I’ve read upwards of 1100 comments across the blogosphere on the Rachel Held Evan’s blog post on the Millennials. Within her post, she has the controversial statement, “we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” Um, ok…
In reading all that commentary, certainly there were a number where it seemed that Jesus was the last thing on folks minds… some suggested that the we need more morality and OT stuff in church in Sunday school and if we have enough fire, brimstone, and condemnation folks will come back. Others thought way cool, we can have more liturgy, the old organ hymns, and all sorts of high church stuff and get out of our financial bind. Others seemingly blamed everything on LGBT folks, evolution, and critical thinking. A few were pretty blatant and told folks they were not wanted, and should go away. In some cases, the comments were so extreme, it makes one wonder where the fruits of the spirit are or if something else is there…
As such, it does seem pretty reasonable to come to the conclusion that Jesus isn’t there, or as some have said. “Jesus has left the building”
On the other hand, when you have that the 2 or 3 are gathered thing, the word is being preached thing, to say nothing of the omnipresence thing, Jesus is there… Alas, just because He is there, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that folks are listening… much less acting on His words.
In part, it seems the seed scattering thing may apply. Seeds don’t always take root, some wither away, some seeds get eaten by birds… which then may get re-scattered with fertilizer in another location (Hat tip to Pastor Steve on that one!)… but this is only a part. It explains much of the off the wall, non fruit of the spirit stuff in the blogosphere, but it would be an exceedingly rare church where no seeds took root at all.
More so, I wonder if Jesus not being there thing is a framing issue on the part of the congregation and projection issue on the part of the millennials.
Many evangelical churches focus on the individual more so than the communal, but do so in a tribal like manner. Things like personal piety, holiness, purity etc end up as as huge deals, in some cases, perhaps swinging into Ecc 7:16 territory as to over-righteousness when they become idols… Rachel Held Evans had some good depth on this with Sex and the Path of Holiness a while back.
A few of the vibes I picked up from social media seem to lead some credence to a more Sermon on the Mount / Matthew 25 focus among the millennials than individual piety. Homelessness, food shelters, poverty mitigation, and wealth disparities seem to rank pretty high on the hypocrisy detection meter of millennials… Ie, if you preach on sexual abstinence, Dave Ramsey, and patriotism but not on poverty, global hunger, or the least of these, its reasonable for the projection and framing not to align, with the result that Jesus appears absent.
Another aspect of framing, is the lack of intellectual rigor, sort of the reverse of Ecc 7:16. More than a few millennials came to the conclusion that Jesus is not there as he doesn’t exist. While one can debate whether Christianity is intellectually viable, it seems far too many churches take the stance that it isn’t, more so by actions than by words. Canned and know it all answers, bad apologetics, and in general philosophical ineptness set the stage for this. Its not evolution, science or critical thinking that’s the problem, its a problem of our own making.
Lastly, I think a timing issue is involved. Jesus did a ton of ministry in a lot of places over a very short time frame. Millennials having recently come out of university experiences where you go from knowing no one, to hard core discussions of theodicy in a month are not conditioned to wait… This shows up in a soc media where folks are making yea or nay judgment calls on communities with only a one or two visits.
Bottom line, Jesus is there… but there is a sort of hiding of Him going on.