Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hey Church, You Lost Me! Part 7


We've been exploring a new book on the decline of church participation among young adults: "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church," by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group.

The second part of the book examines the six most common descriptions of the church given by young adult church dropouts: overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, doubtless.  

Today we'll look at the final description: doubtless.

We all know that questions and doubts form part of the experience of faith.  We see doubt and struggle in the very Scriptures.  Yet, do our churches have room for the doubts of the day to be voiced safely?

Kinnaman distinguishes several experiences of doubt:

1) Intellectual doubt -
"Sometimes I wish I could just push the belief button.  I really do wish I could say yes to Christianity, but it doesn't work.  I can't get past some of these big questions about faith, about God, and about Christianity."
2) Institutional doubt - 
From those deeply at odds with expressions of modern-day Christianity, or disgusted by institutional scandals like the child abuse cover-ups in the Roman Catholic church. 
3) Unexpressed doubt - 
Fully one-third of young adult responders agree that "I don't feel I can ask my most pressing life questions in church."  This leads to patterns of pretending or increasing isolation from the church.
4) Transitional doubt - 
This has to do with temporary phases of serious doubt, for example, following the death of a loved one.  Oftentimes the Christian community was not supportive and encouraging during these times of struggle.
Doubting Turns to Doing: 

Kinnaman encourages churches to find opportunities for young adults to put feet to their faith.  
"We need to help young adults do something with their faith in order to contextualize their doubts within the church's mission."  
We cannot argue people out of doubt, but we can walk with them in the questions and encourage them to act in faith and service, even while awaiting the Holy Spirit to make faith a lived reality.  He concludes, 
"There are millions of young adults rethinking church and faith - and they have doubts about their doubts.  How can we help them act in faith, allowing their doubts to be "ants in the pants" of their quest for God?

How about you?  Do you consider church to be a safe place to express your doubts?  Leave a comment below:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hey Church, You Lost Me! Part 6.


We've been exploring a new book on the decline of church participation among young adults: "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church," by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group.

The second part of the book examines the six most common descriptions of the church given by young adult church dropouts: overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, doubtless.  

Today we'll look at the fifth description: exclusive.

Exclusive is one of the most common descriptions of the church given by young adult former church participants.

Kinnaman spends time exploring the changing and increasingly diverse landscape in which young people are raised.  The particular claims made about Jesus Christ run up against the pluralist spirit of this age.  We've all heard statements like, "there are many paths to the same God," etc.

The author then gives three aspects of ministry that may be redefined or nuanced by the insights of young adults:

Evangelism - 
"The chasm between their beliefs and those of the broader culture, which says that it's offensive or even hateful to argue for a specific religion or truth claim...for better or worse, many young Christians believe that evangelism must be connected to actions on behalf of others."
Denominations - 
"Young Christians of all stripes want to move beyond 'theological feudalism' in favor of a shared vision of their role in Christ's kingdom."
The "Other" - 
"The more critical among the younger generation might say that the typical church is good at reaching 'recycled Christians' - believers who are uncommitted to another church body - but not at reaching those who are truly on the outside looking in."
Exclusion turns to Embrace- Kinnaman closes the chapter by reflecting, 
"How would the church be different if we were to reject exclusivism as unacceptable and tolerance as not good enough? What would we do differently when discipling young adults to help them cultivate Christlike empathy that identifies with the least, the last, and the lost?"
The Lutheran Two-Step of "law and gospel" may help us to understand these concerns:
  1. According to the law, ALL OF US are excluded from eternal life, salvation, and the favor of God.
  2. According to the gospel, ALL OF US are loved by God and have been died for by Christ, and have the welcome to be included in God's family by grace.
How about you?  How should the unique claims of Christian faith be communicated in today's pluralistic culture?  Please leave a comment below:  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Marvelous Avengers? Part 1: Justice

Revenge is so sweet.  How else to make the perpetrator realize the impact of their actions?  Anything less would just be unjust.

I'm playing catch-up on superhero movies, but Joss Whedon's The Avengers impressed me.  Raised on the previous generation of superhero movies, I didn't know action and humor could blend so well without coming across as cheesy (I'm talking to you, Batman and Robin).  There are mild plot spoilers ahead.

There's a concept in Scripture of the Blood Avenger.  In ancient cultures lacking an evolved system of courtroom trial, vengeance for murder was the primary responsibility of the male next of kin, exacting satisfaction in kind ("eye for an eye").  The Bible placed limits on retribution in cases of unintentional manslaughter through the practice of refuge cities (Numbers 35:11-28; Deuteronomy 4:41-43; Joshua 20:1-9).

The Avenger is actually considered a "redeemer" or "restorer" of the blood that was taken.  Murder "steals" blood that belongs to the entire clan.  The Passover celebration remembers the avenging angel who was satisfied only after seeing the lamb's blood on the doorpost and who exacted the blood of the Egyptians who had subjected the Lord's people (blood) to bondage.

In Romans, Paul wrote about the redefinition of vengeance in light of Christ's life and sacrificial death, indirectly fleshing out Jesus' call to love your enemies and pray for them:

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"  Romans 12:14-21.

So, what are we to make of the Marvelous Avengers?  Loving your enemies makes for dull blockbusters!

Yet, this is not a movie about human conflict, but about what it takes for ordinary and heroic humans to band together to face a common and real enemy - an inhuman opponent - when the fate of the world is in balance.  The Avengers effect the wrath of God on behalf of a modern world increasingly skeptical of the super heroism of God.

The inhuman enemy is killed indiscriminately, but hope is held out for Thor's brother and evil mastermind trickster, Loki, to be redeemed (Yes, I understand Loki is not human, but a god, but he is also a person).  This might be a cultural trace of Christian theology.  

A Christian sense of vengeance delights not in the death of the wicked, but in the redemption of evil.  The ultimate revenge would not be to eliminate evil but to transform it.  To bring life to death.  This would require that Life give itself to Death, as all of the Avengers are willing to do as possibility, and one of them as certainty.

How about you?  Where have you seen examples of "Christian revenge?"  Please leave a comment below:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hey Church, You Lost Me! Part 5.


We've been exploring a new book on the decline of church participation among young adults: "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church," by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group.

The second part of the book examines the six most common descriptions of the church given by young adult church dropouts: overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, doubtless.  

Today, we'll look at the fourth: repressive. 
"The story of a generation and sex is complicated and layered too, filled with judgment, rules, old and new media, hypocritical religious leaders, values turned on their heads, a world saturated with sexual images, and double lives trapped between soul and pelvis."
Kinnaman observes we are caught between two narratives about sexuality: traditionalism and individualism.

The individualist approach allegedly celebrates personal choice freed from the constraints of bygone societal or religious norms. Ironically, however, there has simply been a reversal of norms: "today young people who do not conform to social expectations are prudes, quaint anachronisms from a bygone era."

He explores several outcomes of the individualist approach to sexuality, including this interesting claim:
"The women's liberation movement, which ran parallel with the sexual revolution of the 1960s and '70s, sought to achieve more leverage for women in our culture…unfortunately, the positive goals of women's lib were soon bound up with individualism's approach to sex. One could easily make an argument that the real winners, in the aftermath, have been men, who are no longer bound by traditionalism's demands for commitment in sexual relationships."
Kinnaman challenges the church to imagine how "repressive" can turn to "relational."
"Rather than saying that sex is taboo (traditionalism) or that sex is about me(individualist), the relational approach to sexuality says,sex is good and it is about us."
Kinnaman raises good questions about how the church can address a host of matters related to sexuality:

Marriage - how can we reclaim marriage as a communal, not just personal, covenant?

Gender - how can we mentor young women to become confident Christ-followers who are honored and respected in the church? How can we shape young men to become strong, compassionate servants of God, their family, and their friends?

Sexual Orientation - how can we engage in meaningful dialogue, reflecting our relational priority even when we disagree with others?

Birth Control and Reproduction - how can we help the next generation think through reproductive decisions from a communal, relational perspective?

How about you?  What are the messages you hear or infer from the church regarding sexuality?  Here's a humorous example: 

 "Sex is dirty; you should save it for the one you love."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

NIKE Christianity

Sermon Flashback. 
"There are two forms of Christianity: the NIKE form - Just do it! - and the FAITH form - Christ already did it!"

On May 13th, I preached on the faith that overcomes (Greek: Nikes) the world (1 John 5:4).  It was also the occasion of our son's baptism, which informed some of the message content.

You can listen to it here:

How about you?  Do you find NIKE sermons or FAITH sermons to be more common?  Leave a comment below:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hey Church, You Lost Me! Part 4.


We've been exploring a new book on the decline of church participation among young adults: "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church," by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group.

The second part of the book examines the six most common descriptions of the church given by young adult church dropouts: overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, doubtless.  

We'll look at three today.

Kinnaman offers "the turn" for each description, offering "suggestions to help young dropouts turn their reason for leaving into a hunger for deeper faith, and to help us in the church's older generations turn our frustrations and occasional feelings of failure into renewal."

1) Overprotectiveness turns to discernment:
Christian overprotectiveness can lead to youth and young adults seeking alternate thrills, "failing to launch," becoming paralyzed with self-doubt, and to the church's loss of young creatives.
"A growing sentiment of this generation is that they want to be...a counter-culture for the common good...they want to be culture makers, not culture avoiders."
2) Shallow turns to apprenticeship:
Kinnaman suggests that we turn from ministry quantity to quality and cultivate apprenticelike training to help the next generation discover what they are gifted for and called to do, and do all we can to nurture that calling.
"I believe we need to change from an industrialized, mass-production, public-education approach and embrace the messy adventure of relationship."
3) Antiscience turns to stewardship:
A 2009 Barna research poll showed that 52% of youth group teens aspire to science-related careers while only 1% of youth workers have addressed issues of science in the past year!
"We must rethink our efforts to teach young people what to think about issues of science, ethics, politics, and even theology and consider how we can help them learn how to think...we must prepare them for careful, prayerful, collaborative reasoning with Christians and non-Christians alike."
It seems to me that each of these three descriptions are forms of over-protection.  Shallow worship and ministry protects against the "frighteningly real" intimacy of relationship, and suppresses real, but "impious" feelings - doubts, anger, despair.  The antiscience mentality seeks to protect our minds instead of engaging our God-given reason in conversation and exploration of the nature of God's work in creation.

Next up we'll look at repressive, exclusive and doubtless.

How about you? What would protective, but not over-protective, look like in a church or youth ministry?  Leave a comment below:

Friday, June 8, 2012

I Say You're a Dreamer, and I'm Not the Only One.

Imagine John Lennon is more pessimistic than you.

"You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one"

Last week I had the privilege of speaking at Willamette High School's Baccalaureate service, a Christian worship service for graduates.  Each year, it seems to be a smaller event, cobbled together by a smaller group of seniors than the previous class.  You hear stories of the days when half or more of the graduating class participated. 

Imagine if those days returned...keep imagining.

One of my friends dubbed this year's ceremony, "Graduation Lite,"  because not one of the well-performed songs was explicitly grounded in the Christian faith.  Two graduates gave testimonies and did a great job, but that's as far as God was directly acknowledged.

But it was a highly spiritual event, and that is my point.

God and faith were assumed into the backdrop of the occasion.  The musical performances served as expressive prayers, cultural riffs onto the Christian canvas.  

Jason Mraz's, "I Won't Give Up On Us."  The music sings to a girl, but evoked the love of God.

Neutral Milk Hotel's, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea."  The music sings of youthful appreciation in the face of a distant death, but evoked the near experience of death in the form of childhood securities left behind, yet the hope of being held securely by the goodness of God.

And then there was John Lennon.

"Imagine" was beautifully performed by a singer/pianist and a saxophonist.  This was on the spot and unplanned.  It strove to capture the moment in an evocation of the spirit of unity and peace.  I'm sure it hit the spot for many.

But, unfortunately for me, this song might be the most pessimistic prayer for unity I've ever come across.  I'm also biased by this experience of someone singing "imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you religion too" in our sanctuary as we host a worship service for Christian graduates.

Anyway, here's - finally! - the point of this post:

John Lennon's vision of unity is pessimistic because he cannot envision a unity within diversity.

For Lennon, to be "as one" requires the elimination of country, religion, and possessions.  By logical extension, he would also have to advocate the elimination of marriage, family units, and schools, along with other more trivial divisions.  

He couldn't even keep his band united!

But wait, isn't heaven the place where everyone is united under One Nation, the Kingdom of God?  Doesn't baptism make us one in Christ, no longer Jew or gentile, male or female, slave or free?  (Galatians 3:28)  Aren't we like angels, not given in marriage to one another?  

Is Lennon on to something?

Does the Biblical vision of heaven carry a different sense of unity than Lennon's vision?  Is Lennon pessimistic or just premature?  Leave your comment below!

Imagine there's no heaven, It's easy if you try
No hell below us, Above us only sky
Imagine all the people, Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too
Imagine all the people, Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us, And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Baseball, Chip Kelly, and God...not in that order.

It’s probably true that football is the new American pastime, but baseball continues to hold a special place in my heart.  Maybe it’s the sounds of summer; perhaps it was the times spent making “Ken Griffey Jr.” catches over my shoulder from fly balls thrown by dad.  The 1995 playoffs when the M’s sent the Yankees home packing definitely is part of the equation. 

Here’s another reason I like baseball (which is also a reason why many people hate baseball): there is no time limit.  The shortest 9-inning game in Major League Baseball history was 51 minutes.  The longest 9-inning game was 4 hours and 45 minutes.  The longest extra-inning game went 26 innings when in 1920, Brooklyn and Boston played to a 1-1 tie before the game was called due to darkness (no stadium lights).  The longest overall game time was 8 hours and 6 minutes in 1984, in a 25-inning game between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers.  They had to stop playing at 1:00am and pick it up the next day.

Chip believes in Tom

NFL games get 60 minutes of game time; NBA, 48 minutes.  Baseball?  It’s anybody’s guess.  Baseball is the anti-Chip Kelly: patient, slow – a methodical chess match between pitcher and batter, over and over again.  In 2011, the Ducks football team scored .77 points per game minute.  If they had played a game that lasted 8 hours and 6 minutes they would have scored over 374 points!

My seminary professor, Jim Nestingen, said, “Baseball is baseball when you don’t know what time it is.”  Baseball has God’s sense of timing.  None of us knows how long the game of life will last.  And although life is full of moments that get the blood pumping, most of our days spent are quite ordinary, perhaps even methodical at times.  Yet any pitch can turn the course of the game in dramatic fashion.  In the fullness of time, God sent his Son into our world; in the fullness of time, the Gospel finds its way to our hearts.

One of the fruits of the Spirit is patience – a fruit that seems more and more rotten in our culture of instant-access and instant-gratification.  Someone wise once told me, “If God wants to grow squash, he’ll take a couple of months, but if God wants to grow an oak tree, he’ll take decades.”  You and I have been created from an eternal perspective.

The first Psalm speaks of one whose delight is in the law or way of the LORD.  It goes on to describe such a person as, “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.”

Christians are Easter people who would follow the One who sprang from the grave.  God grant us patience, focus, and endurance in service, for the next pitch could very well be a game changer.

How about you?  When has God's timing been difficult to accept?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lady Gaga's Gospel & Saving Bullies

Madonna 2.0, Lady Gaga, recently offered a (surprisingly?) nuanced perspective on bullying at a speaking occasion for the launch of her new Born This Way Foundation.

MTV Act Blog – Lady Gaga On The Edge Of Glory; Launches Born This Way Foundation:

'via Blog this'
“The victim and the bully are on the same playing field. We’re dealing in both senses, with someone who’s going through a tremendous amount of mental turmoil. And how do we say ‘You are both equal members of society. You are both equal members of culture.’ How do we not just save the victim but also save the bully?”
In a simple world, there would be victims and there would be perpetrators.  Yet perpetrators are so often victims themselves.  

In A Christmas Story, Ralphie retaliates against the bully Farkus and we discover that Farkus is not so invincible.  Yet, Ralphie is not proven to be tougher.  Both boys end up in tears (eventually), as the consequences of their actions are realized.  The admirable, heroic spirit that motivated Ralphie's pursuit of the Red Ryder Air Rifle may have cost him any chance at getting one, when the spirit of heroism devolved into unchecked revenge.

I appreciate Lady Gaga voicing the common needs of bullies and victims.  This is a cultural trace of Christian theology.  People cannot be reduced to either victim or bully, just like we cannot separate sinners from saints.  Her "born this way" theology can be addressed in another day, another post.

In Harry Potter, the ambiguity of Severus Snape and the efforts of Dumbledore to redeem Draco Malfoy are also traces of the Christian hope that, in the end, even the lions may lie down with the lambs in peace.  That the new creation would be incomplete if brought about by the clean removal of all lions.

Perhaps the centurion overseeing the execution of Jesus also demonstrates the redemption of a bully:
"Truly, this man was the Son of God"  (Mark 15:39).  
The professional bully is able to see their victim as a child of God, as the victim chooses not to respond in like measure, but offers prayers for forgiveness on their behalf, taking the stronger action of turning the other cheek.

Certainly the resurrection demonstrates that nothing that is absorbed by a victim - and not returned in retaliation - cannot be redeemed.

What can we do to love and save bullies?  Leave a comment below...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hey Church, You Lost Me! Part 3.


"When the Christian community functions according to the priorities and protocols of previous generations, there is little resonance in the minds and hearts of today's twentysomethings."
We've been exploring a new book on the decline of church participation among young adults: "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church," by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group.

Chapters 3 & 4 look at three groups of young adults who have left church involvement.

Nomads continue to identify themselves as Christians, but believe personal involvement in a Christian community is optional. Generally, the importance of faith has faded, many are spiritual experimentalists, and most are not angry or hostile toward Christianity. They tend more to be frustrated or disillusioned.

Prodigals refer to those who have left their childhood faith entirely. Kinnaman divides these into "head-driven prodigals," who have found Christianity to be intellectually untenable, and "heart-driven prodigals," who express their rejection of childhood Christianity in "emotionally strong terms and may feel bitterness or resentment for many years after leaving the fold."
The study found nomads to be four times more common than prodigals. This is an opportunity for mission. Most young adults are not putting their faith on the shelf during their twenties; they are pressing pause on church. 

Exiles form the third group, those who feel stuck between two worlds, pushed out and pushed away from something familiar.
  • Exiles are not inclined toward being separate from "the world." "I want to find a way to follow Jesus that connects with the world I live in." 
  • They are skeptical of institutions but are not wholly disengaged from them. 
  • Young exiles sense God moving "outside the walls of the church." 
  • They are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion. 
  • Exiles express a mixture of concern and optimism for their peers. 
  • They have not found faith to be instructive to their calling or gifts. 
  • They struggle when other Christians question their motives. 
  • Most exiles feel tremendous tension between their work and their faith. For example, how faith connects to vocations in Hollywood, science, music, media, military, university, and ministry itself.
Kinnaman closes ch. 4 with these thoughts: 
"The challenge for the Christian community is how to respond to the growing number of exiles. Will we do what we can to equip them to make the choices that faced Daniel in Babylon - choice about balancing cultural accommodation and faithful, Christ-centered living? Will we listen to and take to heart their prophetic critique of the church's posture toward our increasingly pluralistic society? Will we change our structures, guided by the unchanging truths of Scripture, to nurture their gifts and unique calling into a world deeply loved by, yet in many ways hostile to, God?"

How about you?  What might be examples of "priorities and protocols" in the church that aren't resonating with young adults?  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hey Church, You Lost Me! Part 2.


"It's not that they're not listening; it's that they can't understand what we are saying."

We've been exploring a new book on the decline of church participation among young adults: "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church," by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group.

Read Part One here.

In chapter two, Kinnaman describes how the next generation is living in a new technological, social, and spiritual reality, summed up in three words: access, alienation, and authority.
"The digital revolution, endemic social change, and a shifting narrative of faith in our culture have deeply affected the cognitive and emotional process of "encoding" faith. Because of access, alienation, and authority the ability of one generation to convey the message and meaning of faith to the next generation - in thought forms, ideas, and practices they can readily understand and incorporate into their lives - has been disrupted."
Brief examples of the three areas:


  • In 1977, people saw Star Wars repeatedly in the theater, not (only) because they were geeks, but because there was no guarantee they would get to see the movie again. 
  • Today, many people "endure" jobs, school, or church and "enjoy" their real lives in online games. 
  • Less than one tenth of one percent of consumed information is from a written word. 
  • Young people expect to participate as well as consume.


  • Young adults report high levels of isolation from family, community, and institutions. 
  • "Settled by thirty" represents a minority of today's young adults. 
  • There is wide skepticism about denominations and church structures.


  • Christianity is no longer our culture's "auto-pilot." 
  • The study showed a more positive opinion of Paris Hilton than of Billy Graham among young adults. 
  • Christian leaders of the previous generation are virtually unknown to today's young Christians. 
  • They are more likely to consult the internet than their pastor about a religious question. 
  • Even so, while tech savvy, young adults are not always truth savvy: "I found it on the internet." 
  • They are exposed to a variety of religious content, often without a grid for evaluating it.
All of this can be seen as a threat or an opportunity.  And it is both.

I serve a wonderful Lutheran congregation, firmly committed to children, service, and mission.  And I can readily see the marks of access, alienation, and authority in our community:

  • Our worship practices tend to involve either a pastor leading something or everyone joining together for singing or corporate reading/prayers.  There isn't much room for individually-shaped worship (perhaps at the communion rail, the only place in our worship where you can choose to extend or shorten the experience!).  
  • The theology that informs our worship emphasizes the community over the individual, even giving creedence (pardon the pun) to ancient practices and creeds that link us to the historical body of Christ.  
  • All of this, plus our emphasis on the written words of scripture and liturgy (based on scripture), requires a "cultural commute" many young people are not apt to make.
  • We've been hard at work in recent months to address the gap of young adults in our church.  One of the obstacles is the assumption that a high school graduate will move smoothly into the many opportunities for adults, men, and women.  This is not the case.  
  • Kinnaman's work has been very helpful in framing our Young Adult group conversations.  It is clear that many feel alienated from the ways of doing and being church passed down by older generations.
  • I serve a denominational church, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. There is almost zero denominational loyalty among younger generations, but high relational loyalty.  I'm ok with this.  Martin Luther himself criticized his opponents for their obsession with the church - "The church, the church!" over against the authority of the Gospel.
  • I'm particularly interested in what Kinnaman describes as a "grid for evaluating" religious content.  While de facto authority is questionable, I do feel young adults appreciate leaders who provide context and perspective from a generous and humble posture.
How about you?  Where do you observe the language gap between things the church says/does and what young adults hear?