Tag Archives: millennials

Annual Meeting Season: What church budgets say about ministry (It’s not good.)

As we begin the new year, most churches are entering Annual Meeting season. Budgets will be proposed and approved. Reports on how the past year’s ministry has gone will be presented. Plans for the year will be laid out.

For a lot of church people, annual meetings are a necessary evil. Boring meetings about boring things. But annual meetings have a significant effect on ministry. If you really want to know what a congregation values, look at the budget. If you want to know what a denomination focuses on, look at the budget.

Churches might put things like “All are Welcome” on signs, but have nothing in the budget for hospitality ministry.

Churches might have mission statements about growing in faith or serving the poor, but have no budget lines for educational resources or funds directed to outreach.

While what churches have failed to budget for or invest in is interesting, what they do put their time, energy and money towards is even more interesting. And so often churches invest in things that simply make no sense and make one wonder what is actually trying to be accomplished. In fact, churches often invest in or put their resources into ventures that have little chance of yielding fruit. 

Let me explain with some examples:

Lutherans in Canada have been primarily rural during our history. Most of our congregations are in rural communities. This made sense as it has been only in the past decade or so that the shift in Canadian society has been from a majority rural to majority urban population.

Generally urban congregations tend to be larger with more resources. Rural congregations tend to be smaller with fewer resources. So seeing struggling rural congregations, church leadership tends to invest in places where the church is struggling. Our seminary has developed an entire institute devoted to rural ministry offering a Doctor of Ministry degree in rural ministry. Multi-point and regional parish ministry is being explored and developed to help a few pastors serve many congregations in a team setting. Rural congregations are often given travel subsidies for church events. Skype and other video conferencing technology is being used to include rural folk.

This is all good and rural congregations deserve good ministry.

Yet, all our efforts are fighting against the demographic realities of shrinking rural communities. There are fewer and fewer people to minister to in rural contexts. We are putting disproportionate resources towards smaller groups of people.

At the same time, because urban congregations are perceived as large and self-sufficient, we leave them be. Yet, they are shrinking too and it is not related to demographics. In fact, there are more people than ever who have no church affiliation living down the street, within blocks, driving by urban churches every day. Shrinking urban churches are the result of changing culture, mission-drift, a lack of evangelism and failed education systems in churches. 

Yet, there is little energy, time, resources or even concern going into helping urban churches understand the people that live next door to them.

Many urban churches are now at a place where they simply cannot communicate or connect with 21st century culture. This isn’t about phones and projector screens in church, but about understanding that most people 70 and under engage community differently – through smart phones and social media. People understand their real life world through an online lens, from scheduling birthday parties, to finding restaurants to eat at, to getting their news, to listening to music or watching TV etc…

And another example:

Churches will bend over backwards to keep nearly comatose Sunday School programs alive. They will long for the youth to come and “get involved.” They want young adults to “come back” to church in order to get take up the jobs that older people want to give up. Precious volunteer energy and resources are spent on doomed to disappoint ministries. Yet, the things that they are asking of kids (to attend regular faith education programs) and youth (to fill most leadership roles in worship), adults are mostly unwilling to do themselves. They expect young people to want to do things that older people want to stop doing… it makes no sense.

But perhaps more importantly, we have hit another demographic tipping point where there are more over 50-year-olds in Canada than under 50-year-olds. That means at best, a church can hope for 1 family of 4 for every 2 empty nest couples in church. If you have 30 couples over 50 in church, you will only have about 15 families. Of course it will seem like the young people aren’t around… but that is because they don’t exist.

Churches long for young adults and young families thinking that they will have the time, energy and money to keep congregations going. Yet increasingly, young adults and young families are under-employed, highly indebted people with precious discretionary time on their hands and who are trying to make it through a high cost time of their lives.

Yet the Baby Boomers, the richest generation in history, are reaching the end of their careers. The largest group of retired people ever is about to have loads of time and money on their hands. Why don’t we have Sunday School for them? Retiree workers instead of youth workers? Why don’t we want 65-year-olds putting on an alb and lighting the candles in worship?

Many churches spend a lot of angst on young people, who (demographically speaking) don’t even exist. But the people who do exist, a glut of boomers, are largely ignored. 

Why do congregations, church bodies and leaders so often see their hope and future in unrealistic visions of church? Why do we invest in ministries and activities that have little chance of yielding fruit for us?

I don’t know if there is one answer. I think it has to do with fear of disappointing those led us into faith in the first place by doing things differently than they did. It has to do with longing for a return to the glory days of the past. It has to do with a fear of change, and our world is full of change these days.

Now, I wish this was the part of the blog post where I explained the magic bullet to turning this poor investment strategy, this poor ministry culture around. But I don’t know the answer.

Well, let me rephrase. I do know the answer… and so do you.

But the answer is hard work.

Churches need to look around ask what faithful ministry looks like in their context. Find out who our neighbours are. Find out what the needs of our communities are. Ask what opportunities is God putting before us. Discern who God is calling us to serve. Be willing to let go our expectations and vision for ourselves, and ask who God is calling us to be.

Strive to be faithful in our investments and ministry planning rather than successful. 

This Annual Meeting season instead of seeing long boring meetings about boring reports and boring talks, consider it an opportunity to discover where God is leading our congregations and communities.

Who knew Annual Meetings could be that?


What does your church invest in? How can you see where your priorities are? Do you love Annual Meetings? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

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On Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church Part 2: Finding the iPhone Church

Last month, I wrote about Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church. In particular, I mused on the concept of cultural commute – having to operate in a cultural different than one’s own. As a millennial and as a Lutheran pastor, I find myself often operating in a Baby Boomer culture. And while this doesn’t compare to the struggle of making a language commute, an ethnic commute or even socio-economic class commute, making this generational commute is a struggle. And it is one of the reasons I think millennials find the church frustrating these days.

Since writing that last post, I have been wondering what would an ‘iPhone Church’ look like.

Part of me loves the idea of serving a church full of people who are social media addicts like me. Where the bulk of our community planning and organization could happen on our Facebook page. Where ‘Netflix Binge Night’ with discussion afterwards could be a legitimate study and fellowship activity. Where I could make reference to Grumpy Cat, Walter White, #ThanksObama, Donald Trump memes, Taylor Swift and Apple without explaining memes, hashtags, Ferguson, Netflix, Breaking Bad, Apple Music… basically without having to explain the internet.

But the more I think about the ‘iPhone Church’, simply replacing the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ references with Kanye West “Imma let you finish” references doesn’t really solve the issue of the cultural commute.

One the one hand, the Church absolutely needs to be culturally savvy more than ever before because our society is more up to date and inundated with the latest news than ever before.

Just a few weeks ago, the denomination I serve in – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) – worked hard to bring our denomination up to date on current issues facing our country and our congregations.

At the ELCIC’s National Convention, our church live streamed our gathering and many delegates were using social media to share the very relevant work we were doing:

  • We addressed issues of right relationships with Indigenous Peoples by having a Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner present to us only months after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report with much national media attention.
  • We adopted resolutions on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW), Climate Justice, Restorative Justice in the Canadian Corrections System
  • We talked about decline and adapting to current cultural realities through constitutional and bylaw changes.
  • And we embarked on an ambitious 500th Anniversary of the Reformation Challenge to:  Sponsor 500 refugees to Canada, Provide 500 scholarships for Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land schools, Plant 500,000 trees, Give $500,000 to the Lutheran World Federation Endowment Fund

I have to admit, that at the end of the 4 Day convention, I was feeling like my church was working hard to address issues that are important to me and to my peers (most of whom are not church members but are very socially conscious).

So yes, on the one hand the church absolutely needs to be more culturally savvy and up to date.

On the other hand, ‘Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church’ really doesn’t fully express just how cultural commuting is inherent to the life of the church.

Really the tag line should be ‘Being an iPhone Pastor to Typewriter members of a Papyrus Church.’

The Church has always been demanding a cultural commute of its people.

500 years ago Martin Luther was a ‘Printing Press Reformer for a Hand Copied Books Church.’

2000 years ago Jesus was a ‘Papyrus Saviour for a Stone Tablet Temple Religion.’

As church people in the 21st century, we have to realize that the good news is constantly being transmitted to us through the cultures of our forebears. Our stories of faith are told in a book that represents a whole swath of Ancient Near Eastern culture and history spanning thousands of years. Our manner and symbols of worship come from Ancient Israelite roots into Roman customs and symbols adapted by medieval culture and readapted through enlightenment, reformation and modern eras.

Our sacred stories and histories have been constantly reframed by political and secular influences. The Church has been coopted by the rise and fall of empires.

The church has been dealing with cultural commutes for 2000 years… maybe longer.

So yes, it seems trivial that the fact that Boomer pop culture references makes it hard for this millennial pastor to sometimes feel understood and at home in the church. But our post-modern world is changing so rapidly with technology that generations living today are taking in the same amount of information in a day that most people would not have access to in a lifetime even just 100 years ago.

The effect, I think, is as significant on church as the Roman Empire coopting the church for its imperial bureaucracy, as significant as printing presses making bibles and other writings widely available, as significant as scientific and scholarly advancements challenging the way people of faith understand the world and their history.

The good news is that the church will survive. It might become an iPhone Church for a while, it might then become something else. But the church knows how to survive cultural commutes.

The challenge is that knowing that the church will adapt. The challenge is knowing that we have to adapt. Boomers will have to speak Millennial. Millennials will have to speak Boomer. Gen Xers, Silent, Builders, Boomers, Millennials, Generation Z, we all have to learn to speak to each other, just as we speak with Ancient Near Easterners, with Medieval Christians, with Reformers, with moderns and more.

As an iPhone pastor, finding an iPhone church won’t really solve my issues of cultural commutes. It will just change my role and experience in the problem. Some version of Typewriter churches and iPhone pastors will always exist. The real issue will be to recognize the ways in which the dominant cultures that exist in our churches keep us from connecting with people from outside of our own experience.

And in the same way that we work to understand the cultures and speak the languages of the bible, of the ancient church, of the reformation and of our forebears in faith, we will need to work to understand the culture and speak the language of a rapidly changing world and the variety of people that make up our church communities and congregations.

Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church requires a cultural commute… but that is simply being a pastor and being the church.


How does the cultural commute affect you? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

On Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

The ‘Millennials and Church’ thing has been written about to death in recent years. Theories about what millennials want in church range from the newest, flashiest most technologically advanced thing to the oldest, most artisanal traditions. If you are sick of reading about how to get millennials back to church,  join the club. In fact, I wouldn’t blame you for not reading yet another blog post about the topic… but bear with me, I promise not to talk at all about what millennials want or how to get us back to church.

That being said, figuring out millennials is big business for Christianity these days… and finding the magic bullet to get us all back to church would make someone rich.  Lots of church consultants and ministry experts are making the speaking rounds telling the church all about millennials and the big “change” the world is experiencing.

And yet, as a millennial myself, I am rarely asked why I didn’t follow the rest of my exiting generation… and when I am asked why I am still around, it is usually after I have pointed out that I am rarely asked.

Being a millennial and an ordained Lutheran pastor has provided me some insight into the Church’s quest to regain millennials. Almost always the starting point for this conversation is, “how do we get the young people back?

Yet, it is almost never asked, “Why are young people leaving?”

Church people are convinced they know the answer to why people are leaving. The surface level answers have to do with sports on Sundays, shopping on Sundays, lack of commitment, not having prayers in the schools, boring traditional worship, not enough youth ministry, too many rules, too much organ, etc…

The experts have more sophisticated reasons like people being busy and carefully choosing how to spend their discretionary time.

Yet, none of these things seem to really name the reason that my contemporaries are not going to church. None of these reasons seem sufficient to explain my anecdotal experience.

Admittedly, I have never had parishioners my own age in the last 6 years of ministry. Yet there is one area where I have consistently done ministry with millennials.

Baptisms.

I have met with dozens of millennials who are bringing their babies to be baptized, but who don’t otherwise go to church. Since, I require that I meet with them for friendly conversations about baptism, I have the opportunity to ask about the role of faith in their lives.

And there are two things I have taken away from these experiences:

  •  Even though I fit the big teddybear-like white-guy-with-a-beard mould of the stereotypical pastor, I don’t fit the age mould. And I don’t talk about faith like they expect me to. And I tell them way more about baptism than their parents, grandparents or my predecessors have. Almost always, the millennials I meet with find it refreshing that I didn’t just expect them to magically know everything about church and that I encourage questions and skepticism.
  • While the first takeaway is troubling, the bigger takeaway when I meet with other millennials (even ones that are almost completely unchurched) is that I don’t have to make the cultural commute that I am constantly making with most of the people I serve.

What is a cultural commute you ask?

Well, it is the whole “iPhone pastor for a Typewriter church” thing.

It is the idea that in order to engage or interact with a certain community or group of people – or generation of people –  you need to speak in their cultural language.

An easy example is actual languages. Even though I am an English speaker, I took grade school in French. It was draining to operate in a second language all the time.

It is the same for immigrants and foreigners, even when they already speak English. You don’t just speak the same language, you learn  a whole system of symbols, images, colloquialisms, inside jokes, history, and baggage that go along with a group of people. And when you don’t get that culture, you feel constantly like you are on the outside.

I remember when I first got my iPhone and would pull it out to make appointments or send messages in front of parishioners. They would often look at me like I just beamed down from the starship Enterprise; these were people who remember riding to school in a horse and buggy.

But more than that, when I sit in most meetings or conversations with church people, the discussion ends up being full of cultural references that pass me by. TV shows, music, movies and historical references from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, of which I don’t understand the meaning, are regular parts of conversation. While at the same time, I have to park my cultural baggage. I can’t make Friends or Breaking Bad or Jay-Z or Mumford and Sons or Hipster or Twitter references because most people won’t get them.

But it isn’t just pop-culture symbols. It goes deeper than that.

It is the whole way church and faith were approached 50 years ago versus how things are approached today.

The most draining cultural commute that I experience as a millennial pastor is the difference between congregations who still expect that every good Canadian (or American) citizen would be a church goer versus my expectation that only people who are interested and for whom faith is very important would be a church goer.

It is a cultural commute that takes shape most clearly for me in this way:

When I go and talk to unchurched millennials about baptism, I often get asked about why faith and church is important to me. This is often is the most exciting part of the conversation.

Yet, when I ask churched boomer and older members about why faith and church is important to them, I get uncomfortable looks and uncertain answers.

Now don’t get me wrong.

I love the people I have served and do serve. And I don’t begrudge them this in anyway. If anything, this is a failure of church leadership to not help people think through why church is important to them.

I also think that it is an important part of ordained pastoral ministry to be constantly making cultural commutes to those whom you serve in order that they might hear the gospel (wasn’t the whole incarnation a cultural commute?).

But this cultural commute… this expectation that as a millennial I will always cross the bridge in the cultural gap and engage – work, speak and serve – in a world that is culturally different is not just because I am a pastor. Church people so often expect that anyone outside the dominant culture or generation – millennials, foreigners, seekers, new converts – will be the ones to make the commute. And often this expectation is unconscious.

It is okay for a millennial pastor to be the one crossing the bridge, making the cultural commute in order to be a part of a church community. But it doesn’t work for millennial church members.

And I think this is a big reason millennials aren’t in church. It just isn’t a world that most of us can even access.

I am about to go to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s (ELCIC) National Convention next week. The 4 day event is filled with important agenda items. We will talk about how to do ministry in remote parts of country where pastors are unavailable, we will talk about right relationships with Canada’s indigenous peoples, we will talk about working for justice in the correctional system, we will pass resolutions on climate change and immigration issues. And we might event talk about “how to get the young people back.”

These are important issues, things we should talk about, things we should speak out about.

But we aren’t talking about why people are leaving church.

And we certainly aren’t talking about how to translate ourselves into a church for 2015 and beyond. Instead, we are talking about restructuring, and right-sizing… the corporate language of the 80s and 90s.

I suspect that this is where a lot of conversations in local churches, in districts and national offices are going. Churches are trying to catch up to the 80s… while my millennial contemporaries are leaving churches because the cultural commute to even access church is just too far a journey.

Being commuting pastors is something that many of my millennial colleagues and I just accept. I know that helping congregations and church bodies into the 21st century (hopefully before it ends) is just going to be my lot… no, not just our lot, but our calling…

Yet I wonder as I prepare for this national gathering of my church body and as Christians across North America struggle with young people walking away… I wonder when we are going to start looking to the millennials still here to help us become a church for all generations faithfully looking forward into the 21st century.

Until then, I will keep being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter church.


What cultural commutes are you making at church? How can we help the church into the 21st century? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

PS Thanks to Nadia Bolz Weber for introducing me to the concept of  ‘cultural commute’.

Confessions of a High Church Millennial – The Church according to ‘Friends’

As a pastor, I think a lot about group dynamics. I reflect on family systems and congregational systems. I wonder a lot about why groups of people behave in certain ways, sometimes to their own detriment.

My interest in group dynamics or systems thinking might be because I am a millennial. As Baby Boomers were the generation heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement, their focus was on the concerns of the individual, the individual lost in the shuffle of the masses, the person ignored by society, the one on the bottom. However, as Baby Boomers moved into leadership and power roles in the world, this concern for the individual has shifted to those in power and those at the top. Presidents and Prime Ministers are elected for providing individual tax cuts, not for offering society things like education, healthcare and a social safety net.

Millennials grew up differently. Our experience was tremendously focused on the group. Our education was often focused on group work, we were taught to consider others, to share, to be respectful, to work as a team. We are also the social media generation. We often define ourselves by the communities we keep.

28c79aac89f44f2dcf865ab8c03a4201So with all this in mind, let’s turn to Netflix, who made all 10 seasons of Friends available to watch recently.

It only took Courtenay and I a few weeks to binge through all the episodes. Friends became a kind of houseguest, hanging out in the background as we cooked, read, interneted, played with our son, or snuggled up for the evening on the couch.

Friends was a culture defining show during its run. The quirky group of six young adults in New York, getting their footing career and relationship-wise, represented the experience of Generation X. Friends was decidedly un-Baby Boomer-like in how it portrayed its main characters and the world around them. The characters on Friends were not from the dominant generation; there was an undercurrent all along the way that despite personal and professional success, they still lived under the thumb of “The Man” (the Boomer Man).

Friends brought the culture of a disaffected Generation X to the fore. Many of the Gen-Xers I know strongly identified with all things Friends. Yet, Friends was also important for Millennials. Particularly for older Millennials, Friends was a glimpse into the life we were about to live (not really, but it sure seemed like it).

I was in 6th Grade when Friends airing started in 1994. I was in my 3rd year of university degree when Friends faded to black for the last time. For Generation Xers, the cast of Friends was living life along side them. For Millennials, Ross and Rachel, Chandler and Monica, Joey and Phoebe, were like older siblings, or cool older cousins, the hip kids at the back of the bus. They were the people we wanted be when we grew up. They showed us what young adulthood looked like as we lived our teenage years and first years of adulthood.

Re-watching Friends this time around was a completely different experience. Sure, I knew what was going to happen, but I now know so much better what it is like to fall in love, get married, become a parent, look for work, get an education, straddle that time between adolescence and adulthood. I could see myself in the characters, rather than seeing that older sibling.

But as we made our way through the series, I started noticing something more about Friends, something about community and group dynamics, something about relationships and being part of a group. And, I think there is something to learn from Friends. Something that pastors, church leaders and people in the pews would do well to pay attention to.

What made Friends so special was that it was about deeply flawed people. The characters had deep personal flaws and their lives were greatly affected because of them. Sure plot elements were contrived and needed to fit within the elements of a sit-com, but every episode didn’t resolve neatly and nicely at the end. Relationships were affected in the long term. Life decisions had long term effects on the show. Characters started relationships and broke up, got married and then divorced. They lost jobs and started over. They had issues with addiction, mental health, infertility, sexism, racism, education. They had children and complicated relationships with family. They had all kinds of issues to confront – a lot like people in real life do.

The six characters on Friends are not that different from people in churches – people who come with all manner of complex life issues, people who are deeply flawed, people struggling with relationships, work and family.

And again, like a lot of church people these problems always hovered below the surface. Sometimes conversations about the weather, sports, what to eat for dinner, music, or pop-culture easily slipped into issues rising up and taking over. Old fights were always just one wrong comment from being dredged up again.

And still like church people, the characters of Friends struggled along the way. They didn’t always handle each other and their issues well. They weren’t perfect and couldn’t keep their problems from affecting their relationships and their happiness. Things didn’t always work out (as much as a sit-com could allow for that).

Watching all 10 seasons of Friends again, really hit my millennial sensibilities. All that time spent doing team-work and learning how to relate to others as a kid, all the time that I spend thinking about congregational systems and group behaviour, all of my interest in how we interact as people in relationship was piqued by Friends this time around.

The thing that hit me was how those six Friends stayed committed to each other despite each other’s flaws, despite the problems and issues, despite the conflict and hurts and pains. It is where Friends diverges from recent hits like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or The Big Bang Theory (where characters seem especially close to blinking on commitment). Their flaws didn’t consume them. Their commitment to each other was never in question.

And this is where Friends so often diverges from the Church. At least in my experience, church people won’t commit to the flaws in other people. We commit to the good stuff, the easy stuff. But when the painful stuff rises to the surface we don’t stick around. Well, at least we find it hard to stay present.

I think we could use a little more Church according to Friends. And I struggle as a Millennial – who was brow-beaten in school with how to manage group relationships – when church people (especially Boomers) are quick to abandon that commitment to each other when our flaws start to show, and especially when our flaws affect our relationships.

I imagine I am not the only Millennial who struggles with this.

And at the risk of making broad generalizations, I think there truly is a difference between Boomers and Millennials. I think Boomers were raised by a generation who suffered collective PTSD after World War 2. I think Boomers were taught to keep the flaws under the rug, to send the problems away when they come to the surface and to, above all, pretend like everything is okay. They were taught this because this is how their parents, the G.I. Generation survived The Great Depression and World War 2.

But when our group dynamic and congregational systems are focused around pretending that the problems don’t exist, that our flaws are hidden, that conflict should be avoided at all costs, it is really off-putting for Millennials who were taught to work things out. We were taught to let the problems come to the surface, to be laid out on the table.

I am a High Church Millennial. I am a Lutheran Pastor. There are a million reasons that I stay committed to the Church. And the flaws and failings, the hurts and sufferings of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are the last reasons that I would ever consider walking away from the church.

But if there was something that would push me away, it is how church systems and behaviours are built to avoid dealing with or even acknowledging those flaws and failings. It is really hard for me when otherwise intelligent, caring, compassionate individuals let unhealthy group dynamics and systems of behaviour rule. It is unbearable when we let… no, when we demand, that the status quo stomp on communities – on us.

If Friends can teach the Church anything, it is that we can get past our issues, we can love people despite their deep flaws, and most importantly, we can make the most important group dynamic be a commitment to loving each other.

I think Millennials need a church according to Friends, a church willing to commit to people, flaws and all.


Part 2 of Confessions of a High Church Millennial

Part 1 of Confessions of a High Church Millennial


Did you watch Friends? Have noticed unhealthy group dynamics in churches? Is there something we can learn? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Confessions of a High Church Millennial – Is Liturgy a Fad?

A few days ago a news story came out that McDonald’s is slumping because of upstart restaurants like Chipotle or Freshii or Shake Shack are appealing to the desire of millennials to customize, rather than standardize their food.

The church can probably learn something from this, but if anything the message is millennials are not opting for the things the world expects.

So imagine my surprise this past week when I read two articles about the movement of evangelical millennials leaving their mega-church roots for boring old traditions and liturgy found in Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran varieties.

Actually, this is not new, but has been an underground trend for a while.

Popular writer and blogger, Rachel Held Evans is about to come out with a book on her journey from Evangelicalism to the Anglican/Episcopalian fold. Nadia Bolz-Weber embodies millennial culture and is succeeding at navigating the cultural commute from hipsters to the Eucharist. The Barna Group even recently released data on millennial preferences of church architecture, which suggested that churches that looked like traditional churches were preferred over auditorium style buildings.

Christian millennials seem to live in this multi-layered world of reading the bible on their iPhone and tweeting in church, while singing ancient plainsong and praying prayers spoken by saints of centuries past.

And maybe this makes sense in the context of the hipster trends that have even infected my millennial hair and eyewear. My generation is instagraming photos of our knitting projects and writing our first draft blog posts on typewriters (see blog tagline above).

Yet all of this makes we wonder. Is Liturgy just another version of a millennial hipster fad? Are looms, vinyl record players and vespers things we are going to commit to for a lifetime?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know if Liturgy is going to be the Christian fad of the late 2010s like Power Point was the fad of the early 2000s.

At the same time, I think there is something deeper going on when it comes to millennials and liturgy. Particularly, when it comes to evangelical millennials finding liturgy and jumping in with two feet.

Now as a High Churchly Millennial myself, I should confess that I have not actually been a pastor to more than a handful of folks my age. The vast majority of my parishioners have been boomers or older. In fact, one of the concerns of Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans is how to retain our own “young” people.

So for evangelical millennials to begin wandering into our spaces is surprising, but I have a few theories about this trend. Evangelical churches are doing something with their people that many mainliners have mostly given up on decades ago – evangelicals are creating biblically literate Christians.

I have been teaching confirmation (two years of Lutheran indoctrination for 12 and 13-year-olds) classes for a decade in some form or another. And while I love reading the bible with students and talking about issues of faith, it is clear that we are not introducing our children to the bible beyond once a week classes with the pastor. When I ask kids if they know the basic details of many of biblical stories, including the life and ministry of Jesus they rarely come up with any.

What’s worse is that this biblical illiteracy is not limited to teenagers… it is rampant among mainliners. Evangelicals, on the other hand, have much more established cultures of bible reading. Evangelicals are encouraged to read the bible daily and to engage in group bible study more rigorously than many mainliners.

And this is where the experience of Liturgy comes in.

Liturgy is scripturally rich. The prayers and music texts are full of biblical images… images that come and go fast. A Eucharistic prayer might reference creation, Abraham and Sarah, Eljiah being fed at the river, David and Goliath, Ezekiel and the dry bones and then Jesus all in a few lines. If you can’t move quickly between stories and images, it can begin to sound like jargon and non-sense. I suspect a lot of mainline folks, especially bored teenagers, feel completely lost during a lot of liturgy.

As our need to be connected to and to understand what is happening around us increases through teenage years and into adulthood, biblically rich liturgy can become an experience of alienation. People don’t know what is going on or why the presider is yammering on about all these people with old sounding names. This is when the old trope that “Liturgy is boring” starts to get thrown around. Yet, most teachers know (and pastors should too) that kids who claim school is boring, often do so because they are not comprehending basic concepts and are struggling to keep up with what is going on. Many mainliners are in this boat.

Now imagine instead, you are a biblically literate teenager or young adult. You know your bible. You have done sword drills, and trivia. You have memorized verses and verses of the bible. And yet the worship you attend is 15 praises songs, which may or may not have a few psalm verses as lyrics, 3 extemporaneous prayers, and is concluded by some dude in a graphic t-shirt lecturing for 45 minutes on the ten principles of prayer found in Malachi chapter three.

I can see why, when biblically literate evangelicals end up in a Lutheran or Anglican worship service, they find a whole new playground of biblical worship. All of a sudden the richness of the biblical narratives come alive. Biblical images are used abundantly. Bible stories are quoted frequently. Scripture is read aloud regularly. The biblical knowledge of personal devotion and youth group becomes the new language of prayer and song, of ritual and community. You are thrown into the divine drama and you are with a community who is practicing and acting it out together.

By things we have done, and things we have failed to do” weighs heavy on our hearts as we confess these words in community, and then receive the gift of absolution and forgiveness.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” takes on new meaning when the acolyte processes the big bible down into the midst of the people in order to hear the gospel read.

Peace be with you” is embodied when we say it as we embrace fellow Christians around us.

This is my body, given for you” is felt when a hunk of bread is torn from a loaf and placed in our open hands and we feel flesh the of the one giving us this bread meeting our flesh, somehow bringing together earthly bread and divine body.

Liturgy has the ability to awaken the richness of the core narratives of faith in ways I have never experienced elsewhere. I can’t imagine another means of embodying the bible – embodying the Word of God – so deeply as we do in the liturgy.

Now, I am not saying that mainline millennials are not able to appreciate liturgy. Nor am I saying that evangelical millennials are about to become liturgy loving Catholics, Anglicans or Lutherans.

But rather I am trying to make some connections that point to bigger issues among Christians in North America and the West in general. The fact is many evangelicals seem to be good at keeping early church’s serious commitment to catechesis, yet have dropped many of liturgical commitments. While many mainliners have maintained the liturgical commitment of our forbearers, we have dropped much of the catechetical commitment to introduce our young and our new members to the bible and to the richness of the biblical narrative. The two dynamics play into each other in ways that none of us anticipated.

So back to my first question: Is liturgy just the latest hipster fad among millennial christians? I cannot really say. I wish and hope it isn’t. But I also know that vestments and their fabrics (all the funny robes that priests and pastors wear) excite me in the same way others of my generational cohort might be excited by bee-keeping or printing presses or growing organic gardens or listening to vinyl.

Yet, I would posit that there is something deep and more profound in liturgy, even with all its ancient adornments and traditions. Liturgy is rooted in the rich and beautiful biblical narratives that help us to make sense of the world – or perhaps show us how God is making sense of us.

Even if liturgy and vestments and ancient ritual appeals to my millennial and hipster sensibilities, I know it is a life long interest, a life long calling if you will, to continually encounter God in ways that Christians have been encountering God for centuries.

And that’s no fad.


If you want to read part 1 of Confessions of a High Church Millennial, you can find it here.

Is Liturgy just another hipster fad? Are millennials drawn to liturgy differently than previous generations? Share in the comments, or one the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Confessions of a High Church Millennial

I have a confession to make. It will probably be surprising for many to hear from a millennial:

I am a high-church liturgy nerd.

For many of my 31 years in the church, I have been told that my generation is a group of moths attracted to the glitz and glamour of projections screens showing videos in church, electric guitars and drum kits playing the music we can hear on Christian radio and cool, hip preachers who speak “authentically.” And sure, I have been to my fair share of churches, campfires, and youth services that cater to the “youth.” I have even enjoyed them greatly!

Somewhere along the way, this has led to the assumption by everyone (and no one) that my generation’s desire is only for the new. And this desire is often held up along side our narcissistic tendencies to take selfies, post our dinner plans on twitter, and live in our parent’s basements.

It just so happens that these same lazy narcissistic millennials are currently the concern of so many church members. Churches spend a lot of energy worrying about what interests us and wondering why we don’t come to church (anymore).

I know millennials are not the first generation to be the object of the church’s and society’s attention. When I was a little, churches were trying to be contemporary then too… trying to attract boomers and their young families with 70s folk music. As a child of the 80s, my church had more than a few 30-40 something guys standing behind lecterns with guitars, singing special music that sounded like an Eagle’s song with Christian lyrics.

And then Generation X got its 15 minutes of attention…During my tween and teen years, the Gen-Xers were doing Friday night youth services once a month with songs from artists like Brian Doerksen, Petra, Amy Grant, and Third Day. The Gen-Xers, we were told, would come for this. As a teen watching this unfold, I hadn’t quite processed what it meant for the church to be so concerned with making sure 20 somethings stayed in church. I didn’t understand why Friday night youth services, token 20 somethings on church council and money for expensive sound systems and projectors was going to keep the young adults, just a little older than me, in church.

Yet, despite all the catering to what the young people supposedly want, what I do remember from church of my childhood is liturgy.

image source - http://ultraspike.blogspot.ca
image source – http://ultraspike.blogspot.ca

When we were all together as a community, when we gave up as much as we could trying to cater to what will attract the youth, or appease the seniors, or keep the young families interested, or make the boomers happy, we did simple Lutheran liturgy. 

Now don’t get me wrong, it was low-churchly Lutheran liturgy.  Which is to say our worship felt a bit like eating vegetables; it was good for us, but no one really liked it. Or at least we acted like we didn’t like it.

Our worship was billed as being everything from “Bach to Rock,” but the liturgy was more of a timeless aspect of our worship. As a kid and then teen, I could feel the prayers, the liturgical songs, the actions of standing, sitting, praying, responding, receiving were starting to ingrain themselves in my very body. I remember myself starting to set the hymnbook down more and more. I would simply pray or sing or respond. The phrases like “And also with you” or “Thanks be to God” or “Amen” started to come naturally and unbidden.

Interestingly, our low church Lutheran liturgy, that felt like eating vegetables, connected our whole congregation much more deeply than any of the things that we did to attract different generations. Weirdly, we all liked it. We all shared in it. In fact, we came to the same worship service because of it. Liturgy doesn’t distinguish between generations. It’s kind of like how I don’t play Xbox with my grandma, and she doesn’t knit with me. But we both know how to sit down and share a family meal.

Liturgy ties us together, rather than emphasizing our personal or generational experiences. Liturgy is timeless and when we can get past whether we like the tunes or instruments playing them or not, we can realize that these things we do, and repeat together, are biblical, rooted in the ancient Church and are about God. In fact, liturgy at its best makes us forget it is liturgy and instead helps us see God in out midst.

In a recent blog post, Rachel Held Evans, who is an Evangelical trying out Episcopalian worship, writes:

I am folding laundry, its starched, orderly scent a sort of incense, as the hymn rises to my lips. 

“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory…”

I can’t remember the rest of the words exactly, and the tune meanders a bit, so I improvise, prompting Dan to shout from the other room, “Hon?  You okay? You crying about something?” which happens just about every time I burst into spontaneous song because, apparently, my version of a joyful noise remains indistinguishable from a sob.

Still, I sing on.

“….For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are da da da da la la la la.” 

It is a season of new songs.

(Read the rest here…)

Like me, she is a millennial and a Christian (if you haven’t discovered her blog, you are probably living under a rock). If the two of us were to sit down for coffee, I would tell her that this will only get worse (or better). Way worse.

When you become a liturgy person, all those familiar texts like the Gloria (which is what Rachel was singing) start to come to your mind like the baseball stats that so many dads seem to know – they come automatically. Worship starts to take on a rhythm and pattern that you can’t escape. You will eventually find that worship is something where you always know what is going to happen next, or that your body knows what to do next. The things that change start to rise to the surface and catch your attention. After the familiar Kyrie and Gloria, which are the same week after week, the collect and scripture readings, which change each week, stand out. Liturgy helps you to identify the new and changing things of worship, by keeping you grounded with the constants.

And still, it gets worse. When you are a liturgy person, you can show up for Anglican, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic or Lutheran worship and generally know what is going on. You might even find yourself singing songs you have never sung before because you already know the words.

In my development as a liturgy person, my low-church, eating-our-vegetables, experience of liturgy as a child and teen morphed and grew into something more as I went to university and then to seminary. As I learned more and more about the meaning and history of the symbols, I fell in love with the richness of it all. I became high-church. I became a liturgy nerd.

And I am going to make a bold claim because of this.

Liturgy can engage the young people.

I am not saying that non-liturgical worship is wrong, or won’t “attract” millennials. In fact, I know many of my generational cohort who have abandoned liturgy for praise bands. But like Rachel Held Evans shows, some are coming the other way. Contemporary worship is not something I am looking to critique, but rather I am suggesting that all those criticisms of liturgical worship is simply unfounded.

I am a millennial and I am drawn to tradition, to wrote prayers, to words passed on to me from generations before. The symbols and ritual actions point to God in ways that nothing else has in my experience, not sunsets or Christian radio, not preachers with graphic T-shirts and 45 minute sermons. I don’t think I am alone. I am not saying that every millennial wants what I want. Liturgy is what it is, it doesn’t really sell itself. And I think many of my generation are not interested in being sold faith.

So to my liturgically minded brothers and sisters in faith: Let’s stop worrying about being something we are not. Let’s not try to be contemporary like the Baptists down the street while still somehow still being us. And for heaven’s sake, lets not do liturgy like it is eating vegetables. Let’s see liturgy as the beautiful meal of diversity and rich flavours that it can be.

We will never be the mega-church contemporary worship that we think all the millennials have left for. And the narrative that we need to be that to “attract” the young people only shows them that we have an identity crisis, and that what we are, is not worthy of our youth. I am sure many millennials find that off-putting… I do, and I am a pastor in a denomination with an identity crisis.

Instead, let’s be what we are. Let’s use the tools that we know how to use. Let’s preach the Gospel and point to God at work in our world with the liturgy we have been given.

And remember, as surprising as it may be to hear that one millennial is a high church liturgy nerd… it might be even more surprising that there are a lot more out there.


Are you a liturgy nerd? Do you think liturgy can engage millennials? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

As usual, thanks to my wife, Courtenay for her edits and insight. Follow her at @ReedmanParker on Twitter.

PS

If you like what you read on The Millennial Pastor, you can vote for this blog on Christian Piatt’s list of top 25 Christian Blogs of 2014. You might have to scroll down the list a bit, but as of this post, I am in the top 50.

Want Millennials to come to church? Let them lead it. 

Life has been getting busy,  so to my readers, I appreciate your patience this summer as the posts have been fewer and far between. But now onto the meat and potatoes.

alberta-prairies-616Yesterday, as my wife Courtenay and I drove across country, our conversation turned to leadership issues in the church. (Before having our son, as two pastors we talked about church too much. Now church conversations are a welcome relief from poop conversations.)

We are both Millennials serving in a predominantly boomer and older church. Most of our colleagues are boomers and, definitely, our parishioners are boomers or older. This generational and experiential difference often makes for interesting dynamics.

I have had parishioners who remember riding a horse and buggy to church. I had a cell phone in high school. I have worked with colleagues who spent hours making bulletins on Gestetners. I have spent hours formatting bulletins on a MacBook and printing them on an all-in-one fax/copier/scanner. In each of my three parishes, there have been reams of paper files waiting for me in my new offices. I left memory sticks for my successors.

But it isn’t just technological differences. I have often found myself having tea with little old ladies or doing marriage counselling with people old enough to be my parents. I have been at odds with people who have 1950s expectations of pastors, like putting the church ahead of my family or trolling the countryside looking for people to visit. And I am pastor who has 2010s expectations of parishioners, like that we all know  how to read emails or send texts and we all understand that society is not going to make Christians for us with school prayer, legislated Christian holidays and national endorsement of our religion.

image source -http://sharperiron.org/filings/8-1-13/28027
image source -http://sharperiron.org/filings/8-1-13/28027

Being a young pastor means that I regularly hear this statement from my boomer and older parishioners:

Pastor, we need to get the young people back

My cynical mind adds, “so they can give money and serve on council.”

But in my more empathetic moments, I realize that this statement carries a lot of grief. Most of the boomer, silent generation and G.I. generation folks experienced a church where they were surrounded by their peers from cradle onward. They not only want their kids and grandkids to be at church, but they want them to have friends their own age at church.

I am always surprised that while I am told that we need to get the young people back, I am rarely asked why I stayed as young person. In my experience of church, there have hardly ever been other people my age around. I have never really been a pastor to my peers, only to people more like my parents or grandparents.

I struggle with the idea of getting the young people back. What are we getting them back to?

I am an ordained pastor, trained to work in the church and at times it feels like an alien world, an anachronistic place that doesn’t always have room for me.  And no, it isn’t the ancient liturgy or hymns that feel weird, it is the unspoken expectations of the 1950s that hang in the air.

I don’t think many church people realize that my generation has never prayed the Lord’s Prayer in school, we have always heard happy holidays in stores, christianity has never been the majority religion of our age group, the pastor has never dropped in on us for supper, shopping has always been allowed on Sundays, pastors have never preached on the radio, and church attendance has never been a social obligation for us

mad-men-1024x768When I talk to my friends about church, I can explain the ancient ritual, the dogma and doctrine. But I am at loss most times to explain the grieving of so many church goers who are longing for a world was a little more Mad Men and a little less Breaking Bad. We Millennials love both shows (and we would love to dress like Mad Men), but we live in a Breaking Bad world. The 1960s world of Mad Men exists only in fiction to us, it is not part of our experience as it is for older generations.

I don’t have the solution for bridging the Boomer/Silent Generation church with the Millennial world of my peers, but I do have a suspicion.

It will need to start at the top.

Or rather with leadership.

It won’t work to grieve Millennials back into the church, which seems to be one predominant strategy. Nor will it work to lure us back with advertising and flashy worship or hip programs.

If the church wants Millennials to engage, the church needs to invite Millennials to lead. The reason that 1950s expectations still exist is because the church back then was built by the young G.I. generation. That generation had learned to lead through World War II, and went on to built nations together in the 50s. At my age, my grandfather was a pastor planting churches, serving on leadership committees and stepping to a leadership role in the greater church. His generation was permitted to shape the church as young people. The G.I. generation also held onto leadership for nearly 40 years, in society as well as the church. They held onto the US presidency from JFK to the first George Bush. Boomers were kept out of leadership, and so they were truly the first generation to begin leaving the church.

Now that Boomers have finally entered into leadership positions near the end of their careers, Gen Xers and Millennials have been left on the sidelines when it comes to shaping the world and shaping the church.

So how do we begin opening up leadership to include younger generations? Well, first off I know what involving young people doesn’t look like.

Often church people have a habit of mistaking leadership for being put on display. Leadership is not asking that young pastor to “speak” to the youth, or serve on a larger church youth or campus ministry committee, or preach a sermon at a convention. And leadership is not tokenism. Having a 20 or 30 something on the national governing board of the church is not leadership either.

Leadership is forming and shaping the way we do things. It is presenting a vision for a community. It is articulating our communal identity. Millennials cannot be tokens held up as examples of young people still in the church. Beaming with pride for the nice sermon by the young pastor at a church conference is the same as clapping for the 4 year old dressed like a sheep in the Christmas pageant.

shutterstock_92015645Inviting Millennials to engage will mean church people must be prepared  to be shaped and formed by the young people they so desperately want back. It means allowing the dreams of the younger generation to become reality, instead of being something they have sit on until later in life.

Getting Millennials to come (back) to church will mean allowing the church to belong to us and the 21st Century. The Church cannot continue grieving for the lost 1950s.

So next time I hear someone say to me,

“Pastor, we need the young people to come back to church”

I think I will respond,

“Are you ready to let the young people be in charge?”

We will see how this goes…


 

Is the church ready for Millennials in leadership? Will Millennials step up? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik