The Next Adventure

For the last three years, I have served as an associate pastor at an unbelievably gracious church - FUMC of Arlington, TX.  The church took a risk on me.  While I had a great resume in worship ministry and leadership, I hadn't preached a whole lot yet.  I was a young adult, passionate about young adult ministry, but I hadn't built a lot of small groups.  I loved Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but had no proven expertise in using them to reach new people for the kingdom.

So, why not make me a Pastor of Young Adults, Communications, and Modern Worship?

And, let's help me get my Master of Divinity at Perkins while we're at it.

This church has helped me to learn.  It's pushed me to grow.  It's critiqued me in life-giving ways.  It's helped me to fulfill God's calling on my life to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church.

Yet, and this is the definition of bittersweet, it's time for the next adventure in my ministry journey.  Two months or so ago, an opportunity to apply for a church planting residency fell into my lap.  Or, appeared in my Facebook feed, as things are wont to do these days.  I filed it away as something that would be awesome to do, but sounded hard to pull off.

But, then I get a text from my wife ... "Did you see that?"

And, as a person who often hears the Holy Spirit nudge me through my spouse, I messaged the pastor of the church sponsoring the residency, wondering if they'd take an application from somebody outside of their conference.  The response was that as long as I got the OK from my District Superintendent, absolutely.

I'm paraphrasing all of this, of course.

Well, one thing lead to another, and I'm now free to share some rather large news in the world of my family:

Beginning July 1, I will be a Path 1 Church Planting Resident at Union Coffee, an amazing UMC church plant across I-75 from SMU.  Union is indeed a coffee shop, called to reach the young people in the area, the unchurched, the dechurched, a generation that the church earnestly wants to reach, but often doesn't know how.  The coffee is delicious, the worship is quirky, the community is amazing.

I'll be pastoring at Union with the hope of aiding in their efforts to go multi-site and bring a branch to the Central Texas Conference the following year.  There aren't any promises in this; it's yet another risky ministry move.  But, in the Kingdom of God, as in many things, where there's no risk, there's no reward.

I'm beyond excited to accept a new role in ministry.  FUMCA has been family to me, but it's time to strain forward to the next step.  Thankfully, my wife, Leanne, will be able to keep going in her own ministry at another church in our current area.  My kids go to preschool there and we often worship there as a family.  In a way, we'll be building ourselves a new/old home church and keeping our home in Central Texas, where we're so looking forward to continuing our ministry.

Trusting in the providence of God has taken my family and I in so many amazing directions and we know that God will be with us, and our faith communities, through this next step and beyond.

Millennials and the "Age of Individualism"

As a young adult pastor (and as an an official YA by UMC standards for the next 3 years), I tend to soak up writing and research on millennial issues.  As we all probably should.  I find it fun to drop a little bit of new knowledge when I have the opportunity to go to one of our older adult Sunday School classes - and they eat it up.  Most of our classes have a real desire to figure a way forward for the church, seeing tangibly the way that young families, college students, and youth have drifted away from the church over time.

I drop in with the latest material from Barna, Pew Research, Relevant Magazine ... And they listen.  They want to know most of all how they can fix things as I'm the age of their children and grandchildren in some cases.  It's always a ton of fun to chat.

But where do I often meet resistance?  When I put the onus on the previous generation for the problems of the current one.

Case in point - this article The Age of Individualism, by NYTimes columnist Ross Douthat.  It's pretty cynical stuff, based on a fascinating report from the Pew Research Center that I dare everyone to read.

Douthat discusses the Millennial generation's penchant for going out on its own.  Becoming more and more individualistic.  No political party is good enough.  Being left wing and right wing at the same time.  Limited trust of leadership.  Not so much the marrying types.  Less patriotic.

It's all kind true, I guess.

But in a way it's super not.  We didn't just enter into an age of individualism - it's been here for a very long time.

Speaking as a Christian, the church is my chosen wheelhouse.  I'm not an expert at much, really.  But I do know this - the individualistic nature of the millennial generation (the 'me' generation as I hear it lovingly called in the church) is a learned behavior.

My faith is my faith.  I don't want you in my business.  Don't hold me accountable.  Tradition is trash.

Some millennials say these things.  Truly however, I can't speak for all millennials, we have no time for a faith that doesn't want to build community.  We have no time that's going to help us do anything that isn't going to help build a better community, better lives for others.  Among the young adults I'm in ministry with on a daily basis the term accountability is something that is longed for.

It's happening in spite of what our parents taught us.  I admit, however, that my parents have gone against the boomer grain - they didn't just go to church when I was a kid, they sought to be the church.  I am who I am very much because they are who they are.

If people want millennials to grow to be less individualistic, less about 'me', it starts with people not just saying this things, offering these bits of analysis.  It starts with conversation.  Conversation, communion, is a tradition that's being trashed.  Time to recycle.  

I'm not saying that the current crop of young adults is totally absolved of the sin of thinking that they can go it alone.  However, ministry happens in community, and community happens in outreach.


"Why millennials are leaving the church"

I'll admit, I'm a fan of Rachel Held Evans.  She brings a lot of balance to the term 'Evangelical Christian' and I think her writing is to the point.  Her latest article from the CNN Belief Blog, "Why millennials are leaving the church' really isn't new information.  It's the same information that David Kinnaman breaks down in You Lost Me, and the same stuff Adam Hamilton preaches in When Christians Get it Wrong, although more conversational than Kinnaman and less preachy than Hamilton.

She also speaks from somebody who bridges a divide between Buster and Millennial, and so she can speak from a place of real-life experience.

Some quotes from the article worth noting:
I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations. Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” So I don’t want to portray the divide as wider than it is.
But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.

The word I think she's going for, but doesn't use is authenticity.  Young people want to be part of a church that isn't out to divide the world (I realize you can throw Jesus at me here, but don't), but bring it together.  Pastors that keep it real and worship leaders that aren't there just to be cool.  Liturgy that blends together the ancient and the future that's just comforting enough to get you ready to have your world rocked by the gospel of truth, justice, and peace.

I wear skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses when I preach, guilty, but that's because that's what I wear all the time.  And I have a prescription for the glasses, so there.

When it comes to this topic, why millennials are leaving the church, I feel like our lectionary Gospel lesson from yesterday has something to say:

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus, in chapter 11 of Luke, is calling on us to pray through our troubles with God constantly.  If you're struggling with reaching Millennials, knock on God's door, but also, knock on the doors of the Millennials and ask, "What can we do for you?"  There's just a little too much deciding without enough conversation.  This topic is going to be an ongoing issue until leaders start talking to the people they're trying to reach.

It's all about #millennials. No, really.

Yesterday, a super awesome editorial cartoon was put out by CNN Opinion entitled, "The generation we love to dump on."  I'll pause here so you can follow the link and go check it out.

Really.  You should.

Do it now.

Done?  Good.  I'm my humble opinion, and this is from an earlier Millennial (verging on Buster territory), this thing is legit.  And there are mountains of data to support it, just go check out anything that the Barna group has put out for the church lately.

My favorite part of this cartoon though isn't the cartoon itself, it's reading the comments below.  Comments that are disturbingly ignorant from older generations.

And the best part?  These comments from older generations are undoubtedly similar to the comments that those generations received from their parental generations.  Generational commentary passed down through the generations.

There's very little commentary on what the millennial generation could be doing for the world if given the chance.  I see myself in my personal context in the church as a bridge builder.  As a hyper-creative (a defining characteristic of this generation) that understands traditional church systems, but still gets frustrated by them, I see it as my job to bridge those of my generation and younger into life in the church.  Even though that itself can be quite frustrating, there's nothing more worth the frustration.

I read articles like this and I actually get excited about the possibilities - what can the church do with this generation?  What changes can the church make to give room to a highly creative generation who isn't motivated because there isn't room for creativity?  What can the church do for a generation that's encouraged to take on debt after debt after debt to pay for schooling that we're told is necessary and then is extremely condescended to when there aren't jobs available?

Where is the church in the career discernment process?  Where's the church when we're graduating high schoolers and college students without the basic life skills to keep it together, much less a faith that will last through the craziness of young adulthood?

What are the most common descriptors for the millennial generation from the generations before us?  Entitled and lazy.  Which begs the question - who taught us that?  You can't blame the millennial generation for taking on these characteristics when they're given no influence on the systems that they're raised in.

We have a tendency to focus on the negative.  So I'll say this -
Millennials are more passionate than they look.
Millennials want to change the world, but aren't given the resources.
Millennials would rather use their creativity for the good, rather than write blogs like this or create fun cartoons about being a millennial.
And before you say that they don't want to work hard for their money, try being a barista at Starbucks, or working at Taco Bell.

I won't lie.  This is kind of an emotional field for me.  So much so, that I made it my job in the church.

Discuss.  Let me have it if you need too!  But think: what could the church be doing differently to help the younger generations change the world?

Do you have an idea?  Make it happen.