NEWPORT NEWS, Va., July 10, 2013 — According to the Barna Group, 59 percent of millennials (ages 18 to 29), who were once active in their churches, have stopped attending. Why this drop off? College students seeking independence and young adults feeding a desire to rebel account for some of the exodus, but not all of it.
In fact, much of the disinterest probably comes from what we can call the John 15:5 dilemma: “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”
The dilemma is right at the end: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” The American Church boasts opportunities that most around the world would only dream of. Evangelicals in the United States have the freedom to voice concerns, proclaim opinions and broadcast beliefs; but has it come with a cost?
Often, even inadvertently, we sacrifice God for what we believe to be His mission.
We will protest abortion and same-sex marriage on the Capitol steps while never noticing the 15-year-old girl who is pregnant, terrified and alone, or the 17-year-old football jock who is secretly dealing with the temptations of homosexuality, can barely handle the feelings of rejection, and doesn’t even know if life’s worth living. That is the ear-piercing cry of the unheard Church.
While we wage an often-unsuccessful theological war against atheists, the unheard masses walk silently down an unrecoverable path. As a student of American politics, I am not saying these debates and defenses have no place in the Christian Church. Truly, I’m saying the exact opposite. It is our delivery thatmmust be altered.
Jonathan Dodson, a Texas pastor and author, says in his book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, that we must “express all three aspects of discipleship—rational, relational and missional.” No part of the Church can act individually; all branches of the Church must be connected to the Vine, operating collectively. American evangelicals must act rationally. Delivering a clear proclamation of gospel truths—politically, socially, economically, and so on.
Throughout the Bible, we see several political overtones. In fact, we see many parallels between Old Testament law, the Ten Commandments, and the Kingdom of Israel to the Constitution and the values of our nation’s Founders. Later, during Jesus’ thirty-three years on earth, we see God’s Son “bucking the system,” turning over tables and challenging the establishment elites and their religious corruption.
The Church must act relationally; as Dodson says, “with a grace agenda.” We must seek to love those who are hurting and encourage those seeking to overcome. Jesus Christ transformed the world with twelve men that grew to know one another intimately. Jesus called them to grow community around them, spreading the truth and bringing healing and grace to the world.
Acts 1:8 reads, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The Church is commanded to share salvation, build community, disciple and create disciplers. This requires intimate relationships. This is reaching out to the 15-year-old pregnant girl and giving her grace. This is opening your arms to the 17-year-old boy struggling to find his identity and giving him stability. Change begins with the individual; Jesus Christ discipled a mere twelve men and shared his resurrection with only two women who went on to turn the world on its axis.
Today’s Church must be missional. The framework established through individual relationships is what will set the tone for national — even global — change. American millennials walk around with the ability to effect change at their fingertips and a passion to be part of something that will transform culture.
This generation is the generation of Twitter, Facebook, and literally instant communication that has the capacity to reach millions around the globe in less than thirty seconds.
The American Church has the full capability to virtually transform its souring image if it would just reach out and engage the 59 percent it’s currently losing. All it takes is a refocused mission.
Instead of only marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to end abortion, it’s time to step out, hand-in-hand with the marginalized, ridiculed, abandoned, and victimized and march with them toward the gospel.
Genuinely changing culture one relationship at a time will turn this nation back to God. That is the power of the Vine.
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