I humbly ask this question based upon observations made during my thirty years as a Lead Pastor and more recently serving five years on my denomination’s church revitalization task force.
Are We Doing Something Wrong?
A few years ago, Barna produced “Five Essential Conversations About Ministry to the Next Generation.” This is part of their ongoing investigation as to why young adults and teenagers are fleeing our churches.
They report that almost half of US’s 18–35-year-olds expressed anxiety over important decisions and were afraid to fail. This may sound like Captain Obvious to you, but this number is significantly higher than previous years and generations. Thirty-nine (39%) said they often feel sad or depressed or lonely and isolated from others. This was before Covid pandemic. It is far worse now.
Anxiety disorder has risen 315% from June 2019 to June 2020. Depressive disorder is up 374% and suicide ideation has doubled.
Here is my question. Where can young adults (as well as us older ones) go to have safe conversations about their struggles with loneliness, shame, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being marginalized, isolated and lonely, fear of being bullied, fear of injustice and racism, addictions, suicide ideation, gender dysphoria, or dealing with loss and grief?
In my interviews with young adults, they just don’t seem to think that Christianity has much to say about these things. In their minds, churches seem far more focused on sin, legislating morality, buildings, membership, tithing, being “friendly” (though there is not a single verse about being a friendly church), and lately a focus on political correctness (of course as defined by the majority of the attendees).
To the church’s credit, I think that we generally have “justification” more or less on point. But what theologians call “sanctification”, seems very off the mark. It often looks more like deism, (i.e., God is at a distance from us, don’t expect Him to do very much), or secular humanism (it is all up to us on our own to decide what love looks like), or even Christian paganism (if I only did ________better God would finally love me then and my spiritual life would just take off—If I only prayed more, gave more, or did enough quiet time—etc.).
I will refer to this mishmash as “Christianityism”. No judgement. It just doesn’t have the transforming power that Jesus spoke about. In fact, for most of it, we don’t even need the Spirit anymore.
Here is the Gospel we need to get back to yelling from the rooftop.
God loves the unlovable, the unloved and the unlovely. There it is. Pretty simple really. And yet stunningly amazing. Unlike anything else around.
That’s all there are. That’s all of us on any given day, to one degree or another, if we were just honest. Our present experience of His ‘love for the unlovable’ is a key beginning of a respite for anxiety, loneliness, depression, trauma, loneliness, gender dysphoria, unforgivenesses, many addictions and shame. This is the ‘perfect love’ that actually is powerful enough to cast out sin (1 John 4:18).
That is the core Jesus-message that should be reverberating from our pulpits, Bible colleges, ministries, counseling, youth groups and missions.
But I am pretty sure that the church of Christ is NOT known for that message today. That is not our branding anymore. Tragic. But reparable. Join me in my quest to proclaim to this lonely world, God’s love for the unlovable.
Am I wrong? Push back, [email protected].
I will pick this up in the next God’s Love for the Unlovable article.
Check out the other God’s Love for the Unlovable shows on many Lifestream TV’s networks (Women, Drug Free, Men, Church, Lifestream Network). Also, check out my website, www.Gospel-App.com. Lots of resources, videos, programs, books, and bookmarks, many free.