So I have been thinking a lot lately about what many young adults have been talking about, in various forums and forms, regarding their involvement or non-involvement in the church. I hear or read people saying that the church doesn’t recognize their gifts or won’t let them be involved. They say that the church isn’t “relevant” to them, that they don’t like the worship style or the preaching or the lack of community involvement. Our criticisms are of every level of the church, from local congregations to mission centres to church headquarters. I readily admit to being critical myself of various aspects of the church at it’s various levels.
I hear the complaints and see the suggestions but sincerely wonder how many young adults are putting muscle or brain power behind attempting to address their own concerns. I can only speak from my own experience, but I can tell you that when I’ve been sincerely and seriously concerned about some aspect of church life, I have stepped in to make change.
My intention with this post is not to brag about things I’ve done, I’m constantly guilty of the sins of apathy and avoidance of responsibility. I also know that I am not the only one working hard at this, some of my fellow bloggers here are valiantly working for change. My desire here is to lay forth a challenge to my fellow young adults to, in a sense, “take back the church.”
I steal this “take back” phraseology quite intentionally from the movement against violence against women where “take back the night” encourages women to go into the very spaces where violence has occurred and reclaim them as safe spaces. I think we can draw similarities between that movement and our experiences of church.
I’ll be honest and say that I have experienced emotional and spiritual violence in this church that I love so dearly. I have at times contemplated leaving for another spiritual home. But instead of turning away I have chosen instead to remain in it and work to change it from within. The difficult discernment of whether to stay or go is one countless Christian feminists have faced for a number of generations now: is this institution flawed at its heart and irredeemable, or can it indeed be changed?
No doubt if you are reading this post you too have likely lived through this stay-or-go discernment at some point in your life. When you decided to stay (if you decided to stay, which I don’t necessarily presume of you!), what commitments did you make or have you since made to aiding in the transformation of the church? I ask this because I think that is the key piece of choosing to stay: choosing your commitments.
One commitment I chose was education, both for myself and now for others as well. I truly believe that theological education can add depth, quality, sensitivity, and richness to church life. Understanding and feeling connected to the wide spectrum of Christians who have gone before and will come after us puts current dilemmas and conflicts into perspective and teaches us how best to face today as a flawed institution. My education has led me to participating in church conferences as a presenter and sitting on church committees. With that participation I’ve been able to be a voice for young adults as well as a voice for progressive ideas that are important to my local community of faith.
I also chose to stay active in a congregation and to attend even on the days when I know I will be offended by what the person delivering the sermon says, even when I know people will ask impertinent questions, even when I know I am not at my best. In doing that I’ve discovered and cultivated a love for my fellow congregants that goes beyond anything I’ve experienced, and in that love they’ve also seen and respected my commitment to them. Just because I’m not asked to take on certain roles or responsibilities doesn’t mean I don’t step up and do them anyway. I find that most people are relieved and excited to have a young adult taking on positions of responsibility, and they are willing to be guinea pigs for my worship experiments and Christian education offerings because they know I love them and because they love me.
What I don’t understand is the complaints many young adults have about not being allowed to share their gifts in congregations. I know many young adults who, once they discovered their gifts and passions, were warmly received into leadership and appreciated for their gifts. Of course there are always people who are insensitive or condescending, but my words of encouragement would be to not let those few unappreciative folks get in the way of your full participation in the community.
Change rarely happens quickly, and I am probably frustrated by the slow pace more often than not. However, in small yet significant ways I can see how young adults are indeed taking back the church, claiming it as theirs today and not just tomorrow. It takes boldness, tenacity, hard work and a measured amount of naive idealism, but change is possible. Believe in yourself as much as you believe in the need for change, and then make your commitment. It does not have to be huge, just something that will tap into your passions and your desires for the church.
What is your commitment? What are you going to do to make change happen?