Monday, April 24, 2017

Reaching People Under 30: Not All The Same

Through a non-scientific poll I learned people are interested in hearing more about how to reach people under the age of 30. Writing about this comes with some challenges for me; First, it has been a few years since I have been under 30. Second, there is no "secret" or magical formula. Therefore what follows are the ramblings of someone who has experienced connection with those under 30 in the past.

Not All The Same
The word here is monolithic. A great tendency exists to treat various groups of people as all the same. We live in a world that thrives on labels, conservative, progressive, older, baby boomer, millennial, and so on. While it is helpful for conversation and description, something significant can be missed. As long as there are people involved it is impossible to apply monolithic labels. Our friends at offer a definition of monolithic as consisting as one piece, solid or unbroken, among the listed definition.

Principle #1 for reaching people under 30 is to remember not all people under 30 are the same. Just as this is true of any label we apply, people under 30 defy monolithic definition. When reaching people under 30 is talked about it is easy to get a mental picture of the person attempting to be reached. Our challenge is the image created has elements that are accurate while also being incomplete at the same time.

So how do we navigate this? Investing in relationships is the primary path. However, the relationship cannot be only a learning expedition. Utilitarian relationships are always found out, and cause greater distance and hurt. There must be a willingness to build relationships for the sake of relationship and the learning is a byproduct of a healthy relationship.

The reality is a majority of the effort in reaching people under the age of 30 is the same as reaching any person, relationship building. Having stated that, there are some understandings of being the church that will help create an environment to build healthy relationships. Over the next couple of entries additional principles will be explored with the understanding that treating people under 30 as all the same will not result in healthy relationships or congregations.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Returning to Our First Love

I am not sure if it is because the calendar shows it is Holy Week, or if God is once again stirring me to write my thoughts but for the first time in almost a year here I sit typing. As I write my heart and mind are filled with gratitude for almost five years in the ministry role of coming alongside congregations and leaders across New York and other places. I pray God and the Bishop allow me to share in this role for years to come.

During the time in this ministry I have had opportunity to visit hundreds of congregations and visit with thousands of leaders. It has been a joy to hear the stories of the congregations along with the stories of the leaders. I have felt the hurt and pain as both struggle to make their way in the current landscape of culture to be vital and growing. As you might guess some similar stories and concerns have emerged. The reality I find is deeply connected with the Scriptures, and not a portion that is often at the forefront of increasing the vitality of congregations.

The Book of Revelation is filled with all kinds of images and messages I do not fully understand. There are however a few items that seem very clear to me. The words of Jesus given to John from chapter two seem relevant,
"These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:1-5 NIV)"
It feels too simplistic to be a real solution. After all we are highly educated through schools and life, we should be able to figure this all out. There has to be more to increasing the vitality of the church than returning to Jesus. There are certain systems and practices needed, however there is nothing more important to the future of the church than to return to our first love. I fear that we have forsaken Jesus!

Some will begin the debate at this point about what that means. Debate will rage about who Jesus is and was. Others will argue over what it means to turn to Jesus, or what version of Jesus are we talking about. The fact that we would rather debate than repent reveals the challenge Jesus is offering the church in Ephesus and to us today. All too often I want to sanitize Jesus so that he will fit into my paradigm or life. Great effort is given on my part to define and shape Jesus into an artifact of faith that affirms my beliefs and desires. Repentance has me give up pursuing Jesus created in my image and begin the work of conforming my life to the life Jesus is calling me toward. A return to simply following after Jesus instead of complicating the journey with all my thinking and rationalizing.

Whether terms like conservative, progressive, centrist, or any other problematic label are applied, churches that are centered on the person of Jesus Christ and invite others to join them in the journey of being centered in Jesus, vitality shows up. Theological ideology has replaced and relentless pursuit of Jesus, we have forsaken our first love.

As I urge the cursor across the screen with letters we are on the edge of the single most important remembrance of the Christian church. Today we remember when Jesus gathered for the meal we now celebrate as Holy Communion. Tomorrow we remember Jesus giving his life on the cross so that we could experience forgiveness of sin and have a full relationship with God. Sunday morning we celebrate the crowing moment as the tomb could not hold Jesus, Resurrection. May this resurrection be more than a calendar celebration. May this resurrection be a repentance moving us to return to our first love.