Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Let's Be Honest. The Mainline Church Doesn't Want Young Families.

Yesterday, several folks (including my mum) circulated on Facebook an article by Jan Edmiston, a Presbyterian minister and fellow blogger, entitled "When Churches Want a Pastor Who Can Bring In Young Families."  The crux of her article was this: "Let's be honest about the 'why.'"

Why do we want to bring in young families?  She lists several reasons: young people bring energy, resources, and the like, but really, she says, we need to seek pastors not who specialize in bringing in young families, but pastors who can change a church's entire culture.

That's all well and good, but after several years in ministry, and having seen how a lot of churchpeople from different congregations and denominations act around young families, I have come to the realization that I disagree entirely with the premise of the article:

We just plain don't want young families here in the mainline church.  We don't want the noises and messes their infants and toddlers inevitably bring (and Edmiston says this with her fifth point on her list of how to genuinely welcome young families).  We don't want their casual approach to church dress or their taste in Christian music.  And we definitely don't want the change that they inevitably bring.

I say all of this based on oh so many offhanded and whispered murmurs, passed judgments, and disapproving glares.  I say this based on oh so many titters, unfounded expectations, and patronizing comments.  And I say this based on the belief we seem to have that young families should be grateful for our openness and hospitality towards them in spite of their many and obvious flaws.

And I say all of that whilst being one of those pastors who was (is) meant, in part, to bring in young families--which has happened here at FCC, some truly wonderful and amazing parents and children have joined our growing ranks of Jesus followers who treat one another as family.

But no, what we often want instead are clones of ourselves, who act like they are in the same phase of life as us and share all our interests in church activities, but who just happen to be 40 or 50 years biologically younger than us.  Then we look over at the bigger (and often more evangelical) with patently un-Christian envy and wonder why the young families there want nothing to do with us.

That's not church, though.  That's a fantasy.  That's an ideal that will never happen.

This past Sunday, the inaugural meeting for our first new Christian Women's Fellowship small group took place--the first new small group to be planted here in a long time.  And while remaining under the umbrella of our larger CWF setup, they are very much striking their own course in terms of mission, fellowship, and spiritual enrichment.

And I love it.  I absolutely love it.  That's the way it needs to be for this church thing to work now--we have to let the future be unleashed, much as we may in fact fear that very same future in the face of what remember from the past.

After all, the past we know.  The past we have experienced.  The past we can tangibly relate to.

But the future?  Wow.

And yet, even the past still isn't related to, not entirely.  I see and hear a lot of talk about the nostalgia that folks have for the mainline church that once was--the great, venerable congregations of the 1950s and 60s, that overflowed with members and that always had some sort of women's circle or men's workday that was going on.

I wouldn't call it nostalgia, though.  I'd call it selective memory.  Sure, we may remember the masses of people, but do we remember the noise that came with them?  Sure, we remember our kids coming to church, but do we remember just how much they squirmed while being subjected to a sermon far longer than how long our preachers might go on for today?  And sure, we remember our children dutifully attending church through confirmation, but do we remember them not wanting anything to do with church afterwards, or after they left the nest?

So let's be honest about ourselves, yeah?  The Bible is pretty big on honesty.  Let's be honest about what we really want and who we really want in our churches: we want ourselves.  Not the next generation of believers and disciples.

And that's fine, but we can't expect our younger brethren to want to be a part of that church.  We cannot act surprised and shocked and hurt when they want to create their own thing.  Because in the end, we were the ones who drove them away.

The first part of confessing and repenting is to own your sin.  We need to own--and own up to--this particular one, the sin of us, deep down, not wanting people who aren't ourselves to grace the doors of our church.

Then and only then, I firmly believe, can the new thing we are meant to behold be created, in God's good time.

Yours in Christ,

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