve launched sales and operations. We can’t just put it on pause, can we?

Basically, over and over and over I enter into self-doubt throughout my day. I don’t know what to do or how to do it. But I read this passage and I find a certain peace.

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans…
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.”

In my heart, I plan my course. I plan it over and over in a million ways. Sometimes I wish I had several lives to pursue several different careers and life paths. In one I’d be a missionary. In another I’d work my way up the corporate ladder. I’d have to use one life to pursue my passion for music and another to dedicate the time and practice to be a professional soccer player. Yet another life I’d spend as a pastor and author. Another I’d have to pursue would be life in the Air Force.

I know that the career I desire above all is to impact Africa through business and development and use that as a platform for missions, but as I approach graduation and begin applying for jobs and stuff, it’s really hard to see how I’m gonna get from A to B. I plan and plan and plan, trying to figure out how I’ll do this. But this verse reminds me that, hey, you really aren’t gonna be the one to make your life happen. If you’re committed to God through it all, he’ll carry you where he wills. And where he wills is better for you than anywhere else that you can be.

So Lord, here I am, committing it all to you. I’ll do what I can, but you take it and run with it. My prayer for myself and for the rest of you finding yourselves at different crossroads in life is that God will establish your steps and that you will find peace in that. As we try to “do life”, remember that God’s sovereign and has got your back. In fact, he created you for exactly whatever it is he’ll be guiding you to. So don’t worry too much about it. God’s gotcha. I promise, he’ll establish your steps.

Persecution

Per·se·cu·tion
pərsəˈkyo͞oSHən
noun
hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs.

As Christians, why does persecution surprise us?

Why does it anger us and bring us outrage? Why do we demand to be treated better, often see our persecutors as opponents unworthy of God’s grace, and even sometimes retaliate or call for retaliation? Were we not told to expect this when we signed on with Christ? (2 Timothy 3:12) Were we not given directions in advance to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? (Matt 5:43-48) Peter even says not to consider persecution “as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12-19). So why does our reaction to persecution of the Church today look so…well, typical? Predictable even?

My fellow Christians, God has a call for us. He is calling us to shower the world with Christ’s love. He is calling us to respond to persecution of ourselves and fellow believers not with hate or disgust for the persecutors, but with support for the suffering. Dare I say it, he is calling us to respond to the persecutors themselves with love and empathy for these lost people. He is calling for us to graciously accept anything and everything that the world throws at us or the rest of the Church. He is calling for us to turn the other cheek, to offer our tunic to those who rob us of our cloaks, and to surprise the world with how incredibly different we are. He even calls us to enter persecution knowingly and willingly.

Today, the Christian church is facing persecution of various degrees.

Tens of thousands of Christians were recently forcibly evicted from Mosul in Iraq, Christians across Syria are suffering at the hands of extremists, Christians have been imprisoned recently in Iran and Sudan, the Church continues to be persecuted to near elimination in North Korea, and Christians in Nigeria are suffering at the hands of Boko Haram. Overall, Christianity is illegal or physically dangerous in about 51 countries of the world. Persecution of a lesser degree has happened in the West, with some seeing certain political actions as persecutions of the Church and with parts of Europe being seemingly hostile to religion altogether. So yea, we’ve got some tough stuff going on. But let me tell you, we can use that hostility to turn the world on its head.

We’ve just gotta respond in a way that would turn heads.

Jesus says some pretty awesome stuff in chapter 5 of Matthew. Something he says about persecution specifically that’s always stuck out to me is Matthew 5:11-12, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Wow. Be glad about persecution? What? Um, Jesus, you do understand what persecution is, right? It kinda sucks… Huh, maybe he just doesn’t understand what persecution is like… Or maybe, just maybe, He plans to use our persecution to save others and to glorify His name.  In all honesty, I think many of us Christians today often respond to persecution in much the same way that anyone else would. We avoid it, detest it, and get angry about it. We march in protest, shout about our rights, and overall demand to be treated right. I can’t blame ya. Everyone deserves justice, yea? Everyone deserves to be treated fairly, yea? Isn’t that what Western society, democracy, and the modern world is all about? Equal rights for all and such gooshy stuff?

But what if we took a more humble approach?

What if, instead of spending time marching for our rights that are infringed upon, we spent that time ministering to the needs of those infringing on our rights? What if we considered others as more important than ourselves? (Phil 2:3) What if we chose to be wise not in the world’s way, but in God’s way. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18.

I will say, it is crucial and absolutely called of us as Christians to stand for justice. And we are meant to oppose wrongdoing and evil. But I believe we should oppose evil itself. Oppose the Evil One, not the ones he has deceived. Make it your priority in life to reconcile the lost to Christ, even when they persecute you or others. Let your heart break for those stuck in hatred rather than also being driven towards hatred by their actions. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12. Trust me, God will judge those who allow themselves to be instruments of evil and do not turn from their ways. No condemnation from us will even make a difference in the end.

But for us, love, above all things, is meant to emanate from our lives, absolutely regardless of anything going on in the world around us. I call you to pray for the persecuted, but to pray for the persecutors just as much (if not more). We can change the world through Christ, but we must consider ourselves nothing for the sake of others first.

Counting our lives as nothing for the sake of others.

About a century ago, a band of brave souls became known as one-way missionaries. They bought tickets to the mission field without the return half. Instead of suitcases, they packed their few earthly belongings into coffins. As they sailed away, they waved goodbye to everyone they loved and all they knew, knowing they’d never return home. They gave up everything to leave for near-guaranteed persecution. One of those missionaries was A.W. Milne. He set sail for the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, aware that the headhunters there had martyred every. single. missionary. before him. But guess what. Milne didn’t fear for his life because he had already died to himself. His coffin was packed. He ended up living among the tribe for 35 years, sharing Christ and His love with people who had previously horrifically killed many of his brethren. When he died, they buried him in the middle of the village and inscribed the following on his tombstone: “When he came there was no light. When he left there was no darkness.” I wish to see more people thinking like that today. Counting our lives as nothing for the sake of others.

See the world as God sees it.

I hope that we can all come to see the world as God sees it, a place full of people desperately in need of their Creator, beloved and beautiful, and in need of healing over their brokenness. In Ezekiel 18:23 and 27 God says, “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?…Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live…if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life.” I encourage you to do all you can in your life to help people turn to God and be reconciled to Him, so that their incredibly valuable lives will be saved.

I will leave you now with the passage of 1 Peter 3:8-18. This passage summarizes beautifully the focus that God hopes to see in our lives.
“8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”