“Environments are not passive wrappings, but are rather, active processes which are invisible.” – Marshall McLuhan
Take a second and look around you. What do you see? Really take it in. Pay attention to the feelings that you experience as you look around.
I’m currently sitting in a hotel lobby, quiet as people begin to wake up and experience the day, drinking a cafe latte and hearing dishes rattle, mumbled conversation, and elevators rising and falling. I feel distant, and a little bit anxious, as these moments make me acutely miss my family and long for the familiarity of home.
Environments matter a lot. They don’t come right out and yell at us, “Feel this way!” but they are constantly informing us about how we should feel and ways we should act.
So, if we are desirous of calling forth certain actions from ourselves and from our children, it would be a good idea for us to critically consider the environment that we are immersed in and that we create in our communities of faith.
Yesterday I was invited by Rick Lawrence of Simply Youth Ministries to do just that. My husband often tells me often we are “fish who don’t see the water” meaning we just go about our lives without really noticing the atmosphere we are submerged in, just breathing it in and out as if it were not there. Rick showed us the water…and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t pretty clear blue waters of the Caribbean…it was muddied, and dirty, and polluted, and frankly, not a nice place to be.
He led us through a diagnosis of the environment our kids are growing up in. Consider these things carefully, just as you did your surroundings a minute ago, and think about the feelings these elements conjure up in you.
Our kids are living in a marginless world; 8 of 10 teens never turn their cell phone off and most send between 60-100 texts every day.
They are constantly connected and when they disconnect, there is anxiety, probably partially because this constant connection has changed their brain chemistry to be more reactive and less thoughtful.
Our culture is characterized by the ideals of “more, fast, easy, and fun” and parents self-describe themselves with words like worried, fearful, distracted, and overwhelmed.
So…how do you feel?
So I look to the church.
Surely there where we serve a Savior that says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” we will find a place of refuge, shelter from the Go, Go, Go lifestyle and a place where relationships are fostered with trust and grace.
Surely here we will find a hope, a God who invites us into community and gives strength to the weary.
Surely here our kids can see consistency in a world of variability, welcome in a world that’s too busy for hospitality, margin and space to grow in a world that demands constant connection and endless going.
And what do we find? And let’s be honest…for just a moment, let’s see the water.
Friends, the number one reason Millennials point to for why they leave the church is not hypocrisy (that was my generation) and not because of new experiences (that was my parents generation).
The number one reason they leave is because they feel like they do not belong.
Our environment has told them that. Our way of doing church, of segregating the young, of making church an “adult worship service” as I heard one prominent children’s minister describe it recently in a blog, of creating spaces that delight our senses and meet our personal preferences and “needs” is that our upcoming generations do. not. belong.
They’ve decided to swim in different waters. They are just as disconnected at church as they are in life. There’s no respite, no quiet calm, no gentle acceptance and gracious authority. They just feel… alone.
And I can see why. And I think if we are all honest, we see it too.
We need to change our filter. Our water needs to be cleaned. We need to see it so we can change it. I’m not saying everything we’ve done has been wrong, but something we’ve done has not worked.
More and more, the church needs to become the place where all those things described above – marginless space, disconnectedness, constant separation and constant motion – no longer find a home.
Imagine instead a place where we come, together, connected to one another as a body whose head is Christ; where we stop as a family, a community, and we breathe in rest and peace, where we replace the cry of “more, fast, fun and easy” with hearts of simple love, welcome, and grace.
If our waters don’t look different, if we are offering more of the “more” and we are not creating space for meaningful relationships that stay grounded in a fluid world, then why are we surprised when our children walk away. We’ve got to see the water.
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com, Seedbed, and D6 Family.