Monday, May 19, 2014

Small Sips Is An Adult

We're adults, just not adults like you're adults. Rev. Mindi writes about the challenges that younger adults face when trying to be heard in their churches. A prominent problem is how they are viewed to begin with:
Look at your church board. Is there anyone under 40 on it? Anyone under 30? 
I have seen this happen in the churches I have served. As a young pastor, I’ve been called “kid” many times. Ironically, when my hairdresser recently asked me about coloring my hair I said no. I need my grays that are streaking in. However, the larger issue is that regularly, people in their 30’s and 40’s in the churches I have served and known are referred to as kids (because everyone probably remembers when they were kids and their parents probably still attend that church), but what’s worse, they are often treated like kids. I have seen adults in their 70’s and 80's scold the 40-year-olds in the church over various things—their attire, their tattoos, the way they teach Sunday School—and we wonder why even younger adults are not there. 
We have to stop this symptom. We have to change our attitudes. We have to treat millennials and Gen-Xers as adults. Gen-Xers are middle-aged. Millennials vote and work. We are adults. We have a vested interest—perhaps even more than others—in the future of the church and if we are not included right now, treated with equal value and respect—then why in the world would we want to stay in an institution that doesn’t treat us this way?
It's been my experience that this is a mentality that can run pretty deep, usually beneath the surface until some issue arises that causes a more overt expression. The more typical covert version is some of what Mindi describes above: happening to never consider younger people for the church board, still viewing the 30-year-old son of the church as the infant one remembers, relegating younger people to helping with Christian Education--their children are the ones participating, after all--and nothing else.

The outbursts happen when one of them brings Starbucks into the sanctuary, or tries to calm a crying baby during the sermon, or is eventually tapped for the church board but starts forgetting about meetings because they're so busy otherwise (and nobody approaches them to remind them or ask if everything is okay, assuming that their age is the cause).

The not-so-secret secret is that younger generations have a different way of doing and viewing things. They have different needs and different experiences of the world. All of this needs to be engaged and taken seriously rather than belittled or brushed aside. It'll be inconvenient and it'll probably require some changes in the status quo. The choice the church makes between these will reveal what it values, and it will get corresponding results.

From the "Things Seminary Didn't Adequately Prepare Me For" Department. Jan reflects on the effect that mental illness can have in congregations:
Our spiritual communities are comprised of people with addictions, schizophrenia, depression, phobias, and combinations of all the above. They serve alongside us as elders and deacons, teachers and choir members, office volunteers and nursery workers. [To be fair, some pastors also suffer with serious mental disabilities, but the hope is that they will be removed from professional ministry - at least temporarily - to ensure healthier congregations. It's hard to shepherd God's people if the shepherd is lost and sick.] 
Do we prepare future pastors how to spot behavior that can perpetuate dysfunction and create havoc in a church system? I haven’t seen such classes, but maybe you have. 
I know from experience that the best laid plans for mission and ministry can be sabotaged by just one person who wrestles with serious insecurities much less demons. And small congregations with limited members seem especially susceptible. If small churches are struggling to keep members, they will tolerate unhealthy behaviors for a long time.
One of the most helpful and impactful books that I read in seminary was this little gem, which helped me become better aware of what might be present in congregations and how to minister to people struggling with one form of mental illness or another. Of course, it's one thing to read about it and it's another thing to actually do it, and I haven't always (often) done it well.

Regardless, those who struggle are a part of our churches, and as Jan notes it's the tendency of congregations to ignore it or downplay in response to the anxiety that it may cause (speaking specifically of when one's struggle is clearly playing out in the midst of the church's life…there are just as many cases when that struggle may be much more private, which calls for a different type of care). As one who has seen both the public and private struggles at work, each comes with its own needs and challenges.

Getting parenthood wrong. Brant re-posts one of my all-time favorite entries that he's ever written:
Your wife is expecting. "This is going to be pretty exciting," you say. 
They say, "You just wait."  
"You just wait, because you won't be getting any sleep anymore, once that baby's born. It's all over. It gets harder. It gets worse."
No longer quote, no commentary. Just go read the rest.

Getting parenthood right. Jamie reflects on how her "preacher's kids" aren't exactly all turning out to be Christian:
We are so incredibly proud of the bright, thoughtful, courageous heathens we're raising. And while, as Christian parents, we cling to certain hopes and dreams for our children's faith and future, we trust that the God we believe in is near to them, fully present, and doing His thing. El Chupacabra and I are honestly very cool with the whole situation. 
Some people want to be shocked and appalled by our utter lack of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. They think our kids need a good old-fashioned Bible thumping, and that we are driving them straight to the gates of hell with our nonchalance and free-wheelin' lifestyle. ...Meh. We're cool with that, too. You go ahead and be scandalized over something that is none of your damn business. We'll just be over here, loving our kids.
As you might imagine, I think about this sort of issue quite a bit. I don't know the best way to handle it if one or both of my kids end up deciding that they don't believe in God, or don't believe in the Christian God, or believe in God but have no use for the church, or one of a hundred other scenarios.

Above all else, I know that I need to do at least two things: 1) love them regardless, and 2) recognize that my path is not going to be theirs. I have no illusion that any of this will always be easy, but if I go in with these resolutions, maybe it'll be a little better. Maybe.

Misc. PeaceBang on speaking clearly. Gordon Atkinson with a slightly different, more honest version of the Nicene Creed. Rachel Held Evans with a guest post from Aric Clark, one of the authors of a new book called Never Pray Again. Interesting premise, but definitely not the only way to think about prayer, either. Looks like I'll need to get a copy so I can argue with it.