A New Thing
I spent this week at a youth ministry conference at Princeton Theological Seminary- the theme was “All Things New” from Revelation 21:5. We attended several seminars, workshops, and lectures about the innovative spirit begging to be tapped inside in the church, what it looks like when churches have responded in obedience when the Spirit moved them somewhere new and different; not for the sake of what is new and different, but for the sake of love.
“Love made me an inventor.”
These words were spoken in a clip we watched featuring Marguerite “Maggie” Barankitse (here is more about her work in Burundi http://www.maisonshalom.org/) and how what her church looked like was formed from a deep love of Jesus and the great needs that she saw around her. Because, as our speaker Kenda Creasy Dean said, “We will spin straw into gold for the people we love.”
There was a lot here that I am still unpacking and processing. But initially, walking away from the conference one of my favorite things about the conference was how it’s very shape and form reflected this image of “making all things new.” There were Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Reformed, women, men, white, Hispanic, Asian, African, African-American and so many more besides.
I saw young people, like me, in places of ministry, with new ideas, innovations, excited about the future of the church. And my heart felt so hopeful and alive and excited, not just for youth, but for the young adults who are, through the Spirit, ushering in a new (with flavors of the very old) way of being the church.
My heart felt hopeful as we spoke of innovation and the future, and older generations were listening, encouraging, partnering, and seeking alongside us. There was no scolding or accusations of cynicism or “acting like teenagers mad at their mom”, there was no condescending moaning about the state of young people in the church. There was excitement as a woman in her 20’s took the stage to talk about the unique ways her church is meeting the needs of the community through baking pies! No one questioned her right to be there and to speak. There was only a deep love for Jesus, each other and the youth we walk alongside back home.
Just people standing together and asking, “What is this new thing happening? What is this new thing stirring in the hearts of these people who love Jesus?”
I admit it, I’m a little sensitive to the widespread criticism of my fellow millennials in the church, accusations of laziness, selfishness, and entitlement are leveled at them daily, and the church is no exception- as if we are the first imperfect generation that ever existed in the church, the first to, at times, misunderstand and misuse Scripture. Maybe it’s because I really do love them; I love their courageous spirit, trembling questions, the bittersweet combination of desiring rootedness and connection while desperately needing to move and breathe in fresh horizons. I love the way they create; with words, with music, with protests, with Twitter, with numbers. I love that they are simultaneously so cynical but so hopeful and sincere. I love them and I am not worried about the church and faith that Jesus is teasing from that odd mix of liturgists, poets, leaders, activists, charismatics, musicians, writers and coffee-lovers.
Sure, we aren’t perfect. There are missteps from us imperfect people in need of Jesus’ grace. There is, and will continue to be, plenty of places of change and growth as we are being sanctified and molded into the people Jesus has called us to be. The faithfulness of the Spirit, and the faith of our grandmother’s, sitting in the front pew of the church she always has, faithfully pouring over the words of her tattered KJV Bible, singing with hands raised from red hymnals, praying from the bottom of her heart for her grandchildren, these things are carrying us forward well.
But sometimes I feel, in the midst of articles and declarations of despair about the state of the church, young adults leaving or disrupting, I want to look someone in the eye and say, “Don’t be afraid. Jesus makes all things new.”
The gates of Hell can’t prevail against the Church, nor will the listlessness of commitment-phobic millennials, or the at times culturally irrelevant programs, language and endeavors that some hold so tightly in a clad-iron grip.
So make space, make space for young adults, millennials, for singles. It’s okay to pause in nostalgia for what you have had, and perhaps what you may lose, but make room for them. And please, don’t wonder why they leave when you’ve only opened up a tiny bit of space that will let them slip in just enough to be there, but not enough to move, to wiggle, to change, to breathe. Don’t say “we want you” if you truly only want them to be exactly as you were, and are. Don’t say “come serve” but only in the ways we have always done it.
Want them to be like Jesus, but realize that may look different then you.
If you do you may be surprised; by the sincerity, the passion, the loveliness, the thoughtfulness, the depth of thought, the deep love for Jesus and Scripture, for studying, for challenging, and questioning.
Take them for what they are, humans that will fall over and over again, but who love Jesus, maybe even as much as you do. Partner, mentor, love, encourage, and listen closely with them, to that voice, whispering lovingly to his bride;
“Don’t be afraid. I’m doing something new.”