Rachel Held-Evans died tragically today after experiencing bad reactions to medications for the flu. She was 37 with two young children and husband. She was a Christian writer who explored her questions about faith that most of us have thought but have never asked out loud. She challenged conservative evangelicalism and the patriarchy that dominates much of its theology. She did so with wit, love and courage. Many of those she challenged have expressed a deep respect for her candor and for her character in attacking ideas and not people. She made them better.
When I first read her blog on why the church was losing the millennial generation, I was fatigued of reading of such articles. (Congregations and friends can grow fond of passing to pastors articles about why the church is losing members. It gets depressing!) But her words stuck as she articulated what I found myself wanting in a church. She argued that millennials are looking for a church that values authenticity over being cool. I mentioned this to a friend, who told me I should be in good shape.
At times in my ministry, I confess I have slipped over into putting more value on the cool than the authentic. Forgive me! But people like Rachel draw me back to what I love about faith and about Jesus!
I hope for an authentic faith that allows for questions and helps wandering people find their way back to an authentic Jesus. It’s the Jesus my home church taught me. It’s a Jesus who showed us how to love without pretension and how to speak out while maintaining humility. It’s a Jesus that can lead people to change their mind and to include and embrace the LGBTQ community.
As one who is new to blogging, I draw inspiration from her courageous witness to say publicly what others have thought for a long time. She gave space and affirmation to others in going first. For this post, I leave with you an excerpt from her article on why millennials are leaving the church. It’s one of her first and it still rings true today.
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.
In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.
Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. –precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.
What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.
Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.
RHE, may your witness give rise to new voices! May those voices help others find their deepest, authentic longing for Jesus! Rise in glory.