Medley 1: Millennials, Service, and Racism

Have you ever had one of those weeks, good or bad, where you’ve gone through so much and you’ve needed to commit quite a bit of time to mulling those things over and process them? I’ve had one of those weeks myself and if there’s one thing I know after almost 5 years of blogging, it’s that they make for great writing material.I apologize ahead of time if this post turns into a bit of a writer’s medley, but that’s the beauty (or curse) of the blogosphere.

On Being A 20-Something in a Suburban Church

Being a young Christian guy in a suburban area and a suburban church is a unique experience to say the least. You don’t really interact with too many Christians in your same walk of life in that environment. At my church of over 3,500 people, you see mostly couples and families (who are in the suburbs to stay). Needless to say, there’s a lack of 20-something, single Christians at my church and I’m not so sure that it has as much to do with the demographics of my area as it does with how the church markets to them.

I’ve been a part of several life (small) groups with other 20-somethings over the last few years. Although I’ve been blessed to meet some good people through them, the groups have always lacked the depth that I was looking for. You see, the churches I’ve been a part of have all dictated that small group meetings follow some unwritten procedure. You show up, pop in a DVD, discuss some questions/talking points in the booklet that came with the DVD, pray, and go home. The discussion points were what really hurt the quality of the group. The questions would be things like “Talk about a time when you’ve found it hard to show someone God’s love” or “When have you experienced judgement?” They lack depth, intrigue, and sophistication. And, quite frankly, when you hear them year in and year out, you get sick of them. So do other people. When that happens, people check out. They stop talking and the group takes a nose dive.

Why is it that so many non-denominational churches feel like small groups are supposed to follow that specific pattern with DVD discussions an all? (See how ridiculous it seems in the video below.) Our culture is already saturated with video-dictated discussions and it hits 20-somethings particularly hard. Why would 20-somethings want to get involved with churches present their messages in the same format the rest of society does? We like variety and need a release from the over-stimulating nature of video. Churches are missing the boat with so many 20-somethings, in my opinion, because they’re trying too hard to be relevant. They think they understand what my generation needs from a church like a bunch of videos, guys in graphic t-shirts, Helvetica fonts, and big light and sound displays, but they’re wrong. 20-somethings just need a place that takes them deeper, that makes them feel like they matter to someone else, something that fosters fulfilling relationships, and something that provides an escape from the culture that weighs us down.

I, for one, hope that a few church leaders will read this, because honestly, I don’t have any other avenue to express my observations. No one in church leadership seems interested in listening to someone like me, a 20 something, single, professional marketer has to say. I genuinely want to help the church succeed in reaching others from my demographic and bring them into a fulfilling church community, but the church has to be willing to throw out textbook strategies that expired 5-10 years ago.

The Relationship Between Service and Happiness?

Today at church, my pastor discussed the importance of service for believers. No, he wasn’t saying it’s important for you to be in church every Sunday, it was actually about volunteering. He made some good points, but one of the underlying themes seemed to that in order to feel a sense of purpose, self-worth, or whatever verbal noun you’d like to insert, you should volunteer. I’ve given hundreds of hours of my time to service and I know better than to think that if I give my time to others, I’ll be happy. It just doesn’t work that way.

However, I don’t want that to sound like you shouldn’t volunteer because it doesn’t guarantee happiness. But as I thought about this more, I began to realize that it’s critical that we separate our experiences and feelings that come out of volunteering from everything else that goes on in our lives. Have you ever given away a large chunk of your time only to have something go horribly wrong in your personal life a few days later? I know I have and I’m sure that it’s happened to a lot of people. When you combine every event in your life, good or bad, into one container, it sure seems like volunteering never brings you happiness. That’s because there are other events in our lives that can bring us down. However, your service had nothing to do with that, so you have to separate it from the bad experiences. You can’t give up on volunteering, just because something in your personal life kicked your proverbial legs out from under you.

Racism? I Don’t Think So!

If there’s one thing that really challenges my emotions, it’s being called a racist. I had a guy approach me as I was walking to my apartment complex’s pool the other day and ask me to help a charity. He said he was collecting and raising money for children’s books for some children’s hospital. As soon as he started talking he said something to the effect of “Don’t look at me like that, why are you being so serious?” It was 8:00 PM and I had been up since 6:30 that morning. Needless to say I was tired and I explained as much.

He gave me a quick rundown of what he was doing and concluded with a rather abrupt ultimatum. “Do you want to give or not?” I said I’ll pass and we parted ways. However, as I was walking off I caught him saying something under his breath (and of course anytime someone does that, they want you to hear it). “People are so rude and arrogant around here,” he said. I immediately turned around and told him that if he had a problem with how he was being received that he should just go somewhere else. Reasonable, right? He didn’t take to kindly to that and proceeded to berate me for my response. I turned and walked off but not without him concluding by calling me a racist.

I have to admit that I was enraged by that insult (and eventually glad that I walked away). If that insult was ever true it would render anything I’ve ever done for Haiti or Africa through Skate Across Indiana, a complete and utter charade. Going back to what I just said about volunteering, many of those hundreds of hours of service were dedicated to people on the other side of the world and almost certainly a different race from me. Who serves the people they hate? Who dedicates valuable time to people they despise? The answer is no one.

If you’re reading this sentence, you’re already over 1,200 words into this post. I thank you for sticking with my post for this long. Having dedicated readers is the best thing a blogger can have. But that’s enough for now. Stay tuned for another medley post, maybe, in the future.

2 Replies to “Medley 1: Millennials, Service, and Racism”

  1. Steve, I really appreciate your comments. Although I am actually one of the “30 somethings” that has a family – I share your views that there are not enough avenues for stimulating conversation in today’s suburban church. Churches are designed to be “seeker friendly” which is very important. But what about the folks who have sought and now have a desire to go deeper. That is one reason that SOAP is so important to me. In addition to SOAP, finding a smaller group of men that are desiring the same level of learning and growing is critical. In a large suburban church, the need for programs to help grow and mobilize a body can overtake the need for foundational relationship and discipleship. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this and hope that you can get the attention somehow of the folks making decisions.

    By the way, if you ever get a chance to listen to Mark Driscoll’s podcasts, I think you would really like him. He is the founder of Mars Hill in Seattle and built his church with “20 something” males. The way he did this was by inductive study from the pulpit. Yes, they have great music and cool interior decorating – but he says that he let God’s word and his assertion that people want to go deep into it be the chief marketing strategy to grow his church. Not that it helps much with community, but I think you might enjoy his approach. Mars Hill has a great iPhone app…

  2. Wayland, Awesome comment! I’m incredibly blessed by my experiences and interactions that have come as a result of SOAP. Thanks for the tip about Driscoll’s podcasts as well. I’m definitely familiar with him, but it’s been a while since I’ve listened any of his sermons. I listen to Andy Stanley’s podcast (He’s at North Point in Alpharetta, GA) from time to time and those are solid if you’re looking for some additional listening material.

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