A major problem millennials have with today’s church is the way the messages are preached. It seems that if we aren’t in the middle of the “devotional book of the month” that you can’t miss a single Sunday of or else you’re thrown off for the next three, then we’re getting the generalized “life lesson.” A message on one of those clichés that has little to no meat to it. Or, we’re getting a message on doctrine, and how you have to agree with a certain interpretation of this passage, or believe that such and such is a key essential to Christianity and to disagree or see it differently is heretical and there’s no way you can be saved and believe differently. One thing millennials hate is being told exactly what to believe or how to believe it.
Now there are absolutely some essentials to Christianity, and to choose not to believe one of them will skew your view on others until you have strayed too far and what you believe is no longer Christianity. When it comes to the essentials, you can’t pick and choose. But there are some questions that even the Bible doesn’t completely answer. Many passages and lessons have multiple interpretations, none of which change the basics of Christianity.
The danger in preaching interpretation as fact is that millennials question EVERYTHING!!! We don’t want to take your word for it, we want to arrive to our own conclusions. If we are told that this interpretation is the ONLY interpretation, and later we arrive at others (through research, thought, and discussion) we begin to feel like we were lied to. This is one of the reasons millennials are leaving the church in droves. We want to arrive to our own conclusions and interpretations. We want to believe based on evidence we have found and makes sense to us. And we want to get to those conclusions and interpretations without being told were heretics or apostates (apostasy is definitely one of the subjects I’m talking about). Again, I’m not talking about fundamentals like the divinity or Christ, the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection. I’m talking about things like what Old Testament Laws are still applicable? Is Baptism necessary for salvation? Are the prophecies in Revelations literal?
Believe it or not, millennials are smarter than older generations give us credit for. If we seem clueless because we are on our phones all the time, more than likely we are online reading about something worthwhile. It’s a learning tool for us. If I had a nickel for the number of times I’ve fixed my truck by using a YouTube video, I wouldn’t have a truck I have to keep fixing. We know how to research, and we know how to organize our findings, and we know how to form an intelligent opinion.
But we aren’t just leaving because of a growing feeling that we’ve been lied to or that we’re being treated like we don’t have the intelligence to come to our own conclusions. We are leaving because those we have looked up to as leaders and mentors are telling us that we can’t discuss these conclusions and interpretations in the church. In most churches, once you graduate highschool the leadership expects you to take studying into your own hands. Our elders are either teaching or attending their own classes or groups, or they are teaching those who are still in school. So naturally we should be doing what the elders are doing, teaching those in our own age group. It’s all well and good until word gets out that we are exploring interpretations contrary to what the church leadership promotes.
At this point, a millennial will do one of two things. They will either leave on their own, or they will continue to discuss their views with others until the church “forces” them out. Either way, a millennial leaves the church.
Leadership should be encouraging open discussion, and a plurality of ideas. Doubt and questioning of doctrine is one of the tools God uses to stir growth in Christian life. If we are expected to take on the mantle of teaching ourselves and promoting the growth of others as well as ourselves, we can’t be told to sit down and shut up every time we have a new or controversial idea. Church leadership needs to follow the advice of Gamaliel (a Pharisee who warned against active persecution of the Apostles). If what we are discussing has the ring of truth, it will stick and others will agree with us. If it’s wrong (or even heretical) it will become obvious to those listening to the discussions and it will weed itself out.