Millennials, You Don’t Get to Determine What God’s Church Looks Like

NOTE: The following doesn’t apply to home-schooled Millennials, some private-schooled Millennials, and Millennials who had parents with the wherewithal to teach their children that life isn’t all about them.

I’ve read the article 10 Things You Won’t Find in a Church That Attracts Millennials several times now and find it wanting in any real substance. Yes, it has a few good points, like the need for older men to mentor younger men. But this isn’t a problem that is exclusive to millennials. This boomer had a real hard time finding a mentor when I first came to Christ, yet that didn’t turn me off of the church.

I think the article’s biggest problem is the underlying premise that if the church doesn’t change to fit the “exclusive needs (wants)” of Millennials then the church is going to dry up and blow away. And it won’t be the Millennials fault. After all, through this article, and others, they make their demands clear as that stamp their feet and remain cocooned in their safe spaces. However, what they think they need is the last thing they need. Millennials don’t need a church that understands their perceived specific and unique needs. They need a church that addresses their real and eternal needs. They need a church that will clearly declare to them that their greatest need is for a Savior to deal with all their “special” and “unique” sins. Changing how things are done, or the environment of the church will not bring that about. Only the declaration of the gospel will bring that about.

DISCLAIMER: Lest anyone make the claim that I’m marginalizing Millennials and painting with a wide brush, I am. But that is because the original article marginalizes Millennials by painting with its very own wide brush in trying to make the next generation a protected class in the ever-so prevalent temptation of dividing everyone into a subculture. Christ seeks to unite us in His body. It is only the world that seeks to divide us into subgroups with our very own “special needs” that can only be met by a special pastor who can relate to those special needs.

In view of that, here are the 10 things the author thinks the church needs to avoid in order to attract Millennials. (Again, based on another false premise: the notion that what the church does is what draws people to Christ. In reality, it is only through the church preaching God’s word faithfully that HE then draws them to Himself. Otherwise, if the church does a lot of “things” to draw people to it, you will have to up the ante every few years to keep ’em coming back for more trinkets. Hence, the mega-church.)

1. There is a strong resistance to change.

…Millennials are tired of hearing the phrase “this is how we have always done it.” That answer is no longer acceptable. Millennials want to change the world. Many times traditions hold them back from this. Change is necessary to remain focused on the vision and being externally focused, among many other things. The next generation understands this.

This is really nothing new. I remember the same thing being said back in the 1990s about reaching Gen-Xers. For those Millennials who don’t know what a Gen-Xer is, think of your parents. I do agree that a church that does something because they have always done it that way, is in a sad situation since they know neither what they believe or why they believe it. This is a problem for pastors everywhere.

The real question that needs to be asked: why are some churches resistant to change? If a church is refusing to change, it may be that it has very good and sound reasons for not doing so. I know that this isn’t always true, but there are some churches that remain very simple for biblically sound reasons. The church I attend, and most of the ones where I preach, would look to many like the churches of the 1950s. The worship is very simple: biblically-based preaching and teaching of God’s word, prayer, and the observance of the sacraments of communion and baptism. These churches do not want praise bands.

We don’t want to “rock it for Jesus!” As if that were some noble command from God. We don’t want special praise teams, special musicians, or special anything. We want the ordinary means of grace that God has provided. We know on the Day of Pentecost that Peter wasn’t concerned about the smoke machine working or not working. He preached the word of God (from the Old Testament even). And the LORD brought the blessing. There were no praise teams, no small groups, no special Bible studies for Jews who had their own special sub-group. The gospel went out to all the ill-perceived subgroups and thousands came to know Him. Yes, that day was unique and special in the history of the church. Our responsibility is to be faithful in proclaiming God’s word. It is God’s prerogative to save or not save.

By the way, the author also writes: Millennials want to change the world. This may be true. However, how can Millennials change the world when they cannot even change themselves? They are dead in their trespasses and sins. It takes a miracle for them to be changed. Without this miracle, all they will be able to do is make a name for themselves in the world like Nimrod did after the flood. They can be mighty and wonderful in the eyes of the world, but remain eternally damned in the eyes of God.

2. A compelling vision is lacking or non-existent.

If creating an environment totally void of the next generation is your goal, especially those with any initiative and talent, refuse to cast vision in your church. That will drive Millennials away faster than the time I saw a rattlesnake in the woods and screamed like a girl. Don’t judge me. I hate snakes…and cats.

It baffles me when a church doesn’t value vision and planning. In no other arena of life do we refuse to vision and plan, but for some reason the church is different.

“If your vision doesn’t compel, move or stir people, your vision is too small.” ~Craig Groeschel

Here is another false premise: that that church needs their pastors to be coming up with a vision in order to stir people. True believers are not stirred up by vision statements. They are stirred up by the true preaching of God’s word. You cannot boil the preaching of God’s word down to some catchy phrase, and if you do, you are doing the Word a disservice. Read more about vision statements here.

Secondly, if we are being faithful to the means of grace that God has given us in performing our function, why do we need to plan or to value vision? God has given us His vision. Meet every LORD’s day, worship Him in spirit and truth (meaning under the faithful preaching of God’s word), pray, and observe the sacraments He has given us. There you go! If that doesn’t excite you, then there is something wrong with you spiritually and you will be exceedingly abundantly bored in heaven.

Third, I  have known pastors who supposedly have visions and cast visions. They are not shepherds. They are used-car salesmen. They are those trying to turn the spiritual body of Christ into a business. The church is not a business, it’s a body. We need men who are shepherds for Christ, not CEOs.

3. Mediocrity is the expectation.

Quite simply…the next generation is not content with mediocrity. They believe they can (and will) change the world. Good or bad, they have a strong desire for the extraordinary. Failure is not going to drive the train. This also seems like a foreign concept to many in previous generations, but Millennials aren’t scared to fail. And they believe churches should operate with a similar mindset.

If this is true, then do they really want the Jesus of Scripture? He doesn’t promise us the “extraordinary” in this life. He doesn’t promise us that He will make us agents of change in the world. He doesn’t promise us our best life now. Therefore, can the true gospel really reach a generation that has been misled into thinking they are special simply because they exist? Only by God’s grace. And given the tenor and tone of the article in question, they are only interested in God’s grace because they expect it to be given to them.

In reality, what will have to happen for them to be saved is for the Spirit to move in them and for them to realize that God is sovereign, their generation is not. Anyone attempting to come to God with that attitude is on fool’s errand. God doesn’t bow to our needs, we bow to Him.

We also have to define mediocrity. What is mediocrity? Some would say that the churches where I preach are mediocre because sometimes the singing isn’t the best. Sometimes the preaching isn’t the best. Sometimes we don’t get the order of worship just right. But then again, it is a worship service to the LORD, not an entertainment production. Sadly, this is the mindset of so many when they start thinking of worship as mediocre. They want flashy lights and scenes that change while every head is bowed. They want precision. They want their experience to be perfect.

God calls us to worship Him. Not feed our fleshly demands for entertainment. When we are faithful in the means of grace, He will be faithful and feed our souls through those means of worship He has placed in our lives. It is a matter of trusting Him for the growth and the spiritual food. It is not the “perfectly-executed, perfectly-lit, perfectly-timed smoke machine” that feeds us.

This is another reason we must never head the advice in such articles and try to conform our churches to meet our carnal desires. It is not our church, it belongs to Christ. We are to conform to His image, not to the demanding image of our culture.

4. There is a paternalistic approach to leading Millennials.

If you want to push the next generation from your church, refuse to release them to lead.

Absolutely not! God has given the church elders for a reason. To put the infant in charge of the nursery is idiocy. We are to elect men as elders who are not recent converts, who have displayed humility, spiritual maturity, are above reproach, sober minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive…

These qualifications alone eliminate Millennials from leadership. I’m not saying that they cannot serve. But they are clearly not able to lead with their demands and feelings of self-importance.

5. There is a pervasive insider-focused mentality.

What is important to Millennials? How a church responds to the lost in the world, both locally and globally. How a church responds to the poor, homeless, needy, and widowed. If you want to ensure your church has very few Millennials, answer the questions nobody is asking, spend most of your resources on your building, and have programs that do little to impact anybody outside the church walls.

 A better question to ask: what are Millennials responding to the lost in the world with? Again, what we are seeing is a bunch of self-absorbed, self-important, self-seeking children making their demands on those whom God has ordained as their elders. It really doesn’t sound like they have tasted the true grace of the gospel. It really doesn’t sound like they know what coming to Christ truly means. It really doesn’t sound like they have a grip on how the kingdom of God actually operates.

The true church always has her missionaries, her evangelists, and those who reach the lost for Christ’s purposes. It is never through the big production, the big program, the big splash in culture. It is through His word alone that this is accomplished. It sounds like what so many of these Millennials want are social programs that are mere extensions of government programs. We certainly don’t need that.

6.  Transparency and authenticity are not high values.

Despite what I often hear, most Millennials value transparency and authenticity. If your church portrays a “holier than thou” mentality and most of the sermons leave everyone feeling like terrible people, your church will be largely devoid of the next generation.

In my 26 years as a believer, I’m not sure I have ever been a part of a church with a “holier than thou” mentality. But the nature of the statement is again assumes a false premise. The premise is that the church, the people called by God’s name, the people actually called by God, the people commanded to be Holy because He is holy, the church that is a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession is not supposed to be holy. By His election and calling the very nature of the church is to be holy, to be HIS PEOPLE. We are to be different. We are to live according to His rules. We are to conform to His image. If that causes you to proclaim we are “holier than thou” take it up with the One who has called us to be holy. In fact, better yet, repent of your sinfulness and come join us at the foot of the cross.

I added that last sentence because Millennials need to know the real truth about being in Christ. While we know that all I just wrote about being a holy people to be true, the last thing that a true believer feels is holy. We are constantly reminded of our sin and need for repentance. It is an ongoing reality for the true Christian. This is why the gospel is so necessary. We need the gospel just as much today as we did the very first day we trusted in Christ.

So if you are in a church where there is a perceived “holier-than-thou” attitude, then you might ask whether or not you are in a true church at all? And yes, there are churches that are not true churches because there are churches where God’s word is not being preached. That is the quickest way to determine if the attitude in question is present because in a true church, the pastor is talking about “our need” for repentance. A false church, one that is based on morality, is always focused on “everyone else’s need” for repentance.

7.  Mentoring is not important.

 I addressed this one above.

8. Culture is viewed as the enemy.

Millennials are tired of the church viewing the culture as the enemy. Separationist churches that create “safe places” for their members, moving away from all the evil in the city, are unlikely to attract the next generation. The next generation is trying to find ways to engage the culture for the glory of God.

Three problems with this one. First, the church, by its very nature, is made up of those “called out” of the culture. I’m not saying we are to be monastic in our approach. That doesn’t solve the problem. But the church is to be different, and separate, and holy to God from the world.

Secondly, the concept of “engaging the culture” is Millennial-speak. You are a part of the culture already. More importantly, Christians are not called to “engage the culture.” We are called to make disciples, not to change the culture, the world, or the spirit of the age. We cannot. We have not been given the ability to do so, and neither have Millennials. The One who is able is God alone.

Third, this entire article is about making the church a “safe space” for Millennials. The writer already mentioned above about not wanting the church to preaching “holier-than-thou” sermons, which means that the sermons preached need to be void of the LAW of God. It seems Millennials are afraid to be confronted with their own sin, and the church needs to change the message so that Millennials feel safe. This is the most unloving thing the church could do because to remove the LAW from preaching, is to remove the GOSPEL from preaching.

9. Community is not valued.

This might be the greatest value of Millennials. Community is a non-negotiable part of their lives. And they aren’t looking for another group of people to watch the Cowboys play football on Sunday…the next generation desires a Christ-centered community. They value a community that moves beyond the surface and asks the hard questions.

I have a few questions for the Millennials: are you willing to accept the community that IS the church? It doesn’t sound like you are. Are you willing to accept the community that is made up of people much older than you? You make a big deal about uniting across racial lines, but you act as though you despise being united across generational lines. Are you willing to sit among men who are 50 years older than you, who have a lifetime of experience to share with you if you will just venture out of your safe space long enough to listen? You mistakenly think you know everything because you know how to operate Snapchat while there in men in the church that don’t even have a smartphone.

10. The church is a source of division and not unity.

Nothing frustrates Millennials more than a church that doesn’t value unity. Jesus’s final recorded prayer on earth in John 17 has been preached  for years. What many churches miss is one of the central themes in that prayer…unity.

The author has fallen into the error of taking Christ’s words out of context. Just before Jesus asks the Father that we be unified, He says: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

The plea for unity, as the writer is putting forth, is always at the expense of the truth. Unity, without the truth, is not unity at all. As John MacArthur points out in the meme below, “The world needs to see the manifestation of the unity, but it is not a unity that has no regard for truth. It is a unity built around the truth. It is not a unity that has no regard for sin. It is a unity built around holiness.”

We actually know, as the Apostle Paul declares, that the truth has a purifying effect on the body of Christ. The more the truth is proclaimed, the purer the body will be. The less it is proclaimed, the more progressive, hip, and like the world the church will be.

For…when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (1 Corinthians 11:18-19).

The truth is, truth divides. If the church faithfully preaches God’s word, then there will be division among you and the world. If you are truly converted, you will be changed and no longer ontologically aligned with even those in your family, unless they too are born again. The word of God demands our obedience because it is Christ’s word. He says that if we are to love Him, we must obey His commandments. That means His moral law as well. You cannot follow Christ faithfully and compromise the truth with the world.

Guess what? If you truly come to know Christ, that means you will need to see the culture as it really is: sinful and to be despised. For example, our culture demands that we accept gay marriage. However, our God demands that we remain true on what He has declared marriage to be: between a man and a woman. Jesus said you cannot serve two masters. So you cannot come to know Christ and continue to serve the culture, the world, and its understanding of things. By nature, if you come to know Christ, you have been changed. You are a new creation. You will begin to see the sin in others as it is, sin. And more importantly, you will see the sin in your own life as well, and see your need for daily repentance. No longer will you exalt yourself, because you will finally see yourself as you are: a sinner in need of God’s grace.

You will also begin to get a glimpse of God’s sovereignty and realize that only He can change the world, because only God is sovereign over all things. You will realize that your entire generation’s call to change the world is nothing more than the lie of Satan to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: that we could be like God.

We cannot be like Him at all, unless He changes us to be so. That takes faith in Christ and will not come about by all our self-exaltation and declarations.

One final note on unity: the author of the article tells us in his tag line that he is a “devoted follower of Christ.” Even this is divisive. It has become trendy among progressives to say that they are not “Christians” but Christ-followers. Really? Will they not humble themselves enough to identify with their brothers and sisters who have gone on before them, taking the very name given us in Scripture (Acts 11:26)?

I think not. That would require some level of humility, the last thing we will ever find in this self-aggrandizing Millennial generation.

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4 thoughts on “Millennials, You Don’t Get to Determine What God’s Church Looks Like

  1. WOW. Strong words here. But they are needed, for sure.

    Whenever I see a Millennials-leaning church, with a name like ‘Planetshakers’, etc., I scratch my head (after thinking ‘what a ridiculous name’), and wonder how many in that church are true believers, or are there because of the trendy ‘preaching’, the loud praise band, or the freaky lighting.

    Frankly, I’d get a headache from all the NOISE, if I attended a church like this.

    Excellent word, Timothy. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Patricia, yes, I think it was the arrogance of the post the wouldn’t let me let it go. I tried just to drop it, but when you read how ghastly arrogant those with this mindset are, it becomes obvious that humility is completely missing from anything they do.

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