Mess of Pottage Blog

Luke's "Pro" Blog

The Church and Young People

The Pew study that came out this week revealed that in just the last seven years the median age of Mainline Protestants went from 50 to 52. Looking at stats like that, you have to wonder if we’ve reached a tipping point.

Last month, at the 2015 Catalyst Conference (West), Andy Stanley said:

If your church is designed by 50 year-olds for 50 year-olds to the neglect of teenagers, shame on you.

That’s a hard pill to swallow. I don’t know of a better communicator in the church than Andy Stanley. He didn’t use the word “shame” lightly.

But consider what the 17th Century Puritan John Flavel said:

If you neglect to instruct them in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness. No. If you will not teach them to pray, he will to curse, swear, and lie. If ground be uncultivated, weeds will spring.—The Mystery of Providence

Of course, the devil doesn’t do that by whispering in young people’s ears. It happens, mostly, because the world is a fallen, broken place full of fallen, broken people who prey on the weak and vulnerable.

Jesus changed that. He said that that young people have angels in heaven who see the face of God in heaven and woe to those who harm his little ones.

His followers changed the world. Eric Metaxas wrote about how the church challenged the thinking of the ancient world about children:

Into this world came Christianity, with its condemnation of abortion, infanticide and child abuse, its glorification of faithful marriage. … This ethic, which the Western world takes for granted today, is a direct heritage of Christianity.

There was a time when the church thought about how much God loved young people. The church improved the status of children so much we are incapable of imagining how bad it used to be. What does the future hold for children if the church puts the needs and desires of 50 year olds ahead of teenagers?

Cross-posted from my new JLP Pastor blog.

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Reminder: Some People Are Jerks

The other day, I watched this video on YouTube. It’s amazing. I can’t imagine how much effort went into filming it. The song itself is fine, but, frankly, I heard it enough a couple of decades ago to last me. I’m not sure what it has to do with Grand Rapids, but, whatever. (According to Wikipedia, when he was asked what the song’s lyrics meant, Don McLean replied, “It means I never have to work again.”)

Anyway, I went to crowd-source my opinion and noticed the ratings. About a million people had seen it by then, and of them almost 15K had “liked” it (the long green bar under the photo). But 320 had “not liked” it (the short red bar). Why?

Screen Capture: American Pie Video on YouTube

I know it’s a cliché to ask “what’s not to like?” (#67 on this list) but, well, what’s not to like? With the video, I mean. You might not like Grand Rapids, but why down-rate the video for that? Or maybe you hate the people who shot the video. But do you judge a movie just because you don’t like the director? If so, where do you stop? Suppose you like the cast and the director, but not the key grip or the best boy. Do you rate the movie a dud for that?

Some people just don’t like anything. In the church, we call them E.G.R. or “Extra Grace Required.” It’s a shame they are so damaged and bitter that they need to spread their bile all around them. But I challenge them to read about Barnabas:

For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus.—Acts 4:36

Obviously, the people around them much prefer the Barnabas types to the E.G.R.s. But I suspect the Barnabas types enjoy themselves a lot more than the E.G.R.’s do.

Anyway, a final observation: The ratio of people who liked the video to those who disliked it was about 46:1. So when you bump into someone who seems positively determined to suck the joy out of your life, remember there are probably 46 normal people who aren’t. Try to spend more time with them, and less with the jerks.

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The Seminary Bubble

Via Twitter, I saw a fascinating article on Forbes’ blog about the “Seminary Bubble.” Excerpt:

After all, what matters more to the customer, the member: the ability to discuss the relationship between Paul Tillich’s theory of ultimate concern and Karl Barth’s version of neo-orthodoxy in light of the demythologizing textual hermeneutic of Bultman, or the ability to keep the congregation/audience’s attention for twenty minutes with a relevant sermon about family life? Seminary tends to give you loads of the former and little of the latter.

I might quibble with the word “customer” there, but then, I’m seminary-trained and quibbling is my stock-in-trade. Other than that, there’s a lot of truth to it. The theological gibberish in that quote is spot-on. God forbid I ever say anything that stupid from the pulpit.

I’m not sure 20 minutes is the target any more, either. It’s still the norm in the mainline, but the point of the article is that the mainline is hardly a standard any more. My guess is that a lot of “customers” want more than 20 minutes worth of sermon. Anything worth doing is worth doing. Also, as people become less and less familiar with Christianity, liturgical rites and ceremonies are increasingly arcane. You can’t devote most of an hour to incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo and assume it’s relevant to people just because you’ve eliminated references to Barth and Tillich.

(As an aside, the writer says the disconnect also has to do with politics. This is a stock complaint. “The mainline denominations are populated, barely, with Prius-driving Democrats, while evangelical churches are packed with Nascar fans who vote Republican.” That may be true, but 1800 years ago, the Temples were filled with rock-ribbed devotees of Juno and Apollo, and Christians were in the arena. So what?)

That’s not to say there aren’t some real insights in the article. Read the whole thing. The gist is that seminary is expensive but doesn’t necessarily produce people who “succeed” in ministry. (That’s another word I can’t help but quibble with: success in ministry isn’t necessarily measured in a church’s budget or seating capacity.)

When I speak with less-well trained ministers, the less tactful of them tell me something that boils down to: “we equip the called, and [your denomination] calls the equipped.”

Maybe. But my guess is it has at least as much to do with assuming pastoral ministry is something you can learn in school. It’s not a question of who’s called, or not always. It’s a question of how you equip them.

Paul didn’t send Timothy off to seminary. A lot of people at “successful” churches — especially church planters — have spent a fair bit of time either in what amounts to an apprenticeship, or belong to networks that provide more support than a denominational superstructure provides. (For a hilarious-but-tragic example of denominational indifference, see Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant.)

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