Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"Why Some of Our Children are Leaving Churches of Christ" by Jack Reese

"Why Some of Our Children are Leaving Churches of Christ" was part 1 of 3 by Jack Reese based on his book "The Body Broken". Jack preached a series of 3 messages at the 2005 Pepperdine Lectures. I am reposting these as I took many of my previous posts down for a long time as I reevaluated which posts to share again and make public.

THESIS: "Christians aught to be able to talk to one another. A hallmark of the church should be the ability of believers to discuss, listen, encourage and love. We should be able to disagree without acrimony (bitterness, hostility, ill will). We, of all people, should be known as instruments of peace and as agents of reconciliation..."

Over the past 15 years, Jack has learned a lot from other leaders outside our fellowship; church leaders, ministers and scholars. He has also gained a renewed appreciation for churches of Christ. He confesses that he's not always been as kind as he should have been toward our own church of Christ leaders. He has been overly critical which was reactive to some of the down sides, differences and awkwardness. He's been embarassed by some of the behavior of church leaders, our sectarian spirit, our arrogance, harsh words and judgmental spirit.

He now sees that most of these things came from honorable motives even if the behavior was ill. We have something unique to contribute which is why he aches for our children leaving churches of Christ. We've always been vocal about being "Christians only" but sees our denominational spirit and asks whether we truly are non-denominational to look in the local yellow pages to see if we are listed under the non-denominational section or the Church of Christ section (whoa!).

Our kids don't care anymore! They don't want to fight anymore! They are leaving because of what we are doing and how we are living. They are leaving as a reflection of the choices we are making and our own behavior--past and present.

It is easy to look at them and shake our heads and point our fingers, but at some point, we need to own up to the responsibility of our own churches that has led to this moment. These young men and women are not leaving Christ - do not mistake! They're not leaving Christ at all. They're not leaving worship, service, discipleship or how they can make a difference in this world. They are leaving because they cannot find this in our fellowship.

Jack has 4 things that he hears from those who have left or are leaving:
1. They desire to experience something profound in worship. Something engaging and relevant. They want to experience the presence of God. They do not feel like they have worshiped simply because they have performed certain acts and rituals determined decades ago by people they've never heard of. They're not likely to determine if they've worshiped by any external standards...by whether they have done the right things in the right ways for the right reasons.

They want worship to capture their minds and their hearts.

They are not impressed by accusations from older people that they have been unduly influenced by contemporary entertainment! This is an easy charge for the older Christians to make. In reading the manuscript to his new book, one older man commented, "It's no wonder that this younger generation desires to experience something special as immersed as they have been in the entertainment world all these years." There are two problems with this statement: (1) The assumption that what went on in the 40's, 50's and 60's was somehow not influenced by the culture is false. (2) To dismiss what is going on among us is just merely entertainment...that's an easy dismissal that our young people are not only repulsed by, but they believe it is totally untrue. They don't conceive of their worship as entertainment at all. They no longer want to play it safe like their churches have in the past. They believe that to stay safe is totally against what the church is intended in the first place. Following Christ is not safe! Their Christian values are under constant attack, so they are willing to take a few risks in order to meet God in their worship.

When they choose a church they look for how they live, serve and love. When they do not see the Father adored, the love of Christ practiced or the Holy Spirit welcomed in our churches, especially in our assemblies, they look for it elsewhere.

2. They are sick and tired of sectarian, legalistic church life and doctrines that confuse gospel and opinion. They are tired of leaders who believe that all practices and beliefs are of equal importance. They are tired of those that say erring in any area, including doctrines that can only be inferred by moderns who are steeped in certain notions of Western logic or have lived their entire lives in the American south, will cost them their salvation. They just aren't buying it anymore! They don't buy the hermeneutic that produced it or the attitude that spawned it. They are not interested in a church that has a huge list of rules and little joy. They are not interested in a church that pursues truth but never experiences grace.

3. Some are leaving as a by-product of an unwillingness by some church leaders to critique the beliefs and practices of other religious fellowships while at the same time being highly critical of the more traditional churches in our fellowship. (This is from the more progressive end of our fellowship) We'll say how awful it is that our traditional churches are keeping people jailed up in traditional legalistic doctrine, but will not say a word about the Hindu faith or Buddhism for example. We don't want to be like our traditional brothers and say bad things about other groups, so our kids leave, thinking that those are viable solutions to spirituality. They want to hear that Christianity is the right place to be.

4. They see us arguing and finger-pointing, gossiping, and talking about one another instead of to one another. They hear about how sometimes it is "necessary to divide!" They shake their heads and say this is not what church is all about. Many of them are leaving because they don't want to deal with it anymore.

"Is it worth going into ministry for churches who act like this?"
"I just don't want my daughter to grow up listening to the preacher publicly condemn others who don't do things the same way as them."
"I can't even ask a question about some of our doctrines without getting snapped at or getting funny looks by others as if what I have asked is nonsense."

Jack's final comments were very profound and this is how I will end this post:

"Waiting to have unity until everyone agrees is like having cancer but refusing treatment until the malignancy is gone. Unity IS the treatment! Unity is ONLY possible in the midst of disagreement. It is what makes it unity."