Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

Jesus & Me – or Me & Jesus?

January 13, 2020

Here’s a short article referring to a new book by a French photographer chronicling unusual expressions of Christianity in America  (Be warned, if you scroll through the photos associated with this article #7 contains nudity).  The premise is these are all examples of niche-marketing the Christian faith to the increasing number of  self-described unaffiliated Christians – those without attachment to any particular Christian denomination, group or sect but who still describe themselves as Christian.

I’d argue that including the Ark Encounter seems misplaced here, but perhaps from someone outside of our culture the distinction is harder to recognize (or perhaps it’s a distinction less pronounced than I think it is or should be?).  The other examples seem to be another demonstration of personal lifestyle preferences driving theology, rather than the other way around.  Rather than being conformed to Christ, we are instead encouraged to conform to nobody other than ourselves, and Christ, we are assured, will be happy to conform to us.

Problematic, to say the least.  But hardly surprising.  Traditional denominations and Christian groups have fostered this for some time, emphasizing services or programs for various different population segments or demographics rather than teaching that we are all together the body of Christ and warning against narrow association with only people like yourself.  With attendance levels falling across the country (and world) and across the Christian spectrum, an aura of desperation begins to settle in some places.  Why not try clever advertising gimmicks?  After all, the important thing is people hear the Gospel, right?

Yes, as long as they’re hearing the Gospel in the proper context, which is first hearing the Law and receiving a proper assessment of their current condition.  If that condition is happy in their nudity or comfortable in their cars, there’s a distinct possibility they won’t hear the Gospel fully, or the Law at all.  If you aren’t willing to leave your car, chances are you probably aren’t really all that worried about the problem of sin and evil in your heart.

I’m all for taking the Gospel to people, but skeptical of these sorts of gimmicks that easily  confuse the Gospel with other things.

 

Book Review: How the Church Can Help Alcoholics

December 10, 2019

How the Church Can Help Alcoholics by Father Gene Geromel, Jr., Claretian Publications, 1980

I couldn’t find this book on Amazon.

Properly, it’s more a pamphlet than a book, a brief English and Spanish discussion of alcoholism and how the church can minister to alcoholics.  Much of  the pamphlet discusses identifying alcoholics and ways to address alcoholism rather than avoiding it or ignoring it or misdiagnosing it.  There is far less practical direction for church workers as they address alcoholics in their congregations.

An important thing to realize is that there are alcoholics in likely any and every congregation.  The statistic cited in this pamphlet is that one of every twelve drinking Americans is an alcoholic.  It doesn’t take a lot of complicated math to realize that even in a small congregation there is likely one or more alcoholics.  The Church needs to recognize this, and individual pastors and priests need to be aware of it as well.

This wasn’t something I learned about in Seminary, but it didn’t take long to learn about it on the job.  And don’t by any means presume that just because your congregation is mostly older folks that there aren’t any alcoholics.  A young alcoholic who never deals with their addiction will eventually become an old alcoholic.  Barring an accident, suicide, or general health failure linked to their alcoholism.  The first alcoholic I dealt with up close and personal in ministry was in his 70’s.

The pamphlet stresses the importance of confession and absolution, and rightly so.  It stresses the need to preach the value and worth of every person, including an alcoholic or the spouse or family member of an alcoholic, and rightly so.  The pamphlet also stresses the importance of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon as resources for coming to grips with alcoholism.

The importance of pastoral care is pertinent to alcoholism as it is to every other facet of life.  Law and Gospel are both important.  Care for those around the alcoholic is critical.  None of this is easy and very little of it can be scripted.  But what you also find is that there are frequently recovered alcoholics in your congregation as well.  When the reality of alcoholism can be addressed as a community of faith, it gives those who are in recovery a means of sharing their story, and that process is often helpful not just to them but those around them.  If there’s one place alcoholism shouldn’t be ignored, it’s in the Church.

A short read, and as indicated, pretty general in nature but a good reminder of the reality of alcoholism in Christian congregations and the responsibility of God’s people to address it head on with the Law and Gospel of God and the forgiveness of sins found  not in recovery but only in Jesus Christ.

Book Review: How NOT to Say Mass

December 9, 2019

How NOT to Say Mass: A Guidebook for All Concerned About Authentic Worship

by Dennis C. Smolarski, S.J.

 

There is a newer edition of this book released in 2015.  However I inherited this copy in a round-about fashion and so can’t speak to any changes in the updated edition.

I like these kinds of books as they give me an idea about how others who take worship and liturgy seriously view these things.  The author  is firmly Roman Catholic and presumes only to give instruction as to the Roman Catholic mass.  However it is useful to me as a Lutheran who utilizes the historic structure of mass.  Although our culture has largely moved to idolize efficiency and utility and to disregard symbolic meaning, worship is laden (at least historically) with symbolism and meaning.  We do things a certain way for certain reasons (at least usually).  And while yes, we are free to make changes insofar as the Bible is silent on these traditions, we should do so more in a sense of reverence for the past rather than a dismissiveness.

My wife and I were talking last night about the nature of community and how Christian community is created through traditions over literally two thousand years or more.  We do things a certain way because Christians have done them this way for a long time.  It provides a depth and meaning for deeper than deciding arbitrarily to do things a certain way for our own expediency or rationale.  Worship and liturgy links the Church today to 2000 years of Christian community.  Doing things more or less they way they did them is an affirmation of that community.  It is not a necessity, not a Biblical law, but it is a very tangible acknowledgment that who we are today is directly related to who God’s people have been long before us.

Much of this book will not make sense outside the Roman Catholic Church, as certain words and terms are used without definition or explanation.  Likewise this book won’t make much sense in a non-liturgical setting.  But I’d encourage even those who avoid historic liturgical practices in favor of current or individualized worship service formats to read this, as it in places provides very serviceable reminders about why Christians have done things a certain way.

Sin and Title

December 3, 2019

….But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.

So goes part of the corporate confession I’ve heard off and on either as parishioner or pastor for the entirety of my life, and that Christians have used prior to me.  It addresses one half of a complicated dual identity – that of being a poor, sinful being.  Not poor in the sense of material poverty, but rather poor in a sympathetic or empathetic way.  I am poor in that I am unable to fully change my sinful nature.  I am unable to fully refrain from sin perfectly in thought, word and deed.  I may put on a good show, but my thoughts and emotions betray me to God regardless of my self-control that might fool others.

I was talking with my parents this weekend and they were relating one pastor’s disagreement with this statement.  His argument is that we are no longer slaves to sin but rather we are free in Christ.  We live in the kingdom of grace rather under the tyranny of Satan.  This is who  we are, he  says.  And he’s half right.  Because the complicated, aforementioned dual-identity consists of this other reality.  Because of the sacrificial death of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus  the Christ, and because of the faith worked in me by God the Holy Spirit that this historic and objective reality is also subjectively true and real and efficacious for me, I am now washed in his blood and raised from death to  my sinful nature with him.  I am now, this moment, perfect and holy and righteous.  This is how God the Father sees me.  Or more accurately, God the Father sees me this way through the blood of Christ, so that his perfect sacrifice becomes part of my identity.

So we can emphasize one part or the other of this dual-identity.  And one day, this dual identity will no longer be.  The sinful part of me that I confess daily and weekly privately and in corporate worship will be gone, and all that will remain is the holy and perfect and righteous me.  I look forward to that day.  I try to emphasize that reality here and now to myself  and my parishioners.  But I also know the sneakiness of  sin, and some of the dangerous tactics of Satan.  He can’t change the sacrifice of the Son of God on my behalf.  He can’t take away the grace and forgiveness that are granted to me in faith through my baptism.

But he could convince me I don’t really need these things.  He could convince me to ignore and neglect these realities until they are no longer my subjective reality.  Until I’ve committed the unforgivable sin of declaring sin to be righteousness, rejecting the good forgiveness of God as something evil and intrusive.  And because I believe – based on Scripture – that these tactics are deadly real and effective, I will  insist  on continuing to address both aspects of my dual-identity.  Because Satan is always prowling about, internally and externally.  And he isn’t always blatant and obvious about it.

This morning I returned to the office from taking Holy Communion to Suzanne and her sister as I do nearly every Tuesday, augmented with another visit on Thursdays to share another Word from Scripture but without Communion.  Her pattern now  at this care facility is to be lifted into her wheelchair for 45 minutes or so of fresh air and a cigarette outside.  A small freedom she dearly enjoys.  So if I arrive and she’s not in her room, I know to search for her outside.

And outside I found her this morning, surrounded by several friends and co-residents at this care facility.  They gather for cigarettes and coffee, to laugh and shoot the breeze and catch up on the latest goings on.  They feed the pigeons as they smoke and chat.  A few weeks ago I invited one of the other residents to join us.  This morning, he was back along with another two women, at least one of whom was Christian.  It was a beautiful time of sharing God’s Word with an unexpected number of people, and then figuring out how to make the Eucharist available to them when I only expected to commune two.  God is good and things worked out.

Which is all secondary to the whole point of this post.

When I got back to the office there was a car parked in the parking lot that I didn’t recognize.  Sure enough, when I got out, so did the man in the car.  He was sharing flyers for an ecumenical conference in 2020.  I’m generally skeptical of these things but didn’t want to be rude.  I flipped through the brochures as he pointed out the keynote speakers.  I presume he assumed I would know who they are and be somewhat impressed.  He then went on to list off some of the other people who have presented at this conference over the years.  Again, a list of names he assumed I would know and be impressed by.  I didn’t know any of them.  Doesn’t mean they’re bad or not worth knowing, but it’s just not my thing to get into the whole name dropping stuff.  I’ve run into this recently with several different evangelical Christians in different contexts.  Oh, you know so-and-so don’t you?  They’re starting up a new church plant.  Oh, I used to study under so-and-so but now I’m over with so-and-so.  I’m not sure if it’s a Lutheran thing or my own weirdness, but I don’t know these people.  I don’t care, frankly.  If they’re serving God faithfully, thanks be to God!  I don’t need to know  their names.  I probably don’t need to read their books or attend their workshops either, which are oftentimes – in my limited experiences – just a chance for social or professional networking and more name-dropping.  When the conference ends I never hear or see these people again.

Apparently I’m not notable enough for follow-up contacts – unless it’s a mass e-mail advertising the next conference.

Which brings me back to confession.  You know, where we started a few hours  ago?

I thanked the man and made my way to my office, where I flipped through the brochure.  It actually looks halfway interesting.  Focused on youth ministry and reaching young people, the Holy Grail of church focus these days.  But it struck me odd that instead of talking about the purpose of the conference, he chose to emphasize the cool people leading it and previous cool people who had led it.

And a little green voice reared up inside my head wondering why I wasn’t speaking at such conferences and having people drop  my name.

There it is.  That subtle little nudge.  Nothing over-the-top or too noticeable.  Something designed to cruise in under the radar and lodge in the mind and slowly begin taking root.  Did God really say….?

It’s easy to say I’m not speaking at conferences because I have nothing to say and have done nothing notable.  And this is true.

But it’s also true that I just communed five people in a care facility in varying stages of waiting to die.  I brought them the Word of  God.  I brought them the body and blood of their Savior in with and under the bread and wine.  I managed to drop half a wafer and feed it to the pigeons.

And that is something.  It’s not about me, of course.  And so I pretend not to hear the one person complimenting me to one of the other people as I’m nearly out of earshot.  But the ear pricks.  The imagination flares.  Conceit and vanity are stoked.

It’s  not about me.  And that’s ultimately why I reject the popular Christian cult of name-dropping and professional networking.  Perhaps if we had more people focusing on bringing the Word of God to the least of these, the Church might be in a different situation in our culture.  Or perhaps it’s because that’s what the Church is doing that we’re in this situation of free-falling  membership levels.  It could work either direction, and I suspect Satan enough is experienced enough to tack into whatever breeze happens to be blowing.

Perhaps if more people focused on what’s important without thinking about themselves, like me, things would be better and the Church would be healthier.  And there’s the seed of sin and pride and vanity again.  It never stops.  Never goes away.  Not until I die in faith or my Savior returns.  And at that point, all those weed seeds will die off and I won’t have to worry about vanity and conceit or any other type of sin again.  I’ll be holy and perfect and righteous.  Just like I am right now.  Not because of me and my theories but because of the Son of God and his blood.  Because of the Holy Spirit pursuing me with faith that connects me to the grace and forgiveness of God.

But I still struggle with sin right now.  Sometimes I know it and see it.  Sometimes I don’t.  So I continue to confess.  Also imperfectly and incompletely, but as faithfully as possible.  To call  my sin out as sin rather than pretend it’s not.

….But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.

 

 

 

 

Be at Church

November 25, 2019

I came across this article a few weeks back and tucked it away.  Go have a read for yourself.

First off, yes, it is hard to find a church.  Showing up at any new place where you don’t know anyone and aren’t sure what is going to happen is uncomfortable and difficult.  This  doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t mean you aren’t a church person and it doesn’t necessarily mean this isn’t the particular church for you.  It just means you’re human.  Take a deep breath, own this, and push through it.

I recommend trying a church for a minimum of three weeks.  This  should give you a fairly good idea of what that church is like.  Are people friendly or stand-offish?  How is the pastor?  What is  his (or her) style?  How  is the sermon?  Yes, the sermons matter, particularly when you’re evaluating whether or not a church is for you.  Down the road, when the pastor changes and the sermons are not so good, that’s the time to take the author’s advice and stick  it out for the community.  Church is not a sermon.  Church is the body of Christ, and you need to be a part of it if Jesus and the Biblical Triune God is your higher power or the God of your understanding.  For you, church is not optional (Hebrews 10:19-25).  That doesn’t mean church is a new law or requirement of faith.  Rather, it means we were designed for life together, rather than apart.  If you’re trying to justify not going to church, odds are something deeper is at play than you just being a particularly spiritually sensitive soul.

Three weeks.  You’ll have a good sense of a place by then.  How do they handle the Sacraments?  What is fellowship like before and after?  If the pastor seems good but the congregation is  not welcoming, make an appointment to talk with the pastor to ask what’s up.  Don’t be accusatory, just point out you’ve been there three weeks and nobody has said hello or introduced themselves.  Pastors need to know this.

While I get the author’s reluctance to put too heavy an emphasis on the sermon, you should pay attention to what is being said.  Is it Biblical?  Is the focus you or Jesus?  Is the focus grace or law?  Is the focus punitive or threatening?   Do you live more aware of the love of Jesus or the condemnation of the law?  These things matter.  Pay attention.  If the focus isn’t Jesus but rather what you need to be doing to change the world, or what the congregation needs to be doing to change the world, or which political party or candidate to vote for, be wary.   Especially if all three weeks focus on this topic.  It’s easy to preach something other than Christ, and if that’s what is happening, this is not a good church.  Well-intentioned, no doubt.  But not healthy.

Don’t simply look for  what you like.  Don’t pin it all on the music, just as you shouldn’t pin it exclusively on the sermon.  The people in the community go a long way, but they aren’t the whole enchilada either.  Cults can be very friendly and welcoming while providing a deadly poisonous message.

All of this assumes that you’re in the Word.  That you have someone you can read the Bible with and who can help you make sense of it.  Otherwise, you aren’t necessarily going to know whether the sermons are on track or not and you may end up relying more on whether you like the music or not or whether people look and sound like  you.

I find the authors suggestion of trying a radically different kind of church a very interesting one.  Certainly, if you have bad experiences with a particular type of church or denomination, consider another one.  And the idea of trying to hear the gospel from a different point of view or perspective is fascinating and potentially very helpful – as  long as it’s still the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Yes, finding a church is hard, but necessary.  For lots of reasons.  Doctrinally.  Socially.  We have an enemy and he works best by isolating us from other believers.  Those who might hold us accountable.  Those who might steer us back onto the right path if we get off course.  And as you grow in the faith, remember that you have an obligation to your brother or sister in the faith.  You need to be in church not  just for you, but because someone else  might need you to be there.  To welcome them.  To empathize with a situation you went through in your life.  To speak the word of forgiveness in Jesus Christ in a way they need to hear.

Lutherans vs. Catholics

November 12, 2019

Straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

A nice little article about a Papal audience for Catholic and Lutheran pilgrims who journeyed to Rome together.

I appreciate Pope Francis’ words.  It is encouraging to hear the Pope acknowledge that despite being divided theologically, those divisions are not exclusionary from the broader umbrella of the Christian faith.  This is something I try to reiterate to people I work with each week who tend to think in terms of Christian or Catholic.

I’m glad to hear of a commitment to further dialogue, but of course working together in acts of charity is not the same thing as theological dialogue aimed at some sort of reconciliation.  That’s far harder. Nothing prevents us from working with each other in charitable efforts.  But to seek to reconcile – that’s something I doubt either side puts a lot of actual stock in, unfortunately.

More Thoughts on American Christianity

November 4, 2019

Thanks to Bernie (not Sanders!) for forwarding me this opinion article last month.  The author seeks to revisit the common notion of American Christianity’s drastic decline in the past decade and nuance that broad brushstroke description with some points that might alter the overall picture.  He makes three main points:

Lukewarm Christians are falling away in high numbers, but not more committed Christians.  I think this is very true, and I’ve seen other surveys indicating of those who worship at least once weekly, there has been practically no dropoff in numbers or activity over the years.  Hardly surprising.  Those willing to commit on a weekly basis to public worship clearly prioritize their faith and are willing to do so in tangible ways, such as their time allocation.  As Christianity (especially conservative Christianity) continues to become less and less compatible with cultural trends, there will be less and less incentive for nominal Christians to maintain their ties to the Church.

The decline in American Christianity has more to do with Baby Boomers than Millenials.  Also true.  The issues in the Church today began with the Baby Boomers.  They were the ones to first walk away from the faith or at least regular public worship in appreciable numbers, and this only made it easier for subsequent generations to either walk away or never affiliate in the first place.  I’m not sure I would agree with the author’s generalization that church attendance fluctuates by time-of-life.  Statistics seem to indicate that increasingly, those who leave the faith or regular worship as they leave home are not returning later in life.

The decline of American Christianity may be more of a Catholic issue than a Protestant one.  An interesting idea, and one that makes sense in light of the long-running abuses perpetrated, covered-up, revealed, denied, and now being called to account for in the Roman Catholic Church.  But whether or not the decline in affiliation and participation is more Roman Catholic than Protestant is unclear to me.  Definitely non-denominational and Evangelical churches have grown at the expense of more traditional denominational ones,  I still think there’s an overall decline in Protestantism as a whole.

Interesting also are his observations that there is still a strong enough Christian presence in America to forestall for the time being increasingly antagonistic anti-religious or anti-Christian movements and legislation.  Not an entirely optimistic observation, but something to be grateful for while it lasts!

 

Comfort Near Death

October 30, 2019

In seminary I remember being warned by a prof about the danger people can be in near death.  This may sound a bit oxymoronic – isn’t anyone near death already in danger?  Certainly this is true, but the gravity of the situation can be aggravated.

This happens by well-meaning doctors, nurses, and family members.  Wishing to spare the person additional stress, sorrow, or any other negative emotions, they deliberately mislead the person as to their condition, or the odds of their survival.  By telling lies they seek to bring the person comfort.  With good intentions, however, the potentially deprive that person of being aware of their condition and intentionally spending time making peace with God.

I’ve always remembered this, and I’ve tried to be straightforward with the people I visit at home or in the hospital.  When the understanding of those around them is they are near death, I try to specifically ask them if they are fearful or have anything they would like to confess or otherwise talk about.  I am encouraged by the faith of some who are ready to meet their maker, firm in the promises of Jesus Christ.  I am likewise encouraged by some who take the opportunity for a confession or question or discussion.

But they need to know their situation accurately in order to best prepare themselves.  This especially true as, more and more often, final hours and days  are spent heavily sedated and unable to engage in conversation.  The goal is comfort, but comfort goes beyond the physical to the spiritual.

I had an interesting discussion the other day where someone expressed a reluctance to trouble the people of our congregation with the difficult reality of our congregation – that they are almost all well into retirement age and beyond, and there is no younger generation of kids and grandkids behind them to take over the congregation when they are no longer able to run it.  When this group of people pass (and barring a miracle of the Holy Spirit), only a handful (literally) might remain, not enough to sustain things as they are and have been.

He felt it was inappropriate to trouble them with thinking about the future of the congregation beyond their lifetime, that it would be a source of stress to them and could result in some of them leaving the congregation.  He spoke from a position of empathy, personally having experienced the loss of a spouse, the struggle of long-term care for a spouse with debilitating conditions, and other very real struggles people often face as they age.  And I know many in my congregation do deal with these issues or have in the recent past.  While I can sympathize and empathize with them, I haven’t been through these struggles personally and therefore there is much I don’t know and can’t begin to imagine.  This doesn’t change the reality that I have been called to be their pastor and shepherd, but it does make me second-guess myself at times.

Which is more loving, to not talk about hard things with people already facing hard things?  Or is it more loving to be honest about the hard things and allow people the opportunity to grapple with them for themselves.  I have a high opinion of my members.  Some of them may be less vigorous now in age as they once were, but they have lived long lives through difficult times.  The Great Depression.  World Wars.  The loss of loved ones.  Challenging economic times.  As such, I credit them with a deep reserve of resilience – a reserve only heightened and extended by their faith in Jesus.  I’d rather honor their capabilities even when that is challenging and requires a lot of time and explanation, than simply not tell them everything soas not to add burdens to them.

And just like with visiting the seriously ill, most of the time there is an awareness already of the gravity of the situation.  We talk optimistically, but when reality is broached, most people are willing and able to respond to that.  I pray the same is true of my congregation and the future of the congregation.  I believe some challenging realities need to be faced and challenging decisions made.  But I’d rather give them all the details so they can make those decisions to the best of their ability, even if it’s challenging.

I pray and believe they’re capable of it, and I trust that through it all, God the Holy Spirit is present and more than capable of providing the strength and clarity needed to make those decisions, so they know they are ready for whatever the future holds, to the best of their ability, resting in the promises of our Lord who has conquered not only the physical death we each will likely face, but all the powers of evil arrayed against us individually and corporately while we yet live.  

I know I tend to expect more from people rather than less.  I like to think this is the better, more honoring thing to do.  But it might not always be, and I am grateful for those who challenge me to examine my way of approaching people and things to make sure it seems appropriate given the situation.

Church in a Box

October 29, 2019

So you want to start a church?  Easy-peesy!  Just order Church in a Box!

It will cost you anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000, depending on how big a church you’re starting, but they’ll provide you with everything you need (materials-wise, not personnel!) to do so.  Banners.  Audio/video equipment.  Coffee.  You name it, it’s included.

Assuming you have a venue, the people to do all of these things, and someone capable of preaching and teaching, what a cool way of one-stop shopping!

 

 

Religious Trends

October 28, 2019

Here’s another article about the ongoing trend of millenials  (those born between 1981 and 1996) away from religious life and particularly Christian religious life as defined by a corporate/communal worship service.  This isn’t anything new, but it does remind us that things are not changing, and are not going to change anytime soon.

The title of the essay is problematic, as there’s no exploration of why millenials are trending this way at all, other than a passing reference to being in the stage of life where family, finances, and career tend to overwhelm all other priorities.  But this is hardly anything new or unique to millenials.  Every generation has to balance and manage these demands during this time of life, and for far larger percentages of our population, this was done alongside (or perhaps more accurately enabled through) active, sustained, committed participation in a religious faith community.  Primarily Christian.  The Church.  This isn’t so much an issue with religion in general in America, but with Christianity.  According to this data, 70% of Americans consider themselves Christian (not including Mormons).  Non-religious make up almost 20%, which leaves only about 10% of the population that follows other religions.

So blaming the demands of work and finances and family doesn’t cut it as the reason millenials are no longer participating in churches as earlier generations did.  But the article does point out some of the ramifications of this change.

Yes, people are lonelier.  But let’s draw a few more tangible connections, please.  Loneliness is likely a high contributing factor to rising levels  of both depression and suicide.  More pertinent to this is the recognition that Christianity and the Bible offer something in very short supply these days – hope.  A reason to continue on in the face of periods of bleakness or sorrow.

The article also references lower levels of sexual activity among young people as another aspect of the pressures on millenials.  But what about some  deeper analysis, please?  Could reduced levels of sexual activity be linked to less attachment to Christian community and  a much decreased emphasis on the value and beauty of marriage?  Dating apps may be decreasing in popularity, but they are also being singled out as likely culprits for increasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases.  And of course if traditional Judeo-Christian teachings on sexuality are being increasingly ignored, then the overwhelming prevalence of pornographic access at the click of a button with virtually no safeguards or obstacles also is likely to play a big part in changing levels of sexual activity.

Of course the article doesn’t deal with the biggest issue of all – as rates and levels of regular worship continue to drop, there is a very real risk (likelihood?) of people abandoning not just worship but the faith.  Rather than temporal mental health or social health, Christianity posits that what we believe has eternal consequences.  That’s not something most articles like this want to deal with or know how to.  The reality is that increasingly these people may not simply be lost to the Church for the time being, but eternally.  That’s a huge deal.

Millenials  aren’t coming back to church.  How many of them were really there before?  How many of them were raised in worshiping families where weekly worship was a priority, no matter how hard the work week had been?  How many of them were isolated from actual worship in youth ministry bubbles where fun and games eclipsed actual engagement with the Bible and Christian teachings, and where discussion of how faith applies to life were limited to purity rings and other one-off experiences?

We can look at lots of factors contributing to why young people are less and less interested in church, even if they still consider themselves to be Christian in some less-easily defined way.  But I think we need to include the Church itself in those factors.  Somehow, the faith was not transmitted to millenials (and the generations following them, don’t doubt it) in a meaningful and applicable way.  If most  younger Christians are essentially moralistic therapeutic deists, the Church has to wonder if it contributed to this tragic mistake?  If church is about being nice, can’t people get that other places?  School programs, work programs, TED talks, any number of other options.  What makes church unique if not the very message and heart of the Bible and Jesus and faith?

No, the youth aren’t coming back.  Not for a long time.  How is the Church going to adapt to this and plan to deal with it?  Especially given the reality the article notes, that collection baskets have suddenly gotten lighter?  And how does the Church attract a younger demographic that is going to see – and not entirely incorrectly – that a sudden surge in interest in evangelism is driven perhaps less by actual love of neighbor and more as an effort to prop up and sustain a model of doing church that is less and less sustainable as membership levels continue to drop?

Again, it should be noted: these are large scale trends.  There are (thankfully!) always exceptions to the rules, both individual congregations and even larger communities where this is not the case.  But it does mean that sooner or later these larger trends will begin to affect these places that may not really notice the change right now.