“I don’t know what I would need the church for. I can go out and make a difference on my own.”
It’s amazing what one learns at the barbershop. This past week I was part of a conversation with a person who had grown up in the church, had participated in numerous mission trips as a high school student and had, as is stereotypical, slipped away from the church in her late teens. Eventually she went on to get a license as a hair stylist.
Knowing that I was deeply involved in the life of the church she honestly admitted, “I don’t know what I would need the church for.” Then she proceeded to tell me how every two weeks she donates half a day at the local shelter for homeless youth. There she offers free shampoos and haircuts to these youth whose hair is often matted, unwashed, and out of control. What a gift she offers. What a gift she receives.
But I was struck by her revealing admission that she didn’t see any need for the church since she could go out and make a difference on her own. The good news is that her perception of the church is largely about serving others and reaching out to the “least of these” in true Matthew 25 fashion. At one level she clearly gets church. Many Sunday church services end with some sort of admonition like, “Now go out and serve this world in the name of Christ.”
The good news is that this person clearly got the message in her youth that church and faith and life are about service. She didn’t say it this way, but it was as if her explanation for not going to church was about taking out the “middle man.” “Why waste two hours on Sunday hearing about my need to serve when I could just use those two hours actually serving,” seemed to be her thinking.
I share this with you because I think it is important that every church and every pew-sitting Presbyterian wrestle with her question of “why go to church if I can just make a difference on my own.” I also think it is important because I have heard stories, too many to count, of life-long Presbyterians who say, “My children puzzle me. I raised them in the church and now they just see no reason for going. And it’s not that they are bad people. They are teachers and social workers and counselors and caseworkers. They just don’t go to church.”
If we are to have flourishing congregations and practicing Christian communities well into the future we will have to have an answer for those who are out doing Matthew 25 ministries despite their lack of church membership and participation. How do you reach people who are doing our service work as well or better than any one of us who are card-carrying members of the church?
This particular hair stylist grew up in the church, participated in mission trips and clearly got the message that faith is about service. She just doesn’t go to church now.
My question for you to ponder is this:
“Is this person now a lapsed Christian or is she a missionary out working on our behalf?”
How do you see her?
(Comments are invited. I would love to see the discussion this starts.)
I see her as a very good Christian person helping people. I’ve noticed that many organizations such as Kiwanis, Elks, Women’s Club, etc., are being “rejected” by the younger generations and are no longer present in our community. I am personally struggling to understand why this is so.
I find this topic extremely interesting. I, myself, would prefer the company of someone serving Our Lord in the real world to someone who sits in church each week and then continues the “road to self”. With a heart and head following Our Lord’s lead, that IS Christianity in a nutshell to me.
Yes. And no. Where’s the community in her approach? One pastor (Cynthia K-G, I think this was you) described the church as people following the people who follow Jesus. How do we dig deeper into what the Kingdom of God might look like if we’re not part of a community? Not that we always do a good job at this in our church communities – perhaps one of the reasons the young, including my own kids, sadly, are the way they are.
I found a way to get the message out beyond church folks when I began the Open Door radio ministry years ago. It engaged the listeners by asking them for their words to share and then I matched their comments with a rock and roll tune that seemed to duplicate or upgrade the thoughts of the listeners. That ministry is now long gone as the station where it was recorded is no longer on the air…but it put me in contact with a lot of people both in and outside of the church community and a revelation of how many people have profound observations about how to live life in these days. There are a few others doing this kind of ministry but I don’t have their call letters or how to contact them.
Directly related, I also often wonder if being a “member” of a church is a negative concept to some people. Many service organizations and churches are suffering with declining memberships. Some churches that don’t have official “members” but have regular attendees and have experienced significant growth. I enjoy my church membership and feel it is a healthy commitment. However, I know others who attend church regularly and do not join our church, for different reasons.
Thank you all for chiming in. I think we hit a number of the issues: One can serve outside the church, but where does one find community?; Many attend church, but just don’t join. Participation and belonging is important, but not institutional membership; What is replacing our traditional service organizations; As Bud notes we probably need to find avenues where our message is heard by both the religiously faithful and the broader community around us. Great stuff to ponder! Thanks.
We have family (most of us), Mom and/or Dad, siblings. Grandparents, etc. who may be supportive of us when we are ill or suffering some sort of crisis emotionally, bullying us in the workplace (and yes this does happen) but if they are not near us and/or are struggling with their own situations and are not as supportive as we need, then where do we get support? If a person goes to a church and develops a connection with others then this group could be/will be praying mightily on your behalf. I have witnessed many happy and astounding endings to a situation because of prayer. (This is not to say that all prayers are answered the way we wish, but prayers can and will hold the individual up while they are going thru a really rough patch. Thank you for your questions and insight Brian in your Holy Breadcrumbs.
I have some thoughts, as this is a central (although tangential) topic related to my doctorate of ministry work currently. Commitment to an institutional community of any sort doesn’t work with contemporary young people unless it is an organization of their own making, creating, and temporarily experimenting with. Take for instance “The Dinner Party” concept (http://thedinnerparty.org/about/) that young people who have lost someone close to them go to. Created and established by young people, it is basically the “Dinner for 8” recycled for younger generations…with no commitment attached once they’ve felt like they have received enough.
Or, consider the “How We Gather” group, https://www.howwegather.org/about. They are intentionally making spiritual exploration happen in community around what they feel is a more authentic reality for spiritual journeying. It’s the institutional church they don’t feel like meets the reality of contemporary spiritual seekers’ reality. This reality is that all the worlds’ major religions are so available for learning about that it becomes an a la cart menu of spiritual practices, each of which offer elements of spiritual journeying that speak to younger seekers, who are much more global than they are tribal in their outlook. Our faith began in a single tribe of Jewish monotheists who became the twelve tribes of Israel. Then out of one of those tribes Christ came to teach his reformed way. Hindus are a tribe, Buddists are another, Christianity is yet another, Islam is another, Native American spirituality has many tribal elements, etc…..If younger generations are less tribal and more global in their adoption of spiritual practices informed by instant digital search engines sharing wisdom from around the globe, than what happens to a church unwilling to learn and grow outside its own tribe? Yes, we have one (or two depending on how you look at it) tribal set of wisdom to share…but it is one strand in the weaving, one tributary in the mighty river of spirituality that connects all people. On that level, youngsters may just be leading the way…”And a little child shall lead them…”
Great stuff to think about, Scott. And this theme keeps showing up that it may be time to let our younger generations lead the way–rather than just lamenting the fact that they haven’t assumed their responsible place in “our tribe.”