On Demon Pigs

christianity, lent, millennials

I’m beginning to gain a reputation as the youth minister who tells her tweens really weird stories.

And I’m okay with that.

This week in our Lenton series we told the story of Jesus taking the disciples to Decapolis and curing men there of demons by casting them into pigs that go flailing off the cliff.

I made all of our 5th-7th graders pinky promise me that we wouldn’t get caught up on the “demons” portion of the story, but that instead we would focus on why Jesus would take the disciples to Decapolis (which is the purpose of this particular series–why does Jesus take us these places?). Decapolis was a place Jews weren’t supposed to go, as evidenced by the pigs there. But why would Jesus take them to that place?

Jesus took them to that place because he wanted to show the disciples that they could leave a potential anywhere. That place was unfamilar, a place unlike any place they’ve ever experienced before. But faith with God takes us to those places that were unfamiliar so that on one hand our hearts can be softened for that environment and learn from it…but also so that we can impact those places in the same way that we’ve been impacted.

As I processed this with my small group, I thought about places in my life that were unfamiliar, places that I was unaware of the possibility of potential. I usually jump to when I began college–I was this poor city kid in an affluent rural school, trying to figure out friends who went “mudding” for fun. I put up a wall between myself and others because I didn’t think that we would understand each other. But I learned a lot about community with people who came from all kinds of different backgrounds as me.

But I think I forgot about this. Or at least, didn’t associate it to what I’m experiencing now: Moving my life to Indianapolis has been extremely difficult. It’s been difficult to find community. I thought that was because I was in an environment where I no one could possibly understand me. There’s a lot of affluency in this culture, and I thought that they wouldn’t get me. I thought they wouldn’t understand my background. Or my humor. Or my pain. Or me.

But in a sense, it’s like when I went to college and explored a new culture. The thing that excited me when I moved to Indianapolis was the possibility of doing faith in a brand new way. But I didn’t realize that I was going to have to do community in a brand new way.

I think the biggest hurdle isn’t finding people who are like me. It’s finding people who want to do messy community with me. I’ve always been in places where people lay their junk out in the open. We weren’t the same, just people who wanted to live openly. People who knew that diversity didn’t hinder community, but was a symptom of it.

I feel like today is almost a turning point for me. I had my “AHA” moment and realized that I can build community anywhere with anyone, as long as they are willing to build it back. I can continue being my messy, open self as long as others can be messy and open. And that’s difficult to find. But that’s what the Church does.

What SBC Life Taught Me

christianity, church, Evangelicalism, millennials

Now that I’m in a mainline church, whenever I talk about growing up in the Southern Baptist Convention (and earning my degree from an SBC school), it’s not rare to get side looks or the occasional “you poor thing…”

As I reflect over the 18 years of life in the SBC, and how that shaped me as a person, I’m quite thankful for growing up in the tradition. Sure, religion is messy in general, and that particular faith tradition carries the stigma of exclusive theology. Yet, it shaped so many beautiful things about myself and how I see the world.

It taught me to value God’s Word

Conservative church tradition holds the Bible as God’s word and puts it above all else. This means that no man is the ultimate authority, but the Bible is. Of course, it takes a lot of faith to believe in a written document as the last authority on earth; yet because of the weight it holds, it’s learned that every answer to life can be found in there. This enriches life, because it brings a sense of simplicity that life never has.

Plus, I can quite scripture like mad-crazy, and Jesus juke any situation.

It taught me to center everything on Christ

Many conservative churches teach the art of self-reflection through altar calls that ask you to examine how you’re living your life.  Every week, you are reevaluating your relationship with God, keeping it centered, and staying focused on the process of sanctification. Done right, this means you become incredibly self-aware and humble. Philippians 2, a beautiful passage on how Christ lived on earth, becomes a ruler for life.

It showed me how to live in an authentic church community

In SBC life, everything revolves around the church. It can be obnoxious at times to be at church so much, but it forces close community with those you’re around. I loved having ten grandmas at church, potluck dinner every Sunday, and being a part of “life group.”  Many times, Millennials with more mainline theology will ride it out in a conservative church, primarily because of the community that is there.

It taught me to follow the rules

I can’t lie: I’m a severe rule-follower.  Many people in my life tell me that I need to loosen up, and I’m getting there!  But you have to understand something: Fundamentalism saved my life.  I don’t mean that to sound melodramatic, for I truly believe that.  The world we live in is very grey, and I learned to put up boundaries.  Because I value God and His Word, I try to follow both as closely as possible.

It demonstrated a missional life of inclusivity

Southern Baptists are the best at sending missionaries in the world, and my SBC university sent out more missions teams than any other college.  With that comes the gift of sharing your faith with anyone and everyone. The best gift that comes with a missional life is the gift of inclusivity towards the poor and disenfranchised. Sure, conservative church culture has much to learn in terms of inclusivity in general, but because missions is often part of its DNA, so is taking in the orphans and widows.  That was me: a child who was thirsty, and they took me in and met my physical needs as well as my social and spiritual ones. 

With all of these, I can pick out the negatives that went along with them.  I learned to be close-minded and think that my way was the way.  Something I’m noticing, however, is the increased humility among many conservative church leaders.  There are some beautiful things about how I grew up, and I seek to bring these things into my Mainline church community.  Why wouldn’t I want my students to learn to put God and the Bible first, to live in genuine community with one another, to follow God’s commandments to love Him, and therefore, love one another with a missional and inclusive life? 

So now, when I tell people my background, I don’t have to duck my head and hide from it: Where I came from had beauty. And I can bring that beauty everywhere.

Committing.

millennials

Hi, my name is Heather, and I’m a failure at commitment.

No, this post is not about my love life. Although it historically applies.

At 24 years old, I guess you can’t ask a whole lot of me. Most people my age still haven’t had their first full-time job; in fact, they are finishing up their 4-year degrees after 6 years. Ha.

I haven’t had the same job for more than 18 months…which is sad. When things got tough, I moved to the next thing. This is true in friendships, relationships with guys, and even family relationships.

I had to do this for a while–learn how to make healthy cuts in life. I’m so afraid of falling into a pattern of addiction (like 95% of my family) that I refuse to be tied to something.  Two months ago, I quit coffee cold-turkey to prove that I wasn’t addicted–the thought of even caffeine addiction repulses me.

But a year ago, I decided to make some changes.

So, I tried to date (fail. fail. fail). I figured I should probably try commitment in some different ways before I made that one.

I moved to Indianapolis, a huge commitment–moving to a city where I knew nobody. You can’t just run away from that.

I took a full-time ministry position, deciding to commit for the first time to just one job, with no “side jobs.”

I even quit a youth ministry website that I loved, knowing that I had to put all my time in one place and quit running around trying to balance 2973 things on my plate at once.

I then stopped sub-leasing and leasing with roommates and got my own place.  I’m not the type of person that would break a contracted lease–ain’t nobody got money for that.

I got a cat. Okay, don’t laugh at me, but this is huge–I’m the type of person that is so independent, dependence annoys me. So, part of being a woman that commits means committing to having a creature depend on me. Huge deal.

I guess you could say that in 8 short months, I’ve made a lot of big commitments. I’m sure that some people read this and go “big whoop, you’re growing up.” As one of my co-workers used to tell our teenagers, every day is about “growing up a little bit more.” I recognize that this is true at 14, 24, 54, and beyond.

So I write this to encourage you–are you truly committed?  Or are you “subleasing” life?

Why Being a Christian Young Adult is Lonely

church, millennials, updates

I think I’ve hit the loneliest point of my life. I don’t mean this in a “woe is me, take pity on me” kind of way…I just mean that bring a young a adult and trying to live your life for Jesus is hard.

First of all, this is the first time in our lives that we we aren’t surrounded by people our own age. We’re no longer in an academic setting of peers, but in a job of intergenerational people. That means that we have to figure out new ways to make friends. That’s weird.

Add in singleness for those of us who didn’t get our MRS or MR degrees, and now we’re doing this alone.

Add in the whole “Bible College” factor, and you’ve got a bigger dilemma: culture shock. What’s funny is, I didn’t think that would happen to me.  I grew up in an urban environment and didn’t think that would apply to me. But alas, I came to the real world and was shocked at how much I didn’t relate to it.

Let’s add moving to a new city or state for our first “big girl” job. Not only am I alone, not only do I not know how to make friends, not only have I lived in a bubble, but now I don’t know anybody. And I can’t find a Target.

So let’s throw in Church. Churches ignore young adults. I have some speculation as to why. Perhaps because they can’t tithe to make an impact, they aren’t given programming. The Church sees no return from it (monetarily at least. We forget spiritual returns in the Church a lot). And since many of us don’t have children, people aren’t forced to give us programming… but this is just speculation. ;)

And how about those of us who take it a step further and work in the Church? That can be a lonely job in itself. Add in all those other factors, and you have a mess.

Let’s not even talk about moving to a new denomination, or how we’re all wrestling with our faith to begin with, or the mass amounts of media advertisement tempting and swaying us to abandon our moral compass.

All I’m saying is, this is a huge struggle.

And I’m not alone. As I confide in peers, I know that we all are experiencing this to a degree.

And Church, we need you. We need community and if you don’t give it to us, we’ll make it for ourselves.

World Vision through the Millennial Vision

millennials

As RHE put it,

This whole situation has left me feeling frustrated, heartbroken, and lost. I don’t think I’ve ever been more angry at the Church, particularly the evangelical culture in which I was raised and with which I for so long identified. I confess I had not realized the true extent of the disdain evangelicals have for our LGBT people, nor had I expected World Vision to yield to that disdain by reversing its decision under pressure. Honestly, it feels like a betrayal from every side.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/world-vision-why-hiring-gay-christians-same-sex-marriage.html

When Christians made all tons of hoopla, there by RHE that shows a response to Evangelical responses: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/world-vision

That’s not why I’m upset, though. This is: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/world-vision-reverses-decision-gay-same-sex-marriage.html

Put a fork in me, I’m done.

This is why this matters:
When Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and Duck Dynasty, and even World Vision made stances, I supported them. I thought, “Here is a company making a decision from their moral and spiritual compass.” We don’t see this happen much, especially from a religious standpoint. I love our freedom to exercise our faith freely, and I thought that although at times those companies said things a little ignorantly, they had what they believed together. This is important to me.

With World Vision, they didn’t do it from a deep conviction. Nope, they overturned it the same day the Evangelical world got crazy about it. They buckled under pressure and instead of standing their ground, or leaving it up to local churches to decide, they end up making a policy and statement that wasn’t there to begin with.

This isn’t about whether you agree with homosexuality or gay marriage or not. Regardless of what our culture of false dichotomies teaches us, you can be a both/and on this.

This is about treating people fairly. Standing your ground. Not making decisions hastily.

As a girl who LOVES World Vision, this is outright frustrating. I could have continued to host events and sponsor other projects if they were one or the other, honestly. But this shows a character trait I despise: Flakiness. Inconsistency. Lack of corporate judgement and discernment.

And I’m not the only Millennial who is hurt by this. We are watching and either being extremely hurt by the inconsistency, or learning that we can be a culture of hypocrisy and inconsistency. The God I serve is a god of neither.

And maybe they heard the criticism and genuinely changed their mind? Is that not okay? Of course it is. But before you publicize a decision that may be controversial (and every side of this debate is), don’t you consult your inner circle first? This way has done FAR more damage. It seems almost like a hoax.

And of course, as RHE points out, I don’t think people should drop their sponsorships. Those children shouldn’t have a change of support just because WV is acting looney right now.

I also suspect that, with how hard everyone is coming down on them, that they are feeling as guilty and dirty as I feel FOR them. And that’s humbling-we’ve all done jank like this.

Blech. I need to go think. And I encourage you to as well. I’m hurting, yet reminded of a God who was still able to use ME even when I had lapses of judgement.

Call Me a Boom Baptist.

christianity, millennials, theology, unchurched

Evangelicalism is getting radical.

In my last post on what Millennials want, I hit on this, but not completely: Evangelical Christians are not fitting into a mold anymore.  Millennials are desiring to live a faith that is not dichotomized into liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican, evangelical/mainline categories. Millennials just want to live like Jesus, and that’s not in some pretty boxed-up category.

I’ve been taught my whole life that being anything but Southern Baptist was just not “the way.”

Then I went to a SBC college, took theology and doctrine classes, and learned that it was possible that I would spend eternity with other denominations, as long as they were evangelical or didn’t baptize babies.

Then I graduated college and spent some time in an Evangelical Presbyterian church, a church that taught me that baptizing babies wouldn’t send you to hell.

And now I work in a Mainline church, so I hope that isn’t true.

I share my background to let you know that I have grown a lot. I’m constantly being shaped.

So are a lot of Evangelicals that I HIGHLY respect.  The best example is Lecrae, a Christian Hip-Hop artist whose initial songs were so explicitly Jesus, that they were cheesy. His next round of albums, although amazing, had such deep theology in its lyrics that you had to be a pretty mature Christian to even really understand what was going on.  Now, his music has turned up (Turnt up?) in production quality, but isn’t so explicitly Jesus anymore.  Some conservative Christians think he’s turning back on his faith. But as Lecrae points out countless times, especially in this Huffington Post article, he’s trying a new approach to reaching people for Christ: loving on them. Walking with them. And stopping the shoving of Jesus down their throats. I could lie and say that nothing about Lecrae has really changed, but au contraire: Lecrae is trying to imitate Jesus instead of just preaching him.

I feel like I relate to that so incredibly much, and I often struggle with how I’m perceived because of it. Andy Mineo, another Christian Hip-Hop artist, says in the song at the end of this post, “I talk about Jesus, all the Christians love me. I walk like Jesus, now they wanna judge me; ain’t it funny?”  I’m in a stage of life where I’m questioning and incredibly empathetic towards others, and it’s the most beautiful and the most frustrating thing about me. But I finally feel like I’m beginning to understand the state of humanity as well as individuals.

Another Evangelical that I wasn’t expecting, but who blew my mind (and impressed me) was Bart Milliard of MercyMe. I’ve probably been to more MercyMe concerts than any other artist. I connected with their music as a young Evangelical, and they helped shape some of my faith as a teenager.  It would be safe to assume, since our culture is assuming this about all Evangelicals, that the members are probably close-minded and uber-conservative. Like Lecrae, their music was very “Jesus Jesus Jesus” all the time; and that’s not bad! But I think Evangelicals are beginning to realize that they were only reaching other Evangelicals.

And I read this article by Bart that made me weep like a baby.

And again, as Andy Mineo put it, “I’m on a different tactic, call me a Boom Baptist.”

I am unashamedly rooted in an Evangelical foundation. Now I’m going to take the “Evangelize” out of “Evangelical” and put it to work–by walking with the lost where they’re at. Loving on them. Finding and giving them hope (as my church puts it).

I’m on a new path.

What Millennials Want

america, christianity, church, millennials, unchurched

I hear so much talk about “how to reach Millennials” in the Church. In case you need a refresher or a definition on what a MIllennial is, it is the group of people born from early 1980s to early 2000s. Seeing as I was born in 1990, I am smack dab in the middle, so you could say with all confidence that I embody a Millennial.

Here’s the thing: I hear all this talk about how to reach my age group, a group of people who have fallen in the cracks and who the church have lost.  I see committees get together on how to reach me, I hear people talk about how to savvy up their technology to reach me, how to hire people in positions specifically to reach me, and how to make these fun parties or events to reach me.  But guess the average age on these groups of people making decisions for me? Mid-40s-early 50s.

No one is asking me what want for my generation.

Some people argue that it’s because Millennials don’t know what they want. Oh, the contrary. Millennials are the most educated generation yet, and even our criticized love of entitlement says something bold: We have a dream, a specific dream, and we won’t stop until we get it. We will kick, scream, and even leave the Church if we don’t get what we want.

And let me stop to say a disclaimer and something that may shock you: If I wasn’t in youth ministry, I would probably not be in the Church, too. My vocation has committed me to the Church, and it is difficult most days.  It is difficult serving in an environment where everyone is old enough to be my parents and, in most cases, my grandparents. I find it embarrassing when a new young person comes and the only person that can connect to them is me.  Because I have a huge desire for my lost generation, I do it and I don’t complain, because I am passionate about it and love it.  Yet, it gives a huge message from the Church to that person coming in: We have nothing for you except for this one person. Now, multiply and build us a young adult ministry.

Doesn’t work like that. Church, if you want to grow younger, which you need to if you don’t want to die, then you need to get involved. Here is proof that Christianity is dying, and it is up to you:

So here are a few things us Millennials want:

We are tired of the gimmicks.

Most churches think that to reach a younger generation, they have to change themselves to look younger. So, they spend a lot of money updating their sound system, their building space, and their music to reach young people.

But, let’s be honest: If I wanted those things, I could get that just about anywhere. But I’m not anywhere. I’m lost in the cracks.

If you want to reach me, then you need to be real with me. You need to show me what it is like to authentically walk in faith. Quit deceiving me with gimmicks. I view hundreds of advertisements a day that are selling me something, I don’t need to be “sold Church” with those same gimmicks. Give me something real. Give me something authentic. And don’t try to “sell me authenticity” too, just prove it.

We want to get back to the fundamentals.

You may not have noticed this, but there is actually a resurgence within Christianity among young people that is calling for a more conservative Christianity in terms of theology.  We are reevaluating classic debates in early Christendom and getting a little more classical and traditional.   Even reformed theology is even getting trendy, something that I grew up thinking was “evil” but somehow find myself in camp with.

Not only is our theology getting more fundamental, but so are our ethics and traditions. There is the call for men to get back to becoming men, and start leading again. I have friends who grew up in congregationalist churches running to liturgical churches, because the tradition is beautiful to them. Even I, who grew up very congregationalist, am finding comfort in a church that is famous for its traditionalism.  There is something refreshing here, probably because it’s authentic and it’s not being pushed on me, but I chose it for myself (back to that first point!).

We want you to care about what we care about.

Millennials are passionate about social justice, and that is rooted not only in our culture but in our spiritual and religious beliefs. We believe in a radical Jesus who helped the hurting and gave a political message of love for everyone. This translates into everything that we do: This is why we’re all over “green initiatives,” human trafficking, racial equality, healthy  and ethical eating, and even gay marriage. We believe in equality, regardless of background of a person. And we believe that comes from Jesus. And since we believe that came from Jesus, we need you to see that, too.

We want the destruction of dichotomies.

You may have noticed that some of this contradicts itself: How are Millennials getting more conservative theologically, yet at the same time fighting for gay marriage? Ha, great question!

That’s because we are sick and tired of being put into a box.

We see you guys fighting in the White House, and think there is a third option to being a Republican or a Democrat. I don’t need to be labeled as Evangelical or Mainline. I am not Conservative or Liberal. I can vote for gay marriage and think it’s incompatible with my religious beliefs, because I can believe that there is a separation between church and state.

You cannot put Millennials in a box.

And the beautiful part of this article? This is the way one Millennial feels. Although I feel like this article sums Millennial Christians up, there will still be some variance, and that’s what makes Millennials: Millennials. We are unique and have unique voices.

And church, that’s why you need to pay better attention: Because we are ever-changing, ever-growing. And, the next generation is up to bat, which means it’s our turn to shape them.  And how can we do that if the generation above us hasn’t shaped us?

We want YOU.

We cannot do this alone. As a generation that values learning and knowledge, we need to get this from somewhere.

We need you. Sometimes we scare you, and perhaps rightly so; but quit running away from your responsibility to train us and equip us with wisdom.  We are an abandoned generation by the Church, and we need to get back on track. However, we cannot do it without you.

As a disclaimer: When I say “Church” I mean the Church as a whole, and not one specific church. I appreciate some of the efforts the church I am blessed to serve in is doing, and I look forward to being a part of the visioning of how to reach younger people.