Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why This 26-Year-Old Hasn't Left the Church

My friend and colleague Phil Rushton—the associate pastor at Longview Community Church just down the block from me—wrote a very funny, very moving post on his own blog the other day about why he, as a hip 30-year-old guy, has remained in the church all these years. Because no good idea goes unpunished, I am now copying this idea into my own post! (Though Phil got this idea from a friend of his, who got it from the pretty durned awesome Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans. I think this is becoming a thing--Christian Piatt just made a very insightful list of his own.)

I know I rag a lot on what I feel the American church could be doing better as it is trying to pull itself out of decline. But I hope and pray that whatever criticisms I offer here are taken in the context of the absolute loyalty I have towards the church as the living, breathing body of Christ in today’s world. If I didn’t care about the church, I wouldn’t bother trying to make it even better. And I’ll continue to constantly jab it with a stick. It’s how I show my love for it.

So, for all of you who wonder what the church could or should be doing to keep its young people in the church, I give you, in no particular order, 20 of the reasons why I, a 26-year-old whippersnapper of albeit questionable hipness, serve the church:

1-When I was baptized, I made a covenant with God to dedicate my life to Him. I cannot bear to ever break that covenant.

2-The church has made me a better person. I have learned patience, gentleness, foresight, and emotional intelligence from the church—and we haven’t even gotten to my personal faith yet.

3-A life without living my faith is a life not being lived to its fullest. It would be like buying a brand new sports car and then never driving it faster than 45 mph. The church gives me life.

4-Four words: Free coffee every Sunday.

5-As an ordained pastor, I’m actually paid to study and teach the Bible stories that fascinated me as a child and that inspire me as an adult. I still can’t believe how good I have it.

6-The church has always been one of the strongest supports for me in providing fellowship, community, and accountability. As an introvert, those things don’t always come easily for me. Without church, I would probably be a fairly lonely person.

7-I enjoy the friendship of some truly great and generous colleagues in the church, and I trust them to go to them for advice and guidance fairly frequently.

8-The parish I am honored to pastor managed to raise roughly $4,000 worth of goods and funds for the Cowlitz County Battered Womens’ Shelter last year, and is currently stockpiling shopping cart after shopping cart of foodstuffs for the Kessler Elementary Backpack Buddies program, now through the end of their school year in June.

9-My parish has women serving as board members, elders, and deacons. A woman was the chair of the search committee that called me. My childhood pastor and my denomination’s General Minister and President are both female.

10-The consistently and cantankerously hilarious seniors who make up our daytime Bible study group never fail to make me laugh amidst the super-serious business of studying God’s word.

11-I cannot imagine being as heavily invested as I am in making the world a better place if I did not have the church.

12-It’s a great icebreaker. The “Can I talk to you about Jesus?” line is all about tone of voice and non-verbal communication. ;-)

13-Sometimes, I just need a little reminder that God loves me in spite of myself to make it through the day.

14-I work for an organization that guides you towards salvation and eternal life—seriously, how many people get to work with those kinds of tools every day? Not enough of us!

15-I can’t imagine a week being complete without being able to take time away to be in worship, whether on Sunday morning, or at Bible study, or in our preschool chapel, or in the everyday hustle and bustle of life.

Plus a few funnier reasons…

16-I wore my clergy collar for my new Washington driver’s license photo. Now I have a ready-made way to get out of a traffic ticket if I ever get pulled over.

17-If someone actually does think I’m a snake handler, it is always fun to string them along for a little while before admitting to them how boring a person I really am.

18-My collection of medieval-era monastic robes means that I am set for life when it comes to attending Renaissance Festivals.

19-If the parish ministry gig doesn’t pan out for whatever reason, there’s always televangelism.


20-I have faith that I will be going to Heaven when I die, and I have faith that I will see you there as well!

I would simply end this list by re-posting the quote from the 16th-century theologian Desiderius Erasmus that Phil likewise posted with his entry:

“I put up with this church, in the hope that one day it will become better, just as it is constrained to put up with me in the hope that I will become better.”

But Erasmus also wrote those words several hundred years ago. What keeps you in the church today, in this moment?

Yours in Christ,

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