I was asked to give a description of the church of today from the perspective of the younger generations. (Yes, I was considered younger to this man.) At first I was excited and wanted to whip out a response immediately and then I realized that I needed to reflect on this a little more. This was a deep question. And even deeper when I read Eddie’s article about the older church and how older members viewed it. As I read his words, so much of what he was saying was familiar to me yet so foreign. Let me explain.
Let us start off understanding that I’m not a twenty-something younger generation that is giving this viewpoint. I’m more of an almost forty something that is standing on the bridge of the church from yesteryear and the church of tomorrow. As I read Eddie’s words, the church of my youth was laid out before me. I was raised in a small country church in Kentucky where only the finest of Sunday best were worn. You wore dresses to every event including Vacation Bible School and you never missed a church event. The old hymns were sung with feeling and the structure of the service was the same week after week. Testimonies where given every few weeks. Communion served every quarter. Picnic every summer. A Christmas play (the same one) done year after year. I still love to sing these old songs and think of the traditions we had at that small church, but the nostalgic feeling that it imparts fades as I look with 20/20 vision at the church of yesteryear.
The Church of Yesteryear
The reason that it is important to understand this yesteryear church is because so many of today’s churches are holding on with all they have to that same mold. But it is a mold that might just need to be shattered. The church of today is changing.
When you ask the younger generation today what they are looking for, most of the responses are about being real. Look at what they are watching. Reality shows are the biggest thing in several decades. Documentaries and tell-alls are the rage. They don’t want sugar coated words and they don’t want perfection. They want reality. And the sad part is they are not finding it in the church of yesteryear.
My husband and I were church planters. Basically, we were domestic missionaries that were starting a church. What we got from everyone that we ministered to was that we were real! They were so amazed at that. At first we were a little confused, but they very quickly explained. Too many within churches of the old mold like to pretend that there are no problems in their personal lives or within the church family. The ministers are put up on pedestals and expected to do no wrong. But when a flaw is seen disaster usually follows. That is not what the youth of today are looking for. They are looking for those who are not perfect. They want to know that the people ministering to them truly understand where they are coming from. They are looking for a church to accept them where they are, love them as they are, and come alongside them.
The Church of Tomorrow
The church of yesteryear is fading away (with a fight) to give way to the church of tomorrow. What exactly is the church of tomorrow? It is a modern mirror of the church in its original form in the book of Acts. It is where the prostitutes worship next to the church leaders and neither one looks at the other differently. It is where the poor are as much a part of the ministry as the rich. It is where the heart is looked at before the social status or the checkbook is. It is where struggles of drug addiction, alcohol, pornography, and abuse are discussed and recognized. It is where giving of one’s self goes beyond a few coins and into your personal life. It is opening hearts and homes to those who are floundering and need a quiet in the storm of life. It is a reflection of Jesus’ love.
This is not saying that the church of yesteryear didn’t love and didn’t follow Jesus’ examples, but the years have changed and the problems are more prominent and the communication style of the younger generation is changing drastically. The church of today is the bridge that we stand on.
Today you find a mixture of churches but more and more you are finding those that are real! That are willing to open up and be vulnerable to each other! Ministers can be ministers without regulation dress. Leaders can be leaders and still be human as they stumble. You find tradition being understood as secondary to the state of the heart.
Communication styles are changing with the technology that the youth are extremely intimate with. Computers, videos, music are all so different than it was twenty years ago. The younger ones are not sure how to absorb a message without many of these aids. Why? The educational systems use them on a daily basis. That is how they are taught to learn and understand. Therefore, the churches have incorporated the same methods to teach the Bible.
The issue with today’s church is that it is like a teenager, it knows it wants to go forward but is unsure when it wants to reach for tomorrow and when it wants to cling to yesterday. It is fighting to keep the old structure yet find something new. It is wanting to be real, yet keep the comfort of the mask. It is wanting to reach others yet not change the methods that it has used for decades. It wants to go forward without moving. Yet it is being dragged forward by the world.
The world is demanding the church to stand up and be true. It is screaming for it to show what true love is and not just quote John 3:16. It is throwing down the gauntlet to be loved and to be shown what mercy is.
Which Church Is It?
Want to know if a church is in the past or moving toward the future? See how it reacts to someone in dirty jeans and needle marks up their arms. See how they react when told someone is contemplating suicide. See how they react to the unwed mother. See how quick the love is poured out and the traditions and ceremony are thrown out the window to show compassion.
The church of today to the younger generations is a torn entity. It has the potential to shake the world off its axis and give it a fresh and genuine face. The church of today is becoming real!
The Next Reformation
I go back periodically to visit the old home church, and this is where it seems to be foreign to me. They rarely greet a newcomer especially if they appear poor while the churches I normally attend go out of their way to make them feel welcome. When problems are hinted at, they are whispered behind hands instead of being biblically discussed. I hear them talk about building programs and waiting on people to show up but not about going out and being part of the community. I hear them talk that someone should help the family down the road but not suggesting being the ones to do it. I realize that they are disconnected from the immediate world around them and don’t even realize it. I sing the great old hymns with them and feel the words but miss the heart of it all.
The church is going through another reformation. And again the world is watching. It is seeing the fighting and the struggles. It is seeing how it will end up. Does it stay in the past that doesn’t understand the future, or does it move forward and honor the past as its foundation? That is the question the church needs to answer to day. That is the question that will decide its fate.
The church of today reflects the struggle of the generations and the desire for all to feel as a vital part of it all. It is not sure if it should look inward or outward not realizing that it has to do both. It has to understand that its heart has to change and wisdom needs to be shown by all generations within it. It has to grow spiritually inside while looking outward and beginning to understand the community around it. The church of yesteryear brings dedication and steadfastness while the church of tomorrow brings reality and warmth. The two combined could be the revolutionary church of today.