Friday, October 29, 2010

Reaching out…

Last Spring, I became an official Board member of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches.  They needed a Disciples of Christ representative; I’m a DoC pastor; someone gave them my name; it worked out. And I’m constantly fighting the urge to find it rather ridiculous.

Not the organization! I mean, it’s the largest Council of Churches in the country (budget and programming-wise). It began and coordinates the MN FoodShare (the March fund and food raising drive that provides over half the resources for all of MN’s foodshelves). They facilitate more volunteers than any other organization in the state (some through direct programs, others indirectly through their many social service partners). And they have an unparalleled record with advocating and resourcing Native people (Minnesota’s most at-risk demographic, besides refugees),
overcoming racism (their recently opened
Center for Families provides creative and meaningful support to Minneapolis’ six major West African ethnic groups) and, as their slogan claims, “Uniting people of faith to serve people in need”. As you can tell, I’m impressed; they do what church should do, in the beyond-worship sense. And I’m a Board Member. That’s what seems ridiculous.

Usually, in my view, Board members of such organizations are either a) Influential professionals in the field- so there are bishops and other bigwig preachers on the Board, or b) Wealthy donors who want to get more involved with this non-profit they believe in. I’m 29, less than five years out of Divinity School, and as my wife and the IRS can tell you, nowhere close to ‘wealthy’. But since our denomination helped establish and fund GMCC over the decades, we have a place at the table.
And I was willing, so they brought me in. When talking with the Executive Director, Garry Reierson, about what I could bring to the Board, he quipped, “By your presence, you’ve reduced our average
age substantially.” I said, “Just trying to help!”

Anyway, I bring it up because I tried recently to put that unique quality- my age- to good use. I met with their marketing team about reaching out to Young Adults. GMCC, like many churches and church-related organizations, has an aging volunteer and donor base. Partly that’s natural, reflecting demographic shifts throughout society. But it’s also a function of what I described in the meeting as, “YA’s, broadly, don’t trust institutions, especially religious ones. They want to help their neighbors, do good, but without someone loading them down with ‘God junk’.” And that wasn’t anything this quality team didn’t know, but the point remains- My generation doesn’t trust church, or as is sometimes sneeringly stated, “organized religion.”

Why is that? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I think, in no particular order:

- The institutional church has done some real stupid things in the past- distant and recent- without adequately repenting, or celebrating and accentuating the good things.

- YA’s have grown up accustomed to and excited by pluralism and relativism, and many churches have trouble embracing that.

- When we walk into churches, we’re greeted with, “We really need you; help us out,” rather than, “Tell me about yourself; how we can help you?”

But most of all, I’m coming to wonder, is whether churches are offering what people my age need. Some churches do a good job of guessing what we like- Loud music, top-notch digital programming, services using U2 music. But Jesus wasn’t ever just about feeding peoples desires. He was also, and perhaps primarily, involved with feeding hungry mouths and souls, i.e. giving us what we need. And I doubt that’s changed much as generation has passed onto generation- we need sustenance, forgiveness, intimacy with God and others, a purpose in life. And that’s what church is supposed to deliver. So maybe churches should stop worrying about what YAs like and want, and start talking more honestly, non-judgmentally, compassionately about how Jesus and Church have given us what we, personally, have needed, throughout our lives. That would require serious vulnerability, I know, extra time, and a healthy dose of humble authenticity. But fortunately, that’s something Jesus thought highly of. And they’re values that resonate with my generation…

Grace and Peace,


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