re:kindle re:flection

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On June 8, 2012, Joel Boot & Mark Hilbelink shared the stage at a joint session of Synod 2012 & re:kindle 2012, the CRC’s first-ever Young Adult Summit. That night, young adults and Synod delegates from virtually every corner of the CRC shared thoughts and vision about life, ministry and the future of the Church. You can watch Joel & Mark’s talks plus lots of other videos at http://yalt.crcna.org/rekindle-2012/

After the event on June 8th, I was stunned at how many people aged 50+ came up to me with tears in their eyes, either mourning how their children had left the Church or overwhelmed by the purity in the exchange of the evening – generations interacting, worshipping and singing in unity. It was truly a picture of what I dream our churches could be and it saddens me to know that many of them are not. Sadly, too many are marked by the basic selfishness of one generation over another, one preference over another or one perspective over another that drive them into isolation, irrelevancy and eventual death.

But as we discussed that night, our story doesn’t have to go down as a tragedy. In fact, because we bear the name Christian, we automatically bear the name of One who reconciled, One who led boldly, One who spoke truth, One who embodied relevancy and One who loved the Church so much He died for it. Our hope is in the same place it has always been.

One of the great results of the Synod/re:kindle night was we asked each of the groups to put together responses to let us take the temperature of what themes were being discussed. You can view the full results (in the attached PDF), but here’s a few of the things that stuck out to me:

INTERGENERATIONAL: One of the things I spoke about was how many churches are trying to reach young adults by sectioning them off while what they really want is to be in a diverse community. But intergenerational is one of those things much easier talked about than done.

ADDRESSING THE ISSUE: Across the board, the older and younger adults at re:kindle & Synod were impressed by the willingness of the CRC and its leaders to talk about the problem of young adults leaving the Church rather than sweeping it under the rug or placing it on the back burner.

RELATIONSHIPS: Repeatedly, relationships were listed as the #1 weakness we have across the CRC, both intergenerational and otherwise. Relationships are key to healthy community, regardless of who is involved. I believe, if our churches had healthy community, this young adult exodus wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion. So maybe that’s where all of us can start: trading our insecurities for vulnerability, our self-interest for the interest in the good of the faith community we call home.

Hope can come to your community in the form of diverse generations learning from one another and the raising up of young leaders for the future of the Church. But for many of us it won’t happen by doing what we have been.

So what steps can your church take to help address the reasons young adults are leaving the Church and how might God be calling you to act/speak boldly in your community of faith?

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The question of youth and young adults leaving the crcna church probably has many answers.   From my personal perspective and experience, it seems young people have left the church to attend other non-reformed churches.  Basically Baptist or Pentecostal or Alliance.   Years ago, we have also had older adults leave to attend Alliance or gospel chapel.  These are all what we call "anabaptist" or believer baptism churches.  

So why do they attend other denominations?   I know of a couple of cases of quite strong involvement in these other churches as well, where they have become deacon, or song leader or bible study group leader.  Attendance there for these youth is weekly, and there faith life is significant and important to them. 

It seems that the doctrines they were taught did not carry enough weight, perhaps because they were not taught strongly enough, nor at a young age.  But there were also issues of friendship, fellowship, marriage partners, size of age groups, etc..  There were issues of worship style and atmosphere, songs that resonated, and preaching that related.   And then for some there was the issue of committment of the adults and fellow youth to christian living.  That committment seemed to the youth sometimes to be one of traditionalism, of lack of daily submission to God.   Often lifestyles of adult and other teenage christians seemed to make a mockery of infant baptism, and even sometimes of the profession of faith.   For that reason, it was not difficult for them to question the significance and importance of infant baptism, and to begin to lean towards the idea of "believe and be baptized". 

For some youth, the idea of making an independant committment to Christ that was separate from the sort of expected following of the parents, was important.  It seemed to make the committment more real and more personal.  For other youth, this point was not so significant, and family kept them with their church.   

While their committment to some of the doctrines was not very strong, yet their committment to their faith is strong.   They are a witness and a strong contributor to the faith communities they are in.   These communities we would call somewhat heretical baptists, based on our confessions.   Yet we believe they consist of christians who earnestly desire to serve and obey God, and to claim His grace, and his mercy in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   We work with them in the ministerial, in joint christian community activities.   We not detest them, although we disagree with them on forbidding infant baptism. 

I don't know if this provides any answers.   But perhaps it provides some hints and context.  We pray first of all for their faith, and for God's love. 

Appreciate the response, John.

I think for some, theological issues to come in to play. For a larger segment, practices and the relevancy of those practices comes into play. But our experience at YALT is that, by far, the biggest segment of young adults leaving the Church, at least in the CRC, is due to the relational ineptitude of many of our churches and, sadly, our leaders.

If you watched my talk, one of the the things I brought out strongly and believe strongly from research and exprience is that Millennials do not see minor theological differences or even practices (such as what songs you sing) as a major deterrent to attending/not attending a church.

The major deterrent we're finding over and over again isn't music or even theology - it's that we have many churches & leaders who are emotionally unhealthy and, therefore, incapable of holding down healthy relational discipleship relationships. My contention is: if our churches were healthy & growing in the first place, we wouldn't have the exodus of young adults we currently do.

I listened to your talk, Mark.  Millenials, GenX, Boomers.   I chuckle when I hear these categories.   They say something about the demographics, and they say something about the context.  But what do they say about the individuals?   If the children in our church are nothing more than millenials or boomers, then what impact has the message of the gospel really had on their lives?   Yes, these categories are important when considering evangelism of those who have not grown up in the church, but if we evangelize those within the church exactly the same way, then are we not denying in essence any gifts of the covenant?   At least that is how I see it. 

I believe relationships are always important, in every generation.   But so is what those relationships have taught us.   A relationship that teaches us that you can say one thing and do another, is different than a relationship that is consistent in word and deed.   A relationship that expresses sacrifice and committment is different than a relationship of convenience. 

But I am interested in your concept of "emotionally unhealthy".  What does that mean to you? 

I think I would define emotional health in terms of capacity. Emotionally healthy people are able to process and handle their own lives/situations as well as building into the lives of others. I think marks of emotional health are vulnerability, transparency, honesty, self-confidence, compassion, empathy, boundaries, etc. I think many church leaders and intergenerational relationships break down around vulnerability, honesty & transparency most often in our tradition.

I think you're setting up a bit of a false dichotomy between understanding generational influence and having relationships with individuals. None of us is formed in a vaccuum, including Christians. I am, in large degree, influenced by my generation as I suspect you are. Realizing those biases in ourselves is part of honesty, transparency, healing and ultimately emotional capacity to truly bless others - within the Church and without.

Participant

[quote=mhilbelink02]

I think I would define emotional health in terms of capacity. Emotionally healthy people are able to process and handle their own lives/situations as well as building into the lives of others. I think marks of emotional health are vulnerability, transparency, honesty, self-confidence, compassion, empathy, boundaries, etc. I think many church leaders and intergenerational relationships break down around vulnerability, honesty & transparency most often in our tradition.

I think you're setting up a bit of a false dichotomy between understanding generational influence and having relationships with individuals. None of us is formed in a vaccuum, including Christians. I am, in large degree, influenced by my generation as I suspect you are. Realizing those biases in ourselves is part of honesty, transparency, healing and ultimately emotional capacity to truly bless others - within the Church and without.

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Mark, you are on to something important here with "relational ineptness" and a lack of emontional health in leaders contributing to a disconnect with young adults. I chuckled to recognize that it might be happening right here in this discussion! I am a son of immgrants with five young adult kids and am very interested in their generation's experience of this disconnect. Unfortunately I did not really begin to learn about emotional health until I was in my 50's.

One example of many I would give in support of your case is that Calvin Seminary has in the last 20 years moved away from a model of pure academic excellence (A students being expected to become the best pastors) to teaching and training and testing emotional Intelligence and self-awareness and self-care.

I'll take some time later to watch the related videos and see what thoughts and feelings are generated that might be worth sharing.

Mark, okay I understand your concept of emotional health.  It seems to imply a sort of confidence that allows one to be vulnerable, to be honest about one's limitations.   And it includes the capacity to handle the emotions and turmoils of others in addition to your own personal life.  I agree that emotional health is important.   I would suggest that mostly it is a result of spiritual health, the ability to love your neighbor as yourself, and the understanding that God's grace is huge, and his commands important. 

I don't think I am implying a false dichotomy between generational influence and personal relationships.  My understanding of your points about generational influence is that people of a particular generation sort of cannot help who or what they are, because they were born in a certain period.   That their generationality defines them to a large extent.   I remember a discussion once with a roman catholic priest on an airplane.   He was over 70 at the time, and he explained the high rates of unmarried couples, abortion, and lack of attendance at mass, as societal influence.   He was failing to take accountability for the role of the church, of preaching and teaching.  The Rom Cath church had been declining in numbers and influence, while other churches had been growing, but he was blaming society.   I see this as kind of a deterministic perspective. 

In the same way, I question why christian youth become children of their generation, rather than witnesses to their generation.   Is this because the people they relate to, and the older people they have respect for, are also children of their generation rather than witnesses to their generation?    And is this ulitmately also why they want to be asked to serve?  to be taken from their generation, into the generation of God? 

My two-cents worth derives from having moved from Canada at sixteen to Grand Rapids in the mid 1960's and a comment by a youth leader of another denomination.

His comment was that the youth group of which he was leader supported the other institutions of the denomination, namely the church and the family/parents from which the young people came. (unlike what he saw occurring in some denominations--he did not mention names but for me it unmistakebly fit the CRC, given my own experiences)

When we moved to G.R. my mother, who grew up in the home of one of the more prominent CRC preachers of the era as well as being a pastor's wife, and knew "church" about as well as anyone, commented on this almost forty years ago.  That it seemed to be very fashionable to undercut what today we would call brand loyalty especially by those who were in charge of educating young people.   They seemed to do it to try to advance their own agenda and emphasize their own importance (of observation and analysis).

 I remain convinced she was right, especially from my own experience of a daughter who was identified by her fourth grade teacher as "very spiritual" and who is extremely unlikely to return to the CRC despite thirteen years of Christian education, Sunday school, and catechism.  I have concluded that much of that was about questionning the rock from which she was hewn.

It would be good to see some input from the 20-something attendees here. This is a critical issue for the church, and all of us, in all generations, have an opportunity to seek God's wisdom and discernment as He shapes His church going forward. That's going to require some additional humility, submission, faith, hope, and unity (not least for those of us on church Councils) - none of which would hurt us anyway!

I know from other feedback that there were some great discussions, though perhaps not much in the way of resolution which is hardly a surprise. Is any of the valuable dialogue being collected for dissemination and/or publication for those of us unable to attend?

Hey Graham.....yes, see the document attached to this article above.

We (YALT) also disseminate LOTS of content through our three online streams that I would encourage you to follow:

 

http://www.crcna.org/yalt

http://www.facebook.com/weareyalt

http://www.twitter.com/weareyalt

 

You're also free to contact us at [email protected].