The Church of our Youth

 Homecoming 2006 005 There has been a conversation that I’ve had many times during my ministry when I am talking with folks about why they chose to be a part our church…

Me: So, why have you decided to hang around? What is it about our church that you find appealing?

Them: Well, it reminds me of the little church that I grew up in back home. It seems comfortable because that was what church was like when I was a kid.

It happens again and again, folks choosing to be a part of our fellowship because it’s familiar, it isn’t too big, and it harkens back to something from their childhood.

And frankly, I’m not sure what to do with that.

On the one hand, I am pleased that we are offering something for those families who need that sense of familiarity and comfort. There is a strong argument to be made that our traditionalism provides meaning for these folks, that they find God in the little old country church house mentality that is part and parcel of who this 130 year congregation is. We have seen repeatedly persons who needed surrogate family (especially young couples) and we have been able to meet that need, offering hospitality and love and acceptance. There is something valuable in being who we are, in offering a sense of “home” in a large urban suburb.

And yet….

And yet, the fact is that for every person who comes out of a sense of personal familiarity and denominational loyalty, there are probably 5 who have no such background or sense, and who we have no ability to converse with. For every person that is able to draw on their personal history to inform their experience of our church, there are ten whose experiences are informed by television, rock concerts, radio, and all the other stuff in our world that attempts to provide meaning and purpose. For every person who is looking for the little church in the woods there are 20 persons who are totally turned off by traditional expressions of faith, who believe (with good reason) that churches like ours are insular, filled with judgmental, racist, sexist, people who they have little in common with. The fact is that our church has to be transformed into something different in order to have a voice in a diverse community like ours.

And yet…

And yet, that transformation changes who we are, and alienates those for who God is found in this place.

You see, there is nothing wrong with who we are, and we will probably get five or ten folks a year who end up being a part of this place because who we are is part of who they have been in another place and time in their history.

But honestly, is that what we are supposed to do?

From an institutional perspective, we can’t sustain a vibrant and living ministry focused replicating the church of the 1950’s, ‘60’s, and ‘70’s. From a missional perspective, we fail in sharing God’s love with our community if we are more focused on being a museum of early 20th century practices than on translating those practices and beliefs into the language of the day.

But God continues to be present in those practices. They simply are a different language that is as outdated at the Elizabethan English of the King James Bible. That language my be beautiful and majestic, bringing forth the mystery of God, but is it really helpful if no one can understand it anymore?

“Yeah sis… When I visited the pastor’s church, it reminded me of the church we grew up in…”

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not so sure.

3 thoughts on “The Church of our Youth

  1. Ah, the church of my youth… When I try to recall my nostalgic church experiences from my past, the things that tend to connect within me are relationships and music. I really don’t recall the doctrinal expressions or prejudices (thank God!). I do, however, remember how I “felt” in those warm loving settings.
    So, might the response from people be more of an indicator of how you make them feel than what you make them think or do?
    just some thoughts to ponder…
    Bless you, my brother –

  2. Dear Jay,

    I would like to share with you some extracts from a book I am reading for the second time at the moment, which radically changed my view of church the first time I read it. It is called “The Organic Church” by Neil Cole.

    “Under the good intentions of well-meaning leaders, the church has fallen back on its heels in a defensive posture, seeking refuge in its own fortresses of buildings, programs, and “Christian” businesses, schools, and ministries. Trying to avoid the threat we were always meant to thwart, we have lost ground over and over again until at last we have nowhere left to go, surrounded by wickedness. We are now seen as an impotent and frightened group that hides from the world and the reality that faces us . We have allowed the enemy to take over the culture and society, and we complain from the safety of our fortified so-called Christian strongholds.”

    “We would do much better as leaders in the Church to learn at the feet of the farmer rather than study with the CEO of a corporation. It is time we see that the Church starts in the fields, not in the barns (Proverbs 24:27). We spend so much time building nice barns with padded pews, air-conditioned halls, and state-of-the-art sound systems, yet we have neglected the fields. We are foolish as the farmer who builds a barn and then stands in the doorway calling all crops to come in and make themselves at home. It is time for the Church to get her hands dirty in the soil of lost people”.

    These two quotes are just some of the dozens of gems contained in this very accurate description of the Church today. I would urge you to get this book and read it and ponder on it, and ultimately pray about its message, because I personally feel God’s heart for His church is all over it.

    If you do read it, let me know if it has answered some of the questions that are obviously troubling you and so many others.



  3. I understand the desire to be transformative, and the desire not to be a museum. As a church, we can’t be those things and thrive. But your church is reaching someone. Too often, I think the church feels it has to be everything to everyone. But we can’t be everything to everyone – it’s impossible. Maybe your church’s calling is to be the safe, familiar home to those who need that. Let the church down the street be the “new” place for those who seek something different. Not that you can sit back and be content with who you are. But don’t discount what you have to offer in this identity. Those who seek the familiar need a church just as much as those who don’t.

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