Millennials, the Church and the mission of Family

I have seen a great load of studies, articles and critiques lately on Millennials  and the Church. Usually the article highlights a study that points to the reality that those between the ages of 35 and 13, who grew up in church ministries (kids programs, youth groups) are leaving churches and many leaving faith. Along with those studies are the articles that highlight how the modern-day evangelical church service with the latest music, hip-est preachers, and most gadgety of technologies are having little effect on attracting or re-attracting Millennials.

As an urban church planter/pastor in a University city, I share the angst. I don’t like the stark truth of many of these studies or the ‘church is failing’ tone that many of the articles have. Frankly, many of the offered solutions seem incredibly weak and just as gimmicky as the last wave of church growth offerings.

The church God used my family to plant is LAME! That’s not the name of the church it’s a descriptive. I preach long and directly out of the Bible, usually study through whole books. Our church has a directed liturgy which includes times of confession, quiet, a public time for questions and comments,  and weekly communion. Our worship is not flashy. Usually just one guitar, sometimes we have a keyboard or a second guitar. We sing theologically rich songs, many of the old hymns, and we actually ask our congregation to sing louder so we can hear each other sing gospel truths over each other. On top of this we meet at a 90plus year old cathedral style church that still has a load of stain glass windows. If you were to open up the ‘attractional church model dictionary’ and look under ‘lame’ you would probably read PAXnorth. You would think that our whole set up would act as Millennial-repellant. Why then has so many broken or disenfranchised believers and unbelieving skeptics between the ages of 35 to 18 identified us as their church? Why are they willing to make commitments such as going through six weeks of doctrinal studies before they can join a small group and six more weeks of study before you can become a member?

The missing mission of family in the church

One thing that I think we are grabbing hold of, something I understand that people in our culture, like millennials, are craving  because of its absence is family. Genuine family. In a narcissistic, consumer society one of the first victims of the ‘me-first’ life has been all that family was designed to bring. The help, the bearing of burden, the laughing together, the fighting together, the crying together, the loving and sharing together.

Family-C.jpgI want to suggest that maybe the church needs to begin to figure out to what degree we live out genuine Christ centred family as a means to grounding our missiology to the disenfranchised. The disenfranchised includes the next generation who will tire of whatever gimmicks the present generation comes up with to hold their attention.

Start with your theology of family
The family is God’s idea. Oh boy, I almost can hear the groans from the culture I live in everyday. I know it’s hard to hear those words if you believe that the family is just some social construct that happened because of sexual urges that produces either a wanted or unwanted inconvenience of a long-term relationship or a kid. Sadly the church reflects, by its divorce rate and broken families, a similar belief about family. I want you to know that for all the baggage that we have tied to the family there is a true, deep, lasting and needed beauty to family as God designed it. I don’t have the space here to lay out the theology of family (family as God designed it) but let me give you the keynote version:
Genesis 1 – God makes creation. He exclaims,”Oh you are good in your design, function and purpose” Psalm 19
Genesis 2– God makes man and woman. He declares words of righteousness over them, “You are very good.” The design, function, and purpose of humanity unfolds with the relationship that they enjoy with the Triune God. Made in the image of God to reflect the image of God. So they are given authority, creative work, and deep love for God and each other. This all reflects the glory of the God who made them.  But there is more….

Even though Genesis 3 happens, sin does not thwart the purposes of God. He still intends to use creation, marriage, family and a people together to show His glory.

Move to your missiology of family
   They were to fill and subdue the earth with family who were to image God. This expression of family under covenant love with God and each other is a great mystery of God. Ephesians 5 breaks wide the great mystery. The marriage of husband and wife as the powerful illustration of God’s commitment to pursue, woo, die for, serve and love a bride. Our marriages are supposed to be little expressions that speak loud the sacrificial love of Christ to our kids, a face to face reality of the Gospel lived out. Our families are supposed to be larger expressions of God’s grace at work that speak loud this sacrifical love to our neighbours.

Then Jesus, like he always does, takes it a step further with this statement, “Who is my mother or my brothers or sisters?! He who does my Father’s will in heaven.”  Matthew 12:48-50
 Our churches are supposed to be the billboards that identify to our longing city full of millennials, and others, that we have been so affected by the covenant love of God, conferred to us only by the death of His Son, that we live out the overflowing principles of Christ-like love in family. “And they shall know you by your love”-  is how Jesus sums this up.
The missiology of the Church is the family  of God overflowing in genuine Christ filled relationship into our cities for the purposes of God.

I think we are on to something here

It’s been 9 years of seeing our little church minister to many disenfranchised singles and young post grads, starving artists, streetlevel and a few families but I think we are starting to get it? Last year a group of roommates decided to start having a Sunday soup every second week. A place to invite those who are on the peripheral into the experience of family. So as they talk about God, their faith, their church family together. These ‘outsiders’ might get a taste, a glimpse of God’s purposes and love for His Bride. So that they might feel invited in. A young family mentioned to me last month that they have started asking at least one family over every second Thursday night. Purposely they are choosing those who might be perceived as ‘hard to hang out with’ or in some form of relationship crisis. In this way they will go through their family time of sharing food together, praying together (cause that’s what they do as a family), cleaning up together asking questions, offering help, having kids play with each other- so that they might demonstrate honestly the areas they are struggling and offer the solution of Christ-saturated lives that is causing them to mature and grow.

Church want to reach Millennials? Let me offer an OLD but missing illustration of God’s great grace to us. Make a shift back, as a means to go ahead, to a family that pours over in seriously following Christ and inviting others into  the mess that is your family. Churches STOP spending more money on your presentation and preach the ancient truths of God’s overflowing love into His people so much so that you will make every effort to be a genuine covenant family in Christ so that your homes would be invaded with those who others can’t stand to be around, or are disconnected from authentic love. Then offer them the love of Christ.

Thanks for reading,

BRS

What would you preach if you knew this was your last sermon?

15095492_10153829206287101_8742420856767006335_nOne of my friends died this past month. He and I were the same age. I spoke to him almost every week, in one form or another. Sometimes it was just me preaching to him over a plate of food. Sometimes it was exchanges of ‘hello, how’s it going’,  in passing on the street. Most often it was on a street bench, the front of the church stairs or in a strangers door way.
My friend was betrayed. Betrayed by a well-meaning, happy-go-lucky group of  family and friends who thought it would be fun and funny to hire a prostitute for him when he turned 21. The results a year later was a diagnosis of HIV. He never really recovered even though he lived for another 27years. He ran away from home, hit the streets and sunk deeper into hurt, pain and shame. Drinking whatever he could get his hands on with the vigour of a man who wanted to lose his life.

I know that some of  our conversations were exchanges of life~ meaningful, heart-wrenching, or belly laughing together at our sick sense of humour. Many were me assuring him that we were friends, people cared about him and he needed to get help from the grip of hurt, pain and shame that had completely overwhelmed his life.  He  was enslaved to hurt, pain and shame so that his only place of relief was found in an alcoholic daze. I picked him up off the street as he lay there in a puddle of blood more than once. I would clean him up, call for help and assure him that his life was worth more then a constant drunk could offer him. He would hide his precious half-full mouthwash bottle or call me whatever names he could think of while I asked him to empty his sleeves of bottles.

One of those times was the ‘last sermon’ he ever heard. I don’t know which one, or what I spoke to him. I hope it was something like Stephen’s last sermon, Acts 6,7.  Including the call of God to a guy like Abraham for a greater meaning in life then he currently had. A promise made to him by the God of great glory that will never know its completeness while he lives on this earth but by faith can have great assurance that God will supply a sacrifice greater than the one he can forfeit. This is all made sure by the steadfast love of a covenant keeping God. A God who is faithful to His word, always. I hope my words at the park bench outside the church, when he was too intoxicated to put his own words together, echoed of the same truth as Stephen speaking of Joseph who was deeply wronged by family members and in wrestling through tragedy after tragedy began to recognize God never left him or forsook him , but turned evil into good purposes for the saving of many. Or that, while we waited for the ambulance to show up I somehow, while he cursed me out for taking away his half full bottles of mouthwash , assured him there is a God who sees the affliction of his people and sends One to deliver. The Moses of old-  was only a fore shadow of the Christ who can set him free from the slavery to hurt, pain, shame and alcoholism. This is the same Christ who was crucified, put in a grave, rose with great victory over the very death that my friend was rushing headlong into.
My heart does not hold an assurance that my friend ever understood the depths of these truths. He shared with me, early in our relationship, that he understood he was angry at God and at himself. He knew and hoped in the forgiveness of Jesus coming but he wasn’t sure that there was forgiveness deep enough for him and where his life was headed. I prayed with him and for him. He always thanked me for that and called me his friend.

I pray that one of our conversations over the years, maybe even in the last ‘sermon’ he ever heard preached, he reached out in faith to a Saviour who pursued him even to death. If he did, he too in his last moments could exclaim with Stephen, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”

Thanks for reading

BRS

The Problem with Purity

psalm51_10

 Purity-  καθαρός – clean (from Strong’s Greek)

 Everyone who has kept their purity, unstained and holy- please stand up.

  There are all sorts of great gifts that God, in His wisdom and love to us- as a means of demonstrating His glory and illustrating His pursuit of us- has inserted into our make-up.  SEX is one of these great gifts.

  If you’re an agnostic or an atheist, those opening few lines probably bother, maybe puzzle, or even infuriate you. Most likely you just stopped reading. The problem with thinking of sex as something more then an appetite of our nature, propelled by anything other then our evolutionary ancestoral species, holds a true dilema. It would have to mean that the point of sex is more then merely our need to satisfy our natural urges,  a raging appetite, or merely a need to reproduce our species. Further it would mean that we can’t simply choose when, where, why and with whom we pursue sexual relationship, because it holds something more then sexual satisfaction as it’s primary goal. Further it would mean there must be some level of sexual purity that is expected?  When we get to that level we are talking  about a moral standard, a morally pure standard.

When we start down the road of moral purity we eventually have to ask , “Who sets the standard?” The top options that we are presented with are our nature, our perceived needs, or some sort of an outside influence (religion, family standards, peer pressure, cultural influence, beliefs, etc). The moral standard you hold will shape or provide answers for such questions like – What relationships will I pursue?  When will I know sex is the next level of intimacy in relationship? How far is too far? What importance will sexual relationship hold as a measure of right relationship?

  From these two considerations alone, sexual desire and moral standard, I would re-state my original point,
There are all sorts of great gifts that God, in His wisdom and love to us- as a means of demonstrating His glory and illustrating His pursuit of us- has inserted into our make-up. SEX is one of these great gifts.”
  I know, it’s bad form to quote yourself- but let me make the point- These two realities of human relationship (sexual desire and moral standards)  demonstrate this to be true -because sex typically brings such confusion when introduced into relationship prematurely (Song of Solomon points this out with poetic force);  or when sex is introduced into a relationship it confuses  the relationship so that it becomes the central shaping force,  also,  the fact that our heart breaks so deeply as though we have given away a part of us to another when the sexual relationship is ended. Leaving us with all sorts of feelings of hurt, guilt, shame, regret, or an all consuming appetite for more. All this points to the truth- SEX has been given to us for something more- a greater purpose, a more presdigious place then we, our culture, typically give it, a place of pure enjoyment. If that is true then it has to be enjoyed within the parameters that God sets and not simply as a means to fill our void of loneliness.

 NOW THE REAL KICKER:: As an honest Christian (not perfectly honest but trying to be honest to Christian truth) I am forced to admit there is no one who has kept fully sexual and moral purity, except One. This doesn’t mean that sexual purity is not important. This does mean that our purity holds a limited-time value.

  Sexual, moral and ethical purity does:

  1. Please God, who made us for relationship. Yet He knows the brokenness of our hearts and places boundaries for our greatest protection, and as a means to enjoy His good gift to us.

 2. Gives us these boundaries to enjoy freedom. Boundaries in relationship allow for us to get to know each other, to cultivate deep and growing relationships (such as friendship) without being consumed by self-satisfaction, self-gratification and protecting us from simply using each other for self pleasure. When lust leads it does not create it consumes.

3. Lays the ground for true intimacy. True intimacy does not equal nakedness. If you think it does then you have all but doomed yourself to young love. Not the kind of ripened, life-long covenant love that brings confidence and will ultimately result in a deep shaping of hope in your life. Young love only breeds disappointment, a trail of broken relationships, and a ever deepening loneliness.

In these ways purity matters and has a lasting affect on our lives. Yet our own purity holds a limited time value.

 To hold up our PURITY as a trophy or as the means of saving our lives, even our marriages,  simply won’t hold up.
The truth before God (a Sermon on the Mount kind of truth) is that we have all failed when it comes to purity. This smashes the purity myth that YOU can save yourself for someone as if to save your relationship. You and I cannot be our own Messiah’s. When it comes to purity we need a Saviour we are not the saviour. The purity of our own making that we might possess is not a purity that has an eternal value. The purity that we might possess -moral purity, sexual purity, or ethical purity- is not a purity that we in the end get to cling to as proof of our right standing before God. Nor is it the ultimate saving grace of your relationships. The only purity that we will ever possess that will matter before God is a purity that is given to us, not a purity we have or have earned. It is a purity that was secured for us by another, One outside of ourselves. It’s Christ’s purity. It is an exchange that can only be made by faith at the cross of Jesus- dying for our impurity and offering us His purity. This truth applied is the place of healing for our sexual brokenness. ~that thought will take a longer conversation.

  We are made to delight in pure relationship. Ultimately this is fulfilled in us as we learn to delight in God through Christ- this primary place of delight shapes and brings a practiced purity to all the other relationships God has given us to delight in.

     Thanks for reading

Brad