An awful lot of hand-wringing is being done over why “millenials” are leaving the church. This is nothing new. I have read articles and books for years about why the rising generation (whatever generation that might be) is exiting the church. It seems to me that “why are young people leaving the church?” is probably a question as old as the church itself.
If you read many of the articles or blogs about this subject, you will hear similar reasoning given for why “millenials” are leaving. The church is hypocritical. Doesn’t care enough about the poor. Is too focused on issues that aren’t relevant in our world. Cares too much about doctrine and not enough about the lost. Again, I don’t think these are new issues. These criticisms are brought by many generations of idealistic young people. As they should be; they are valid criticisms.
Often, these criticisms are summed up in one particular phrase; “Jesus?, Yes!, Church?No!” The person using this phrase typically means that while they love what Jesus is about, they can no longer stomach the church. So they will follow Jesus, but not be a part of the church.
So what should we do? Obviously, people leaving the church should be a concern. Part of being the body of Christ is addressing the concerns and needs of all who are part of the body. And we should listen well to these criticisms. Anyone who believes the church (especially congregations in America) are doing enough to help the poor and reach the lost is ignorant or naive at best.
However, we should also call all who claim to be disciples of Christ to love His church. We may not like everything (or even most things) about the church, but we are called by Christ to love His bride as He does.
Let me be honest that I find it difficult to love the church. Too often I am quick to forgive the lost, but slow to forgive those in the church. Too often I have pity on the poor, addicted, and hurting, but none to spare for my brothers and sisters. I find it easy to forgive the outsider, but hard to forgive those who have committed themselves to Christ. I refuse to judge, except to judge those in the church I find to be too judgemental.
But part of following Christ is loving all people, including the church.
To say “I am leaving because you have not done things exactly as I think they should be done” is ultimately a sign of self-centered, self-righteousness no matter what your age. If we all left whenever the church didn’t do things like we have come to believe it should, there would be no church.
The apostle Paul calls me to love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave up his life for her (Ephesians 5:25). Imagine if, because my wife didn’t reach out to our neighbors the way I thought she should, I left her. I hope the response from every person I know would be to tar and feather me and send me back home.
Now, for one second, forget the wife part of that verse and just look at Christ’s love for His church. I know it breaks His heart when the church doesn’t follow His ways like we should. When we don’t reach out. When we care too much about ourselves. When we ignore the hurting. But I think it also breaks the heart of Jesus when we refuse to love the very church He gave His life for.
One comment I read recently offered advice on how to find a church you can love. Perhaps rather than looking for a church we can love, we should love the church we have. We should bring our concerns, our struggles, our differences and even our criticisms. But we should do it as a part of the body of Christ.
And it will be difficult. Sometimes it takes gritting your teeth to truly love. In fact, I think the quote we need to hear more is: “Jesus?, Yes!, Church?, Yes! (dadgummit)”.