The Internet Monk Michael Spencer recently devoted 3 blog posts to describing the coming Evangelical collapse in America. I recently posed the same question: “Is the Evangelical Church in America sinking?” I think I want to bring my observations from the perspective of a youth pastor since that is where I’m currently ministering. The evangelical ship has a large crew on deck and many ministries that keep the ship cruising across the seas of the ever-changing culture toward it’s desired destination. I’m just one lone crewman trying to make a difference for the Kingdom in my little corner of the boat — here in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities.
I find myself ministering to a wide-eyed crowd of blank-slated teens completely oblivious to the critical essays on the current state of the church so common in books and the blogosphere. Most teens have no clue what an “emergent” is even if they are the very definition of one. They couldn’t describe the difference between an Anglican and a Pentecostal. They aren’t lobbying for Dobsonian legislation or championing the cause of the the Obama Nation. They’re just teens looking for the next free meal or ride to the mall.
They are young people looking for a cause worth giving their lives to. They are curious seekers looking for a truth that strikes a chord deep in their heart. They are a busy, stressed out generation looking for a place to find rest and renewal for their souls. They may look tough and jaded on the outside, but beneath they are often hurt, scared and lonely individuals looking for a place where they can take off the mask for a while and be known, be loved and belong.
My point is this: A 16 year old simply would never ask the question, “Is the evangelical church in America sinking?” They don’t think in “macro”, corporate terms like that. Instead, they measure the health of the Christianity they know based on the so-called Christians they meet. They make simple, subconscious evaluations of each individual they encounter who claims to be a Christian asking themselves,
“Does this person’s life seem any different from the rest of the world because they are a follower of Jesus?”
When mom and dad drag them to church on Sundays or blackmail them into going on the summer trip, they are soaking it all in. They are observing the adult leaders, church staff, pastors and the rest and seeing if they are genuine, caring, trustworthy and a noticeably different than the people they encounter the rest of the week. They don’t read Barna’s statistical reports or attend church revitalization seminars. They just see if the church has any remote resemblance to the radical life, love and legacy of Jesus Christ.
Before we go on to critique evangelical theology, worship styles, outreach programs, political positions, forms of community (ecclesiology) and such, maybe we should take a step back and learn from our youth what really matters at the core. The most important question facing us is not, “Is the Evangelical church sinking?” but rather, “Is my own faith sinking like Peter as I take my eyes off Jesus and focus my attention on the cultural waves around me?”
I’m grateful to minister to a group of teenagers who constantly force me back to what matters most: Loving God and loving others. How are we doing? If we get this right, I doubt this boat’s going down anytime soon!
“No man has ever seen God: if we have love for one another, God is in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).