Why Membership Is Part of the Young Adult Exodus Discussion

church-yaI started reading about young adults leaving churches when I was working at Randall House in 2009. Then it was more about stats and ideas. Now that I’m a pastor, it’s hitting home. This is about real people.

I’ve had several conversations with young people who have grown up in church and who are now either abandoning orthodox Christianity or are considering leaving. They’re wondering whether or not God exists, whether there is validity in other religions, and whether or not they can trust the Bible. Others don’t express their doubts as honestly as their peers, but show where their heart is by their apathy toward Christ and His church.

Lynsey and I were talking when we both wondered aloud: “Why is this happening? What’s so different about their upbringing than ours?”

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I don’t know if we ever will. Perhaps seeking those answers is futile in some ways. The milk has been spilled, so to speak. This does not mean I am giving up on these young people. I pray for them regularly. I express to them that they are welcome to ask hard questions of me, our church, and of God.

At the same time, I acknowledge one thing (of many) churches must do if they want to seriously deal with this issue of young people leaving Christianity:

Make membership matter.

Who’s showing true evidence of conversion in their life by devotion to Christ in repenting of sin? Those people should be members. Those whose lives profess something other than Christ should not be members of local churches. The next generation depends on it in part.

This doesn’t mean Christians are perfect or that if you’re a sinner you’re not accepted at our church. In fact, if you deny you’re a sinner, you’re not going to fit in very well (in fact, you’ll never be a Christian until you do). But those of us who have trusted in Christ to save us are repenting sinners–people who acknowledge their sinfulness but by God’s grace and power, seek to turn from their sin to obey their Savior. This is a Christian, and this is a church member. Those who deny their need to repent by their consistent refusal to do so show they want no part of Christ, and should not be affirmed to be in Christ by being received as members in a church. It will help those who are searching to know who is really in and who is really out.

If no one knows who’s in or out, how is a young adult supposed to know what a real Christian is supposed to look like? Perhaps it is foolish to assume that college students who grew up in church will follow Christ when many of the church members they’ve observed throughout their lives haven’t been.

One of the main reasons I’m a Christian today is because I saw how real my parents’ faith was. I always knew they weren’t perfect people, but I knew they were repenting people. I saw the tears on their faces when I walked in the living room to see them reading their Bibles. I was humbled when they would apologize to me and my siblings for letting their anger get the best of them.

Not every child or student who walks through the doors of a church will have parents like mine. We can’t equip parents who don’t want to disciple their children. And not every student who has parents like mine become true disciples. There is not one determining factor we can point to that decides whether or not someone follows Christ. But there’s one factor we can control better than we have: we can make sure the members they do see at church are true disciples.

Then at least they’ll have a better idea what a Christian really is.

A Purpose Statement for Corporate Singing

Credit to musiccamp.info.

Credit to musiccamp.info.

Here’s our purpose statement for corporate singing at Central Church in Royal Oak:

To glorify God by equipping the congregation to encourage and teach one another through rich, Christ-centered songs.

There are few things we mean when we say that. Here are some of them.

“. . . equipping the congregation to . . .”

This influences what we sing. If the congregation is not skilled enough to sing the song, then we don’t sing it no matter how rich or Christ-centered it is. Some songs are great songs, but they are not congregational songs. I’ve heard someone make the argument, “Well, have you ever been to a U2 concert? Those melodies are not easy, and everyone sings them.” Yes, I’m sure that’s true. But how many 80-year-olds do you know that could sing them? The last time I looked at my congregation, I saw young and older people.

It influences how we sing. A few weeks ago I was playing drums and noticed that when we did a key change on a particular song that we lost about half the congregation. We won’t do that keychange again. Why? Because it wasn’t clear enough for the congregation to follow. Another example is how loud I play the drums. I sometimes get too excited and play too loud. It can be distracting from people singing. That’s a no-no, and yours truly needs to tone it down to encourage people to sing.

“. . . encourage and teach one another . . .”

“I love worship services because I know it’s just me and God alone in such an intimate environment.” It’s certainly good to glorify God in singing. In addition to that, we see one of the main purposes in singing according to Colossians 3 to emphasize the corporacy of the moment. That means if what we’re doing encourages people to “zone out” everything around them, then we’re not leading well. Why? Because we want to help foster an environment where the congregation worships God by encouraging and teaching one another in singing.

When the congregation gathers, it’s a corporate event. The most spiritual thing to do during singing in a church service isn’t necessarily closing your eyes and raising your hands (I have nothing against that, however!). It could be opening your eyes, singing loudly, and looking around while you do so to listen to others sing with you.

I don’t mean to minimize acknowledging the Spirit’s presence in us and with us as a congregation. It is wonderful to glorify the Lord with our voices and hearts in singing, and Lord willing we do that. We shouldn’t worship the congregation. But we should worship as a congregation, not just as individuals.

“. . . through rich, Christ-centered songs.”

We want to sing songs that are going to last long enough so our grandchildren could sing them. We want them to have depth and meaning so that they don’t leave you wondering what they’re really saying. A good worship song is more like a quality steak than cotton candy. Each bite leaves you appreciating a different nuance in the taste, and when you’re done, you’re satisfied.

If Scripture is about Christ, then our singing should be about Christ. If a Mormon could sing our songs without any problem, then we should be second guessing what we’re singing. I don’t mean to say there isn’t truth in songs that don’t mention Christ. Instead, I say this because of a continued nominalistic “Christianity” in our culture that embraces many spiritual things but never really spells out who Christ is and what His followers are called to. We don’t have time for nominalism. As the Sovereign Grace Music line goes, “Show us Christ.”

2 Bad Ways Leaders Deal With Negative People

I’m new to ministry, but I’m guessing every pastor has people in his congregation that could be categorized as negative. Many people are supportive, kind, and generally seem spiritually heathy (not that its supporting the pastor that qualifies someone for spiritual health). But there are some who, no matter what you do, don’t seem to be satisfied. There is always something they don’t like, and they want you to know about it.

As I can tell, there are two bad ways to pastor these kind of people.

Option 1: Write them off and keep them at arms length.

Daniel Edwards is a pastor friend of mine who suggested to me the thing to do with negative people isn’t to stay away from them, but to get closer to them. I think that’s wise in many cases.

There are a few things wrong with simply writing the negative person off. Here are two:

  1. It ignores the fact you’re called to pastor that person. Paul David Tripp writes in his book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands that sometimes young pastors (guilty as charged) can have a picture of what their church is supposed to look like that is more like a fairy tale than real life. When they realize their people are actually sinners, they’re taken aback by it.Tripp is right, and I was convicted by that when I read it. I’m called to pastor sinners (repenting sinners, but sinners nonetheless). That means I have to love people who have real problems. Keeping the negative person at arms length shows that we’re not concerned about the spiritual health of the church as much as we are establishing our agenda for “progress.” We think, “Mr. Negative is getting in the way of my plans to grow this church. Therefore, I’m going to neglect my responsibility to help pastor him through this and ignore him until he goes away. Then, God will leave the people I’m really called to pastor.”
  2. You could miss truth. Negative people aren’t always wrong. They probably exaggerate often. But they’re not always wrong. Keeping those kind of people at arms length can keep you from learning some very true things.Chad Minter, in his helpful post about this, said the following:

    Search your heart and see if there is even a crumb of truth to what your criticizer claimed. Any criticism, whether warranted or not, can be to your benefit. It does not excuse his offense, but you are to gain because now you see a caricature or yourself and are able to work at fixing even the smallest of your weaknesses.

    “Yes men” may be good for your ego, but they aren’t good for helping you see blind spots. Perhaps the “thorn” that some people unknowingly are to you have been put there by God Himself to keep you humble. Learn where you can, even if you don’t like the source.

Option 2: Let them hijack your leadership.

The other bad response I can have toward negative people comes from my desire to pacify them in order to keep the peace. It’s good to be a peacemaker, but being a peacemaker doesn’t mean allowing negative people to rule. There are a few reasons this option is a poor way to deal with Mr. Negative:

  1. You will lose the respect of others. Everyone knows Mr. Negative is who he is. There are other people on the committee with you who realize certain people are, for the most part, generally critical and find something wrong with what the best decision is. Those people will see you bowing to Mr. Negative, knowing the right decision to be made. Because you allow Mr. Negative to hijack what needs to be done, they will lose confidence in your leadership. The next time you ask them to be on a committee, they’re going to turn you down. Why? Because they know who’s really in charge, and its not you.
  2. You will encourage others to be negative. Every time you allow a negative person to whine and get his way, you reward his behavior. The message you’re sending him and everyone else who knows the situation is, “If you want the pastor to do what you want, just be really critical and whiny about it.”There is a place for constructive criticism. You should listen very closely to people who have invested their lives into your church and who have your back and who are not nit-picky people. But negative people are not showing the fruit of the Spirit by their critical, diminutive, selfish attitude. Doing whatever they want in order to keep the peace actually doesn’t encourage peace. It rewards and encourages negativity.
  3. You will fear man more than God. God has called you to lead, not Mr. Negative. Bowing to his preferences could be the fruit of the fear of man in your heart. Personally, I can’t stand when people don’t like me. My wife, my daughter, anyone really. There will come a time when I know the right decision to be made and the right direction in which to head, and someone will oppose it. Will I fear God, or will I fear man? One can ruin my reputation, run me out of my church, or even kill me, but the other can cast my soul into hell. One is a contemporary, but the other is my King. I pray I have the strength and courage to fear God more than man.

What do you think? As a leader, what are some other bad ways to deal with negative people?