We’ve come a long way since President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address, and its most-oft-quoted phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” This was not merely a clever quip for the day – it reflected the mindset of most Americans of that era, and remains so for most of us over age 65. Unfortunately that’s no longer the case for many of our post-baby-boomer generation citizens, whose attitudes tend toward the center of self. So we find even a majority of so-called Christians negotiating with pastors and priests, “If you want me to become or remain a part of your congregation, show me what’s in it for me?” And the response is more often than not a scrambling around of elder boards to present the most feel-good messages and feel-good programs presented in feel-good ways so as to fill the pews and coffers.
A literary preoccupation with each of the younger generations’ supposed unique needs, desires and expectations is just a symptom of the bigger problem – which extends well beyond any specific generation. Still, each of these blogs, magazine and newspaper articles analyzing millennials, iGens, Gen Z’s and Centennials help to focus the real issue. While many of these authors have an excellent insight into the mindset of each of these young people groups; their understanding of “the Church” is grossly lacking.
Most of these well-meaning writers see “the Church” as nothing more than a social, charitable or service organization created to meet individual and societal needs (be they spiritual or otherwise), much like the Fraternal Order of Elks, the Knights of Columbus, or the Red Cross. They miss the point entirely that “the Church” is a living organism with divinely appointed missions. Its founder (and present Head), Jesus described her as “the Body of Christ.” The Head and the Body are intended to have a love relationship akin to that between a husband (Christ) and a wife (the Church). And “the Church” is delegated to perform all the same things and more that Jesus performed when He walked the earth. Every member of the Body, be they leaders, millennials, or members of any other generation has a significant part in this – with no one of more or less value.
Since Christ’s love and faithfulness to the Church (and each of its individual body parts) will never end, there is no excuse for members of the Body to abandon “the Church.” Now if we’re talking about a member of the Body relocating to a more appropriate “local church family” – well, that’s a different story. For every church family has a unique personality and mission and the Holy Spirit will guide a listening and responsive individual (and his or her family) to the one that will best prepare them to serve and that will make the best use of their gifts. But any abandonment of the Body of Christ by a member, or even a relocation to another local church that is not God-directed is likely made out of an attitude of self-centeredness and rebellion.
Although it’s valuable for local churches and church denominations to periodically evaluate if they are meeting the needs of those in the communities in which they reside, and that they are using the talents of all the members of their congregations as God intended; I think it’s just as important for persons of every generation to perform some personal introspection to make sure they are putting Christ and His Body above their own selfish desires. Politicians and social engineers have a bad habit of trying to segregate people into groups, be they racially, ethnically, financially or generationally oriented – and pitting one group’s needs and interests against another; but “the Church” should do everything it can to avoid being drawn into such conflicts. We are called to be united in our service to God and to each other and in our spiritual destiny.
It’s time that members of every generation begin to recognize that they are “the Church,” the Body of Christ and stop undervaluing themselves, their destiny and their purpose to serve God and His people. Even those individuals and people groups (defined by race, generation, social status or education level) who may sometimes feel marginalized and not served by the ecclesia, need to “gut it out” if necessary – because the mission of reaching an unsaved and broken world is too important, and the time is too short.