May 10, 2019

Simple, Not Easy

When my father was teaching me as a young boy how to play golf he passed along one important adage: “golf is simple but not easy.” Truly, it is a simple game. Get the ball into the hole using the fewest number of shots. But anybody who has picked up a golf club knows that the game’s simplicity lures you into a false sense of security. Golf is anything but easy. One small miscalculation or error has tremendous consequences on where the ball goes, what your score will be, and if you ever choose to play this beguiling game again. Simple, not easy.

I am an old millennial (born in 1985) and a priest, which somehow makes me an expert on the religiosity of a whole generation. Usually the questions about millennials directed at me are veiled angst (“is the church going to survive?”) or latent anger (“why is my granddaughter having a destination wedding?”). The answers about millennials and our relationship with the church are simple, but not easy to swallow.

Simply put, I think that millennials walk into our churches and do not experience the risen Lord. They encounter parishes who pride themselves on their past rather than God’s preferred future. They find rigid communities that do not know how to adapt and accept new people. If they do visit a church, they are lucky if anyone shakes their hand or calls them later that week (that is, if the church bothered to have a visitor card and if they bothered to fill it out). Many people in my generation are crushed by student debt, we do not know if we can afford buying a house (much less our kids’ college or our retirement), and we see a culture fraying at the seams. Desperate for hope, we walk into church only to hear platitudes that were poorly cobbled together on Saturday night passing as Sunday morning sermons. We come to worship but the biggest issue in the parish seems to be about how the acolyte is not wearing the right kind of shoes. These small miscalculations and errors have tremendous consequences on the present state of our church.

We have all seen churches take on the hardest solution to these simple issues that millennials bring up. Let me put it simply: your church does not need screens or a band, your church does not need to rip out your pews, your church does not have to fit a certain political ideology, your church does not need a young priest. Those are all complex answers to a simple problem. See, what all our churches need and what millennials are looking for is simple. It is Jesus.

This will not be easy. We have all bought into the lie that there is not enough and that the church is destined to decline itself into oblivion. We have eaten the lotus flower of nostalgia from some fictional, sentimental past that never really existed in the church. Moving forward, the solution is simple. We need to recalibrate our parishes to think more about the abundant life given to us in the Lord Jesus than the scarcity of their parochial report.

This will not be easy work. Clergy will need to preach well-prepared sermons that enlighten, inspire, and form disciples of Jesus. Vestries will need to see the challenges that face every parish as opportunities for gospel work. Beyond that, every single parishioner will have to rededicate themselves to the Lord Jesus and his way of love. The solution is simple, but not easy.

Finally, we should remember that it is not just millennials who are desperate to find a community that loves them and to hear the liberating, transformative, sacrificial love of Jesus. I believe that all people, regardless of demographic category, are thirsting for the gift of the water of life that only Jesus can offer. The solution is simple, but it will not be easy.

This blog is part of a series on millennial-authored articles on millennials in the church published in May and June 2019. For Vestry Papers articles on the same theme, click here.