Everywhere I turn online there seems to be an article or blog post on why milennials are leaving the church. Of course, the church that is being discussed is the Western Church- Western Christianity. I’ve got to be honest, I get pretty grumpy when I read those articles. I get grumpy when I read (and listen) to people discussing (arguing) worship wars (contemp v. emergent v. traditional v.gregorian chant) or outreach methods, or why a certain discipleship program works better than others. (I’m getting grumpy just writing this!)
In Matthew 11, John the Baptist’s disciples come and speak with Jesus about his identity. As they leave, Jesus began to speak to the crowd that has gathered:
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine lothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yet, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'”
A good adherent of Judaism went to the Temple in Jerusalem for their religious life- to worship God. Yet- here in Matthew 11 the people are going out into the wilderness to see John. The question is why are they going? Certainly some of that may have been curiosity. But there is another clue in Matthew 21 where Jesus enters the temple and overturns tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. Jesus says:
“It is written,” he said to them, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’
Why would Jesus call the temple a ‘den of robbers?’ Someone is being robbed. I think first that God is being robbed of the real worship that God deserves. The ‘den of robbers’ is a quote/reference of Jeremiah 7 where Jeremiah is imploring the people of Israel to reform their ways as they are stealing, murdering, committing adultery and perjury and worshipping false gods. When Jesus calls the temple a den of robbers- it’s an indication that the temple has wandered from its purpose. It has fallen into the complacency of sin rather than the worship of God. So God is being robbed of worship while the people are robbed of the encounter with God.
Back to Matthew 11- the people went out to see John because he was a prophet. They went to see John because John called them to repent of their sin (something that evidently wasn’t happening at the temple). They went to see John because John’s ministry was filled with the power of God.
Why are Millenials leaving the church? Why is the Western Church declining in attendance and influence? Perhaps is because we’ve lost our way as the Western Church? Perhaps we are too quick to offer grace without counting the cost of what it really means to follow Christ and the need to repent from our sin (See Bonhoeffer and Cheap Grace). Perhaps because we’re more concerned about methods, or our pet issues than we are about helping people connect with the power of the cross.
People came to see John because the power of God was evident- and the call to repent and turn from sin was explicit. My prayer is to repent in my leadership when I put methods or issues in front of the call of Christ in my life- and my responsibility to point others to the saving (and costly) grace of Jesus Christ.