One Millennial’s Thank You to the Church

It’s not hard to find articles from millennials explaining why they’ve left the church or providing full disclosure for how the church has failed them and why Jesus is still their homeboy but his Bride, the church, is a different thing altogether. Through the years, research has shown the vast sea of millennials that have lost interest in the church, why they’re creating new and unique paradigms for their faith, and discovering why, for them personally, their faith matters at all. And numbers don’t lie.

As millennials escape the church and head for the far country of self-imagined freedom and experiential religion, research attempts to explain why. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, says the disenchantment of millennials with church is due in large part to the lack of relationships with older generations within the local body. Discipleship, Kinnaman says, is the problem. There is a gap in the investment from older generations into the younger, and it’s causing many to rethink their presence in the pews.


The Reality of Family

For children, home is the place we learn. Home is where we grow and mature and come to our realizations about life and the way the world works. Parents are vital for our upbringing. Parents give guidance and direction. They give love and care and help us understand and process through our own emotions and how to deal with life when it’s upside down, off the beaten path, in a ditch, with wheels spinning.

But for millennials, the home is not as sturdy as it was for previous generations. Lack of commitment, unfaithfulness, and sexual idolatry have proven powerful forces of erosion to the once firm foundation and safe refuge that were our families. In light of this, it makes sense why discipleship is a key contributing factor to the commitment, or lack thereof, of millennials to their local churches. Families break down. Parents disappear. And when that happens, teenagers and young adults take to other joys and loves to fill, many times overflow, the void of the lost parent. Whatever works to dull the pain and move on, all to find answers they can’t find at home.

There’s no shortage of young people in churches who need encouraging influences in their lives.

This is why discipleship within the church is a big deal and that is why many millennials may feel they don’t belong. In their unaided search for life, love, and meaning, they browse around with no direction or conviction.


Being a Joseph

Just a few weeks ago, our pastor preached on the amazing example of Joseph, husband to Mary and father to Jesus, concerning the desperate need for the church to invest in the lives of the fatherless. Gleaning from the insightful words of Russell Moore in his book Adopted for Life, Trevor called the church to be a bunch of Josephs; to find relationships where we can step in and provide care and support and investment. In the book, Dr. Moore explains that Joseph stepped in to protect Mary and the Christ child from the threat of Herod. Joseph stepped in to teach young Jesus the Scripture. Joseph stepped in and taught Jesus the skill of carpentry.

“Joseph is unique in one sense. He is called to provide for and protect the Christ of God. But in other ways Joseph is not unique at all. All of us, as followers of Christ, are called to protect children.”

What I heard from Trevor and from Dr. Moore through further reading in Adopted for Life was and is a call to the church to go to after the fatherless, those in need of role models and mentors and lunch buddies. What I heard was a call for the church to invest in cross-generational relationships, relationships that aren’t the easiest and probably take time. There’s no shortage of young people in our churches who need encouraging influences in their lives, influences that aren’t toxic and life-threatening, but rather are life-giving.

“[God’s] fatherhood is personal, familial. Protecting children means rolling back the curse of fatherlessness, inasmuch as it lies within our power to do so.”


Thank You, Church

Thinking about the investment of Joseph into the life of Jesus and listening to that sermon, emotion welled up inside of me. Why? Because I know with zero doubt that the church has been a Joseph in my life. God has shown much grace to allow me to see countless examples of Joseph over the years, many times when I needed it and other times when I needed it but didn’t know it. The church has stepped up and filled in where there were enormous gaps in my life. I can’t count the number of men that have stepped in to help guide, teach, prune, correct, and instruct me. There have been so many dads of friends, pastors, mentors, co-workers that stood firm to love me, care for me, and make sure I knew Christ. These men walked with me, invested in me, praying for me that I would become a godly man.

Yes, the research is there. I am sure there are a lot of millennials out there that can offer up reasons why they’ve been burned by the church or how the church has left them out to dry.

But I am not one of them.

I am a man, now married, 30 years old, who can look back through 18 years of life without a dad in the home, much of that time him not even in the picture, and list name after name after name after name of men that came alongside me, stood in my corner, fought with me, fought for me, when I felt all alone and when I had made a mountain of mistakes and didn’t have a father to turn to.

I thank Christ for freeing me from sin, graciously granting me life, and breathing hope into me.

And I thank him for using his church to open my eyes to see and experience each of those.


Jonathan C. Edwards (@NotThePuritan)

Jonathan (M.Div, Th.M) is the founder & CEO of Peel, a social media startup directed at redeeming the value of social media in everyday life. He is the author of "Left: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves," available now!

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