The Washington Post’s “On Faith” section recently ran a piece entitled, “5 Churchy Phrases that are Scaring off Millennials,” by Addie Zierman. The phrases Ms. Zierman identifies are these: 1. “The Bible clearly says . . . “ 2. God will never give you more than you can handle.” 3. Love on (e.g. “As youth group leaders, we’re just here to love on those kids.” 4. Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as “Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding” 5. “God is in control . . . has a plan . . . works in mysterious ways.”
I’ve read other columns and blogs that say about the same thing—that people who go to church, and are usually over the age of say, 50, say not only unhelpful things, but things that younger people find stupid. These unhelpful and stupid things are causing younger people to steer clear of Christian faith communities—to leave them or not start going to one.
Let me say loud and clear: not all church people say those things. In fact, I, along with many of my fellow churchgoers, find those phrases just as problematic as Ms. Zierman and her peers do.
While I can’t guarantee that no one in the church that I serve ever utters one of those dreaded phrases, it’s rare to hear them. And, in all of my—many—years of church going, I’ve never once heard anyone say “Love on” in any context. If I did, I bet I’d be “creeped out” as well (a reaction described in the column).
Millennials: the church, and Christians, may not be as bad as you think.
Reading Ms. Zierman’s piece led me to two thoughts:
1. Churches that lean to the more progressive end of the Christian theology and practice scale need to be louder in speaking up about themselves, and to make it clear that they are generally not in agreement with other Christians who seem to dominate the media landscape, or at least those who are often used by the media to characterize Christians. There’s a reason why most cities and towns have a line up of churches along Main St. and a variety of churches around town—Christians don’t all agree with each other. In fact, there’s a wide variety of theological perspectives and Christian practice among churches even in the smallest of places.
2. Millennials need to stop making assumptions about churches and Christians. Just because one church is full of people (or perhaps just a few very loud people) who make all kinds of unhelpful and/or cringe-worthy theological claims, it doesn’t mean that all churches and Christians say the same things or think the same way. Millenials need to employ a more thoughtful and discriminating approach when thinking about Christianity and the ways in which Christians gather. I am sure that “millennials” don’t appreciate being lumped all together into the same pot, with all of the same assumptions being made about them. They need to offer the same courtesy to others—you know, something like “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Churches, and millennials, should follow the old adage, as well as its reverse, to practice what they preach, and to preach what they practice.