Ecclesiastical Misconceptions #1

Eastertide has begun. The Great Fifty Days, that season between Easter and Pentecost was used by the early church as a way of continuing the faith formation of new Christians. The common lectionary turns to the Book of Acts where we read the stories of those first followers of the Risen Christ. It’s a great time (see what I did there?) to talk about the theology of the church!

In that spirit, over these fifty days let’s explore great myths and misconceptions of the modern church:

#1: OUR CHURCH NEEDS YOUNG FAMILIES/YOUNG PEOPLE

Rural, urban, suburban; tiny churches to cathedral status; this is a central worrying theme. It often comes up when churches are in pastoral transition (we need a nice young pastor who can bring in the young families) and when churches want to talk about transformation. 

Diving deeper into the conversation, I’ll hear concern about the future of the church without the presence of younger folks. The old pattern of adult children returning to church after their children have been baptized is no longer true. For the first time in a century, the proportion of Americans who are church members is below 50%.

The response is the same – our church needs young families/young people!

We need them because who will do the work of the church when we’re gone?

We need them because financially this model of doing ministry is unsustainable.

We need them because it causes us grief to think that something that has had such meaning in our lives is not valued in the same way.

We. Need. Them.

There’s a shift here in the theology of the church (still rocking that Great Fifty Days theme of ecclesiology). Can you see it? 

At some point the mission of the church became more about sustaining itself than bringing the transformative love of Jesus Christ to others. Less delicately, at some point in our history we began to focus on our needs, as opposed to the needs of the world (or in this case, the needs of young families).

Now, I know that many churches do a world of good and are wonderful places for folks to grow deeper in their faith. I’m grateful for the church in all its forms and expressions and would not be who I am if it weren’t for the presence of congregations that cared deeply for me and helped shape me in the faith. They did so not because I was a commodity to be invested in but because they had something to offer me: incredible and amazing grace.

What if instead of “OUR CHURCH NEEDS….” we were to consider in what ways young families might need a congregation to sustain them? How can we show young people that incredible grace and love without any expectation of future gain on our part? The early church reached out to folks of various ages and backgrounds not because the church needed them… but because they understood that they had something of incredible value they could offer the world. 

We need to do the same.

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