Over the past two days, two articles have shown up repeatedly in my social media feed. The first is entitled, “The mistake that is causing churches and their ministers to collapse” by BT Irwin and the second is “Skillet’s John Cooper: It’s Time to ‘Declare War Against This Deconstruction Christian Movement’ by Tyler Huckabee, Relevant Magazine.
If any juxtaposition of commentary could be more relevant to the church in America in 2021, I don’t know what it is. Both of these articles seek to address what is happening in the evangelical North American church. Both address the exodus of young people from the mainstream church. Both offer explanations for the shifts in attitude and focus of the rising generations.
But one declares war.
The other calls us to action.
I’ve been working in the areas of children, youth, and family ministry for over a decade. I was raised in the church and have served in every level of volunteer and paid church ministry. Through the ministry of ReFocus I’ve worked with dozens of churches and ministries across North America of varying denominations and theological traditions. And having done so, I can with confidence say this, declaring war against the rising generations and the movements they are enveloped in is not going to help us fulfill the Great Commission and the Greatest Commandment.
In fact, I’m 100% certain declaring war will do the exact opposite of making disciples, loving God, and loving others.
In the first article, the author (BT Irwin) relates the experience of his father who collapsed under the weight of pastoral ministry and the “mistake” he points to in his church leadership is not empowering the members of the church to do the primary work of believers – making disciples. Instead he focused on growing the church in numbers rather than in disciples. As he put it, he measured width instead of depth. And it nearly killed him.
The author then shares his own experience in church through this story:
A few years before when I was still single, I felt a strong need to grow and mature as a Christian. I knew all the right facts from the Bible, but I felt less and less like I knew how to live a Christ-like life. When I compared myself to the world around me, I didn’t see anything about my lifestyle that set me apart as a man of faith, hope, and love. I wanted to see the Christ-life in real life. I wanted someone living that Christ-life to show and tell me how to do it, too.
I wanted to be an apprentice to a master teacher.
I asked around for a few months, but didn’t find anyone who seemed open to the idea of sharing his life with me that way.
Finally, in desperation, I put up flyers around the church building announcing that I was looking for an older Christian man to “take me under his wing” and let me follow and learn from him. I just wanted someone to pray and study the Bible with me and perhaps invite me to come along with him as he practiced the Christ-life in and out of the church.
I knew it was a tall order, but in a congregation of 1,000 members (and more than 20 elders and ministers), I thought at least one person would call me.
No one called me. No one.
No one called.
No one cared.
And as a result, the author says he felt rejected, like a failure, in his own church. He was literally begging for generational discipleship. He pleaded for mentorship. He longed for someone to pour into him. He was dying for relationship.
While by some miracle, he did not leave the faith as a result of this experience, one could certainly understand if anyone in this position would begin to deconstruct their faith and question their belief system.
And the response by John Cooper is to declare war on people like this.
Surely we can do better.
Surely we MUST do better.
Do you want to know what keeps young people in the church? Do you want to know what keeps them grounded in their faith in Jesus Christ and walking through times of doubt and fear and confusion?
It’s not declaring war on them or any movement they’ve associate themselves with. It’s not amazing children’s ministry programs or youth ministry events or buildings or “growing” churches or the best worship band in town. It’s not loud voices yelling at them and telling that they are wrong.
“For those who stayed, church remained a key part of their life because they saw it as relevant to their life and they had relationships there that mattered” (Source: Lifeway Research)
“Genuine relationships. First, they have strong relationships with others their own age. Second, they have a ministry leader they respect and from whom they want to learn. Third—and perhaps most importantly—they have relationship with older adults. Young people long for older mentors and models, and the church that offers these relationships will be a magnet for young people.” (Source: ChurchLeaders.com)
“Cultivating intergenerational relationships is one of the most important ways in which effective faith communities are developing flourishing faith in both young and old. In many churches, this means changing the metaphor from simply passing the baton to the next generation to a more functional, biblical picture of a body—that is, the entire community of faith, across the entire lifespan, working together to fulfill God’s purposes.” (Source: You Lost Me, David Kinnaman, Barna Group)
These are just a few of many examples of research that shows us that relationships, community, and generational discipleship are essential, not optional, foundations for a growing church – one that is growing in depth without a constant focus on width.
I’m not gonna lie. I’m fired up. I’m exhausted with trying to convince churches that we need to cultivate space for relationships, connection, and communication across generations with the work of peace-making and kingdom-building as our guide. But here is what I know:
I refuse to declare war. Especially on the casualties of the church.
Instead, I want to be the one who steps into the mess, takes the proverbial flier off the church wall, and says “Yes” to every young person (or old person!) who wants to question, doubt, grow, cry and deconstruct with me – to journey with them as we look to follow Jesus better…as disciples in the making.
To seek peace and pursue it, to beat swords into plowshares, to bridge the generational gap, and to be the church that loves God, loves others, and makes disciples.
Is Your Church READY to Grow Together?
Are you interested in moving your church from a traditional, age-segregated into a more family-focused, intergenerational focus, connecting the home and the church?
Refocus Ministry would be happy to begin a conversation with your team and church about the how your church can grow in serving the families of your church and community and connecting your faith community in relationship with each other.
Ongoing coaching through various means is also available as your church continues the transition including weekly emails, monthly on-line trainings, and continued conversations. In addition to one-on-one coaching calls and follow-up resources, the following large-group presentations can be made available to your team, pastoral staff, or congregation.
Options to choose from for these presentations include:
- Presenting on a Sunday morning to your worship service(s)
- A parent webinar on Everyday Discipleship and partnering with the church community
- A presentation on Connecting Generations (importance, need, Biblical foundation) for your leadership team
- A training on a specific area of ministry such as Family VBS, Partnering with Parents, Equipping Volunteers, Creating an Intergenerational Culture for your ministry or leadership team.
- OTHER – We will work to create a presentation that best suits your community’s needs
Use the contact form below to receive a customized quote for your congregations needs. We look forward to journeying with you to make Psalm 145, one generation to another, part of our church’s DNA.
For more information about…
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Discipleship in Intergenerational community
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
About this Blog
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.
With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, 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. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.