The Great Generational Disconnect


Along about July 2017 I began to recover a big discontinuity in my consciousness, memory and social awareness. I had become addicted over ten years' time to the prescription med, Oxycontin. I should have died—but God extended me great mercy. Ten years of my life in terms of awareness, interpersonal relationships had vanished! As my memory of life down here on the planet was yet to be healed, God had allowed me to glimpse heaven (in what is called a Near Death Experience). In the hospital my caregivers took me off of Oxy cold-turkey and friends prayed me out of my delirium and drug induced psychosis. This amazing journey was so momentous I’ve documented it in some detail for 30 months now, for anyone interested. 

When I came home from the hospital August 15, 2017, my memory was almost totally eclipsed. I had forgotten I had a place to live. I had not remembered I had friends. I did not remember the wonderful church I had been part of since 1965. I was not aware I had a web site or owned any books. I did know afresh that God was real. He had been with me during my entire sojourn in the hospital. I began to regain consciousness and reconnect with Jesus one small step at a time, all with perfect peace and assurance that I was in safe hands. Several powerful dreams occurred giving me (I see now) glimpses of the healing which would follow.

I soon remembered the Legend of Sleepy Hollow featuring Rip Van Winkle--a story written by Washington Irvine and set in New England just before the Revolutionary War. Poor Rip awoke from sleeping 20 years, after some elves in the forest had cast a spell on him. When he regained consciousness the world he had changed radically.

So with me. God began to heal my eclipsed memory of the world I was living in. After reconnecting with my church I immediately saw that there were very few men and women under thirty attending. There were some kids evident in the patio, probably brought there by their parents. Very few outsiders were being drawn in by today's lack-luster, dumbed-down preaching. Cultural Christianity had engulfed traditional Christianity. We were far, far downhill from what we once were as a body of professing followers of Jesus. I read the Bible through again to see if my assumptions were true and I soon was alarmed and stirred inside. We seemed to be losing the younger generation for some reason. 

I found George Barna of the Barna Research Group was right-on as usual. I began to be curious about the daily life of Millennials and their apparent immunity to the historic Christian message. Example of Barna Research Group findings: U.S. Adults See Evangelicals Through a Political Lens.

My zombified state had been one result of becoming addicted to Oxycontin in 1995. But Jesus did far more than restore me to my pre-oxy state of mind. I had a new intimacy with Him! It’s as if I had been born again, again! I also saw much of Christendom was fake, and authentic followers of Jesus were as scarce as hens' teeth. 
It has taken me two years to understand the downhill slide of western civilization to a small degree. Obviously no one understands this very well, even if they are proficient in psychology, sociology or theology or history. I was motived because I kept meeting bright, gifted kids I wanted to know personally, with mutual trust on both sides. I felt the love and compassion Jesus has for everyone under the sun, all 7700 million of us on our very crowded planet.

Like Rip Van Winkle I wanted to get to know every one in my village old or young and adjust  to reality as God sees it now. He is, after all,

“The High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity..." and
"Before Him, all things are open and laid bare before the eyes of whom we have to do."

A real breakthrough for me took place last July when I listened to an informal talk by Tim Keller given at the Howard Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. Keller's report lit up my switchboard. (Tim Keller is 18 years younger than I. He became a follower of Jesus Christ in 1970 whereas my decision was in October 1962). Keller presented his understanding of his observations of change in America in the past half century. In an informal talk at Dallas Theological Seminary, Howard Hendricks Center in June 2019 presented his understanding of his observations of change in America in the past half century. He’s from a Presbyterian background (the Old Paradigm), but he’s keen on understanding everyone under 40. I strongly suggest learning about Keller's half century of knowing Jesus and praying about everything. He has not needed the drastic wake-up call that God gave me! His advice at the close of his talk is right-on in my opinion.

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Watch the video »

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The Old Paradigm

Features preaching about God, lack of current experience in the throne room of Jesus. Energized by the flesh, conformed to the culture (the "world system"), Fenced in by “sound doctrine,” which is the gold standard. Often opinionated, with cultural conformity expected! Interior life lacking. King Ego in control in each person. Often False authority base. Hearsay rather than immediate experience. Repressed emotions. Formal worship. Minimal prayer life. Quenched and grieved Holy Spirit. Self effort, self improvement. External conformity but inner chaos. Logos without Sophia. The Old Paradigm covers the age from Constantine (about 300 AD to now, approximately. Keller describes the historic church since Constantine as "two-storied." (I am reminded of Francis Shaeffer's insights into the emptying of the upper story). Keller's upper story is where God, and Jesus and all the angels reside in the Third Heaven). Mankind inhabits the lower story where we built churches of every kind. In churches which are somewhat sound, a paid professional explains "the Gospel" as a do-it-yourself formula for being born-again (whatever that means). Having been saved, you can join the country club and live happily ever-after with like-minded (older) people. Many followers of Jesus know only the old paradigm, spending their entire lives in a ghetto. The kids drop out, if they were once in this cul d'sac, and they never go back. Historic divisions: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Reformed, Pentecostal Holiness Churches, Charismatic, Jesus Movement, New Age Believers, etc.

My great friend Horace Bissell once said, "Live heresy is better than dead orthodoxy anyday." Some people caught up in the Old Paradigm actually know Jesus Christ personally, and live in dependence on Him daily with gratefully hearts. They are found in every income group.

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The New Paradigm

New age thinking. A single-storied universe. No upper story, or the upper story is believed to be empty. Keller says Millennials tend to be self-referential. They are each their own gods. I decide what is right and wrong, that is, and I respect your "right" to live according to your world-view as long as you allow me the same freedom. "I have no idea what happens when I die, I reject the fire and brimstone paradigm I grew up with. If there is a higher power, He (or she) must be benevolent." Keller notes that the old paradigm is actually closer to ultimate realty than the new paradigm. Therefore each generation is experiencing increasing entropy. (The entire universe is damaged and running down). If God does not intervene we'll self-destruct. Comparing America's churches to the dead state churches of Europe, Keller sees a desperate need for our believing remnant in America to return to the ways of the early church. There were no paid pastors then. Followers of Jesus met in homes. If the were needs in the lives of other fellow Christians they were met by friends and neighbors. The false church won't survive the coming judgments of Jesus when He returns in person.

The Old Paradigm is indeed closer to absolute reality than the New. The universe has an Upper Story (the unseen realm of the spiritual) and a Lower Story (the material world). In actuality the spiritual world pervades the material according to Keller, and it's not “up,” far away nor beyond experiencing. The Old Paradigm folks embrace a knowledge of history, of moral absolutes, of transcendent realities. They are often legalistic. They are usually monotheistic in their core beliefs at least. Is Jesus personally real in their lives or are they merely religious?

The New Paradigm is mostly existential, experience oriented, and tends to be emotionally driven. It’s more universal, claims to be more tolerant. Often harbors an entitlement mentality. Many gods. Disconnected from history. Disdains authority. Promiscuous. Iconoclastic. Reacts to failures by the previous generations yet is often hypocritical. Loss of absolutes. Distrust of the Establishment. Reactionary. Distrust of authority.

In other words both paradigms reflect the failures and flaws of everyone old or young since “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. (Romans 3:21-31)

“...I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:13-16)

Wholeness in Christ is required of all who would be saved. Jesus is who He is. As the entire world moves into the “time of the end” --when Jesus will return visibly and personally. Knowing Jesus and obeying Him is our only option--no matter what paradigm we think we live in. Jesus is a Person not an institution. He is not dead and gone. Our absolute accountability is to Jesus and we must renounce all other gods.

Divide and conquer has been a successful tactic of our common enemy the fallen archangel Satan (“god of this world.”) Outsiders who do not yet know Jesus personally are often confused by the infighting of cultural Christians.

The following Christianese code words are often found in Old Paradigmers but these words do not compute across the Great Generational divide.

bless, blessed, saved, "got saved," "in Jesus' name", sanctified, justified, called, minister, ministry, calling, anointed, anointing, heaven, swearing, glorified, worship, imputation, manifestation, revival, revival service, preacher, pastor, prophesy (verb), repent, righteous, unrighteous, intercession, covenant, baptism, Spirit baptized, "last days", "latter days", gospel, "preach the gospel", Holy Ghost revival, witnessing, glory, redeem, mercy, grace, expiation, propitiation, atonement, holiness, holy, charity, slain in the Spirit, born again, precious, rapture, lust, covetousness, sloth, redeem, redeemer, fornicate, "the flesh", "the Spirit", binding Satan, Lord and Savior, "personal Savior", Lordship salvation, baptized, Christian, sin, trespass, transgression, elder, deacon, angels, Trinity, transcendence, immanence, imminence, creation, judgment, incarnation,believer, soul, "the world," Church, "go to church", sabbath, "keeping the sabbath," "tithes and offerings."

Extra Credit

Existential Christians | Cultural Christians | The Rebellious Ones | Closeted Christians  | King Ego | Compromised Christians | Biblical Illiteracy

The Exchanged Life | The Left Behind | Eternally Lost | Intimacy with God | Dual Membership in the Family of God| The Rapture and the Second Coming

The Judgment Seat of Christ  | Baptism |  The Great Shepherd | How Saved are You? | Made in the Image of God | The Ruin of Creation




New Paradigm Christian Values: “Nothing coming from me, everything coming from Jesus” (Bob Smith). The Exchanged Life. Body Life. Intimate walk with Jesus daily. Servant authority and servant  leadership. ”Spirit filled,” “Christ centered” (now both cliches). Relational. Motives matter! Slow to Judge. Wholistic. Family of God oriented. “Fear of the Lord.” Reverence and awe of God. Trust and Obey Jesus. Wholeness sought after. The Exchanged Life.

Loving God and others as oneself. Communal living for the homeless and those in recovery. No longer Biblically illiterate.

Is Revival ahead?

From time to time God grants times of refreshing. Great Revivals have been recorded down through history but some have been emotionally driven or hyped up by naive movers and shakers. But the New Testament offers no specific step-by-step instructions, other than Peter's words to Israel on the Day of Pentecost. There is no reason why God should delay judgment. Revivals tend to be geographically localized. Most careful students of the Bible see the Rapture (the return of Jesus for His bride, the true church), as being imminent.

A great outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred on the Day of Pentecost fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, ushering in a whole new age which is now ending.

...Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed. So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

“Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 

...Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said to the fathers, The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.” (Acts 3)

There will be a Great World Revival when Jesus Returns

The Lord gives voice before His army,
For His camp is very great;
For strong is the One who executes His word.
For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible;
Who can endure it?

“Now, therefore,” says the Lord,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.
Who knows if He will turn and relent,
And leave a blessing behind Him—
A grain offering and a drink offering
For the Lord your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly;
Gather the people,
Sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and nursing babes;
Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber,
And the bride from her dressing room.
Let the priests, who minister to the Lord,
Weep between the porch and the altar;
Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord,
And do not give Your heritage to reproach,
That the nations should rule over them.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:11-17)

“And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth:
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. (Joel 2:28-31)




The New-New Paradigm: Invasion from Another Realm


We are bound to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.

Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:3-12)

The Facts of Life

An incredible Spiritual Being, all-sufficient and complete in His Person, created the entire universe and everything in it: space, time, plants, animals, us humans. There was no preexisting matter. There is far more to the created universe than meets the eye. Thus science is limited to a very small range of observables. The universe is owned and managed by the Creator and we are accountable to Him. He is a living Person, holy, just, sentient. He keeps perfect records and is the moral Governor of everything. He made us a lot like Himself so we could know Him intimately. Above all else, He wants to know us and to pour His endless life into us.

Because rebellion against His moral government was total, men and nature were disconnected from the life only God has. Death still rules the human race for all who are unwilling to be reconnected to the Creator. The cosmos and the unseen angelic order became very damaged and nature was broken. The only possible fix for a broken universe, and for our dying race, was for the Son of God to be born into our race and to carry all the sin far away, thereby reconciling the world to Himself. 

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.


Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

“...we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)



But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

After reconciling the world to God on a bloody Roman Cross, Jesus Christ returned from the dead three days later. He then spent the next forty days instructing his followers in Israel. Ascending to the control room of the cosmos, the three Persons of the godhead made plans for the restoration of all things at an appointed time. 

Human beings are all moral creatures and spiritual disconnected from God from an early age. Having dealt with all our sin once and for all, Jesus Christ seeks to bring every one of us into an intimate relationship with Himself.

“...Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:8-12)

Since Jesus Christ is alive today and we are His houseguests, the least we can do is acknowledge Him as the Owner and Heir of all things. Better still, allow Him to take over your entire life and live out His glorious, eternal life through you.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ the Lord." (Romans 6:23)

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)


Example of Barna Research Group findings: U.S. Adults See Evangelicals Through a Political Lens


Two reactionary pleas from church members living under the New Paradigm, asking for help from Old Paradigm believers.

FYI. There is no mention of Jesus here!

I. 59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why

by Sam Eaton
April 4, 2018

Here’s why Millennials are leaving church: Millennials and church don’t seem to mix. The truth is no one has asked me why Millennials don’t like church. Luckily, as a public school teacher, I am highly skilled at answering questions before they’re asked. It’s a gift really.

From the depths of my heart, I want to love church.

I want to be head-over-heels for church like the unshakable Ned Flanders.

200_sI want to send global, sky-writing airplanes telling the life-change that happens beneath a steeple. I want to install a police microphone on top of my car and cruise the streets screaming to the masses about the magical Utopian community of believers waiting for them just down the street.

I desperately want to feel this way about church, but I don’t. Not even a little bit. In fact, like much of my generation, I feel the complete opposite. Leaving church isn’t that big of a deal.

Turns out I identify more with Maria from The Sound of Music staring out the abbey window, longing to be free.

It seems all-too-often our churches are actually causing more damage than good, and the statistics are showing a staggering number of Millennials have taken note.

According to this study (and many others like it) church attendance and impressions of the church as well as people leaving church, are the lowest in recent history, and most drastic among Millennials described as 22- to 35-year-olds.

As I sat in our large church’s annual meeting last month, I looked around for anyone in my age bracket. It was a little like a Titanic search party…

IS ANYONE ALIVE OUT THERE? CAN ANYBODY HEAR ME?

Tuning in and out of the 90-minute state-of-the-church address, I kept wondering to myself, where are my people? Why are all the people leaving. And then the scarier question, why I am still here?

A deep-seated dissatisfaction has been growing in me and, despite my greatest attempts to whack-a-mole it back down, no matter what I do it continues to rise out of my wiry frame.

[To follow my publicly-chronicled church struggles, check out my other posts The How Can I Help Project and 50 Ways to Serve the Least of These.]

Despite the steep drop-off in Millennials with them leaving church, most churches seem to be continuing on with business as usual. Sure, maybe they add a food truck here or a bowling night there, but no one seems to be reacting with any level of concern that matches these STAGGERING statistics.

Why Millennials Are Leaving Church

Where is the task-force searching for the lost generation? Where is the introspective reflection necessary when 1/3 of a generation is ANTI-CHURCH?

So, at the risk of being excommunicated, here is the metaphorical nailing of my own 12 theses to the wooden door of the American, Millennial-less Church.

Nobody’s Listening to Us

Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else. When a church forges ahead without ever asking for our input we get the message loud and clear: Nobody cares what we think. Why then, should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?

Solution:

We’re Sick of Hearing About Values & Mission Statements

Sweet Moses people, give it a rest.

Of course, as an organization, it’s important to be moving in the same direction, but that should easier for Christians than anyone because we already have a leader to follow. Jesus was insanely clear about our purpose on earth:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

“Love God. Love Others.” Task completed.

Why does every church need its own mission statement anyway? Aren’t we all one body of Christ, serving one God? What would happen if the entire American Church came together in our commonalities and used the same, concise mission statement?

Solution:

3. Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority

My heart is broken for how radically self-centered and utterly American our institution has become.

Let’s clock the number of hours the average church attender [attendee] spends in “church-type” activities. Bible studies, meetings, groups, social functions, book clubs, planning meetings, talking about building community, discussing a new mission statement…

Now let’s clock the number of hours spent serving the least of these. Oooooo, awkward.

If the numbers are not equal please check your Bible for better comprehension (or revisit the universal church mission statement stated above).

“If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is in us at all.” –Radical, David Platt

Solutions:

We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture

From Elvis’ hips to rap music, from Footloose to “twerking,” every older generation comes to the same conclusion: The world is going to pot faster than the state of Colorado. We’re aware of the downfalls of the culture — believe it or not, we are actually living in it too.

Perhaps it’s easier to focus on how terrible the world is out there than actually address the mess within.

Solution:

The “You Can’t Sit With Us” Affect

There is this life-changing movie all humans must see, regardless of gender. The film is, of course, the 2004 classic Mean Girls.

In the film, the most popular girl in school forgets to wear pink on a Wednesday (a cardinal sin), to which Gretchen Weiners screams, “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!”

Today, my mom said to me, “Church has always felt exclusive and ‘cliquey,’ like high school.” With sadness in her voice she continued, “and I’ve never been good at that game so I stopped playing.”

The truth is, I share her experience. As do thousands of others.

Until the church finds a way to be radically kinder and more compassionate than the world at large, we tell outsiders they’re better off on their own. And the truth is, many times they are.

Solutions:

Distrust & Misallocation of Resources

Over and over we’ve been told to “tithe” and give 10 percent of our incomes to the church, but where does that money actually go? Millennials, more than any other generation, don’t trust institutions, for we have witnessed over and over how corrupt and self-serving they can be.

We want pain-staking transparency. We want to see on the church homepage a document where we can track every dollar.

Why should thousands of our hard-earned dollars go toward a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community, or to pay for another celebratory bouncy castle when that same cash-money could provide food, clean water and shelter for someone in need?

Solution:

We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At

Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents. See: millennial church attendance. We have millions of podcasts and Youtube videos of pastors the world over at our fingertips.

For that reason, the currency of good preaching is at its lowest value in history.

Millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside them through the muck. We are the generation with the highest ever percentage of fatherless homes.

We’re looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and our future. If we don’t have real people who actually care about us, why not just listen to a sermon from [on] the couch (with the ecstasy of donuts and sweatpants)?

Solutions:

We Want to Feel Valued

Churches tend to rely heavily on their young adults to serve. You’re single, what else do you have to do? In fact, we’re tapped incessantly to help out. And, at its worst extreme, spiritually manipulated with the cringe-worthy words “you’re letting your church down.”

Millennials are told by this world from the second we wake up to the second we take a sleeping pill that we aren’t good enough.

We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. No conditions or expectations.

We need a church that sees us and believes in us, that cheers us on and encourages us to chase our big crazy dreams.

Solutions:

We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is)

People in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of their entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals, body image.

We need someone consistently speaking truth into every single one of those areas.

No, I don’t think a sermon-series on sex is appropriate for a sanctuary full of families, but we have to create a place where someone older is showing us a better way because these topics are the teaching Millennials are starving for. We don’t like how the world is telling us to live, but we never hear from our church either.

Solutions:

The Public Perception

It’s time to focus on changing the public perception of the church within the community. The neighbors, the city and the people around our church buildings should be audibly thankful the congregation is part of their neighborhood. We should be serving the crap out of them.

We desperately need to be calling the schools and the city, knocking on doors, asking everyone around us how we can make their world better. When the public opinion shows 1/3 Millennials are ANTI-CHURCH, we are outright failing at being the aroma of Christ.

Solutions:

Stop Talking About Us (Unless You’re Actually Going to Do Something)

Words without follow-up are far worse than ignoring us completely. Despite the stereotypes about us, we are listening to phrases being spoken in our general direction. Lip service, however, doesn’t cut it. We are scrutinizing every action that follows what you say (because we’re sick of being ignored and listening to broken promises).

Solutions:

You’re Failing to Adapt

Here’s the bottom line, church — you aren’t reaching Millennials Enough with the excuses and the blame; we need to accept reality and intentionally move toward this generation that is terrifyingly anti-church.

“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.” —Bill Clinton
“The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” —Kakuzo Okakaura
“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” – H.G. Wells

Solution:

You see, church leaders, our generation just isn’t interested in playing church anymore, and there are real, possible solutions to filling our congregations with young adults and get them to stop leaving church. It’s obvious you’re not understanding the gravity of the problem at hand and aren’t nearly as alarmed as you should be about the crossroads we’re at.

You’re complacent, irrelevant and approaching extinction. A smattering of mostly older people, doing mostly the same things they’ve always done, isn’t going to turn to the tide.

Feel free to write to me off as just another angry, selfy-addicted millennial. Believe me, at this point I’m beyond used to being abandoned and ignored.

The truth is, church, it’s your move.

Decide if Millennials actually matter to you and let us know if we should be leaving church. In the meantime, we’ll be over here in our sweatpants listening to podcasts, serving the poor and agreeing with public opinion that perhaps church isn’t as important or worthwhile as our parents have lead us to believe.

About the Author: Sam Eaton is a writer, speaker, and in-progress author who’s in love with all things Jesus, laughter, adventure, hilarious dance parties and vulnerability. Sam is also the founder of Recklessly Alive Ministries, a mental health and suicide-prevention ministry sprinting towards a world with zero deaths from suicide. Come hang out with him at RecklesslyAlive.com.


II. Is Churchome Redefining Christianity, or Just Raking In Millions?

To build their celeb-approved megachurch, Churchome, pastors Judah and Chelsea Smith preach community, love, acceptance, and inclusion. Is their Instagrammable message truly reframing Christianity or simply helping their church rake in millions? In 1999, a young single mom named Pattie Mallette attended a Christian conference in Toronto, about 90 miles from her hometown in Canada. From the audience, she watched Judah Smith, then the co-leader of the youth ministry at the City Church, speak about the Bible and Jesus. He seemed cool and young, and she liked what he was preaching. She left the summit with a few recordings of his sermons. By the time she reached out to Judah and his wife, Chelsea Smith, with an invitation to attend one of her son’s concerts at the Everett arena in Washington, the Smiths had become co-lead pastors at the City Church in nearby Seattle. “I don’t know if you’ve heard of my son,” Chelsea remembers Mallette saying, “but he needs some good influences in his life. Would you come?” It was 2010. Of course the Smiths had heard of her son. Justin Bieber, then 16, was the most Googled person in the U.S. that year.

Nearly a decade later, the Smiths’ nondenominational church—which has since been rebranded as Churchome—has become one of the most influential Christian congregations in Hollywood. According to the Smiths, their church collectively draws more than 10,000 people every week to its five locations in Washington State and California, including its Wednesday-evening service at the historic Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, where it’s not uncommon to find the front rows reserved for celebrities and the back doors staked out by paparazzi. The L.A. services have drawn the likes of Kourtney Kardashian, Ciara and Russell Wilson, and Selena Gomez.

The Smiths introduced Bieber to Carl and Laura Lentz, who lead the New York outpost of Australian megachurch Hillsong, which many of the Smiths’ congregants (including Bieber and his wife, Hailey Baldwin Bieber) attend when they’re on the East Coast. Chad Veach, another friend of the Smiths, leads L.A.’s Zoe Church, which counts Chris Pratt, Katherine Schwarzenegger, and Ashley Benson among its followers.

As church attendance in the U.S. declines and the number of Americans with no religious affiliation rises (a recent Gallup poll found that half of all adults belonged to a house of worship in 2018, compared to an average of 68 percent throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s), the Smiths want to reposition Christianity through positive storytelling—not through the messages of doom and gloom that other churches have preached in the past. “In those dark times, the story got out there that Christians were a bit mean and harsh and judgmental and looking for the wrong in people,” says Chelsea Smith. Fearmongering televangelists like Jim Bakker and Robert Tilton sermonized that those who didn’t follow Jesus—and those who didn’t donate heavily to the church—would face demons and end times. (Bakker was later indicted on multiple counts of fraud. Tilton, who was repeatedly accused of unethical fundraising, was unsuccessfully sued for fraud.)

Not that these megachurch scandals are unique to the 1980s. Last year, high-profile pastors Bill Hybels in South Barrington, Illinois; Dean Curry in Tacoma; Les Hughey in Scotts­dale, Arizona; and Andy Savage in Memphis were among a number of Christian leaders reported to have been fired or forced to resign following allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse. And, historically, most Christian megachurches have deemed those who partake in same-sex relationships or have an abortion to be sinners. (A 2008 survey of America’s 100 largest churches by policy-tracking advocacy group Church Clarity found that 94 percent were not LGBTQ-affirming and 6 percent didn’t disclose their stance.)

But Churchome is different, says Chelsea. It’s nondenominational. Its pastors say they love and accept everyone. They like modern art (Judah is an abstract painter) and tattoos (he and Bieber got matching ink) and sex (after marriage, but they won’t judge if you disagree). That messaging has been key to their meteoric rise and may be far more inclusive than the truth.

Fellow celeb-loved church Hillsong has come under fire for barring its gay members from holding positions of leadership within the church. (Its Australian-based founder Brian Houston wrote in a 2015 blog post titled “Do I Love Gay People?” that “Hillsong Church welcomes ALL people but does not affirm all lifestyles. Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle.”) On Instagram, Hillsong NYC’s Carl Lentz described New York’s Reproductive Health Act, passed in 2019 to legalize abortion at any point during pregnancy if necessary to protect the mother’s life or health, as “evil, shameful and demonic.” And actress Ellen Page called out Chris Pratt’s relationship with Zoe Church after he talked about his spirituality on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in February, tweeting, “Oh. K. Um. But his church is infamously anti lgbtq so maybe address that too?” Churchome has thus far managed to avoid major public backlash, in part by skirting most issues that could be considered controversial.

Yet, in 2005, before he was Instafamous and buds with Bieber, Judah openly preached his unfiltered views. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which profiled Smith’s growing popularity that year, he said he targeted followers ages 12 to 19 to “get them young” and told one such group that “President Bush’s Supreme Court nominations would be essential to determining ‘whether or not we will continue to murder innocent lives in the womb of our women.’ ” The article also summarized his views on homosexuality: “[It’s] a sin, the same as murder, rape or living with your girlfriend.”

Which begs a question: Is Churchome truly expanding what it means to be Christian, or are the Smiths sleek storytellers who know what it takes to stay popular with Gen Z and Millennials?

On a Wednesday evening last February, the lobby of the Saban Theatre buzzed with teens, twenty-, and thirty-somethings wearing T-shirts and distressed denim. One guy with a fur collar on his jacket had a neck tattoo of praying hands. Former NFL player Reggie Bush and his wife, Lilit, slipped into reserved seats toward the front row of the nearly-2,000-capacity theater. The stage was illuminated in blue and purple lights, and a keyboard stood in place of an organ.

Judah, wearing an oversize burnt-orange button-down, black skinny jeans, and black leather boots, opened his sermon by calling himself a “Jesus guy” and launched into the Old Testament story of Rahab, a prostitute who found faith against the odds. He talked with the smooth croon of a late-night DJ, pacing the room while reciting a prayer, then tossing his arms in the air as if he were a rapper spitting a verse. “If your lifestyle in any way reflects or [has] some symmetry with Rahab, I could almost argue that God’s with you a lot,” he said. “God loves broken people.”

The following Wednesday night, a group of baptisms took place in a small inflatable pool in the lobby of the Saban. People crowded around the pool and spilled onto the stairs and the balcony above. Everyone was cheering, as if it were a sporting event. Many of those who got baptized had been going to Churchome for only a few months. One woman said God let her survive the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. Another woman explained she was doing it to celebrate turning 60. As she got dunked in the water, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday.”

“Are we a religion? Sure. But it’s not about doing everything right so that you’re accepted by God or his community,” says Chelsea. “It’s like, you’re already in with God. All you have to do is receive the gift [of faith] that has been given.”

It’s a day before the aforementioned service, and she is at the kitchen table in her light-filled home, which is decorated with sleek modern furniture and sits at the end of a cul-de-sac high atop the Hollywood hills. Churchome, which operates as a 501c3 organization, purchased the 2,806-square-foot, four-bedroom home in 2016 for roughly $2.5 million as an investment in its future in Los Angeles. The church’s total revenue last year was about $20 million; $18.5 million of that came from “tithes,” traditionally a tenth of congregants’ incomes and offerings. (They are not required to donate.) Because Churchome is a nonprofit, it’s exempt from federal income tax.

The Smiths moved into the home full-time in the summer of 2018 after enrolling their kids in public school in Los Angeles. It serves as a weekday residence for Chelsea and Judah, both 41, and their three blond-haired kids: Zion, 15, who looks like a young Bieber, with a buzz cut and pierced ears; Eliott, 13, a streetwear connoisseur with an affinity for rapper Travis Scott; and Grace, 10, who likes playing with purple slime and is obsessed with nail-art videos on YouTube. The family often flies back to Seattle for Churchome’s Sunday service.

Baptisms for friends of the church are occasionally held in the backyard swimming pool of the L.A. house. The living room, with its powder-blue velvet couch, black leather Eames chair, and neon sign spelling Judah’s and Chelsea’s names in cursive, looks ripped from Pinterest. On the walls are bold abstract paintings by Judah (Chelsea jokes that one with messy red painted letters looks like a ransom note; Judah recently sold a similar painting on his website, paintbyjudah.com, for $1,900), and there are coffee-table books on subjects ranging from French impressionists to muscle cars. (As of October, Churchome began renting office space at Saban Theatre and sold the home for nearly $3 million; the Smiths are still spending time between L.A. and Seattle.)

Like the Smiths’ home, Churchome’s Instagram feed is meticulously curated, thanks to Churchome’s creative-content team, which includes a full-time social-media manager and a content director. Still, Churchome’s media universe is modest compared to that of Hillsong, which boasts a smartphone app, a TV channel, and a record label.

But the Smiths are not far behind. Last November, Churchome debuted an app, Churchome Global, that encourages users to stream sermons, join community chat rooms, and digitally pray for one another. The app’s prayer feature looks like a newsfeed. Users post their prayers instead of status updates and receive notifications when others have “prayed” for them.

Churchome Global, which is run by app-development company Seventh Spark, also allows users, a majority of whom are single, to direct message one another, which means it sometimes functions like a dating app. Using Pushpay, a donor-management system designed for churches, the app also makes it easy to set up one-time or recurring donations to any of the church’s five campuses. (According to Churchome’s annual report, Judah and Chelsea are personally compensated in exchange for providing consulting services to Seventh Spark. The couple donate 20 percent of their overall income to the church, though they did not disclose the total amount.)

In addition to the app, which has been downloaded over 200,000 times, according to Seventh Spark, the Smiths are focused on growing their L.A. base via more in-person experiences. One example: 2018’s pop-up sermon at Coachella, led by Judah and featuring a surprise performance of worship songs by Bieber. Another is She, a Churchome group for women, because, as Chelsea says, “You don’t realize at times how much of the religious conversation is dominated by men.” She adds, “Our God-given femininity, however it’s expressed in each individual woman, is so beautiful.” Currently, there are hundreds of She members who connect via the app. The group partners with Churchome’s Uplift division, which organizes volunteer events and campaigns to give back to local communities—they recently hosted a diaper and clothing drive for teen moms—and has its own messaging space on Churchome Global. Chelsea leads its communications.

The seeds for Churchome were planted long before Chelsea and Judah were born. Judah is a seventh-generation pastor. Chelsea’s family adopted Christianity much later. Her parents turned to Jesus when her father was 19, after his brother committed suicide. “He felt darkness and didn’t know what to do,” she says. His ex- girlfriend was Christian, so he drove to her parents’ house and asked them to pray for him. Then he invited over his current girlfriend—Chelsea’s mom—and asked them to pray for her too. Chelsea’s parents got married a year later and made church a permanent part of their lives.

Chelsea’s and Judah’s moms met each other at a church they belonged to in Portland, Oregon. Chelsea and Judah passed notes in junior high, until Judah’s family moved to Seattle to found the City Church in 1992, when he was 13. Led by Judah’s father, Wendell Smith, the church started with just 21 people and eventually grew to about 7,000 members.

Chelsea studied human development at Warner Pacific University, a Christian liberal-arts school, and planned to become a high school guidance counselor. Then, during her senior year, Judah showed up as a guest speaker at the ministry where she was working as a youth pastor. Chelsea and Judah married in 1999, taking over as co-lead pastors of Judah’s father’s church in 2009. Four years later, Chelsea says, she had an epiphany while sitting on the toilet reading People magazine. God spoke to her, she explains; it wasn’t a human voice but rather a gush of intense emotion and the sensation of receiving “a paragraph of thoughts in seconds,” she adds. She’s not much of a crier, she says, but in that moment, tears began to stream down her cheeks. Chelsea says she knew the celebrities in the article she was browsing could benefit from the Gospel; they had to expand to Los Angeles. “I felt such a deep sense of compassion,” says Chelsea. “It was a moment of feeling the heartbreak and the pain [celebrities feel] of achieving your dreams and realizing that you’re still empty and the unique type of hopelessness that that is.”

In 2017, the Smiths changed the church’s name as it had been for 25 years, the City Church, to Churchome. The name seemed more apt for a congregation that had outgrown the bounds of a single city. Besides, the term “City Church” was getting buried in Google search results.

Over a lunch of premade salads from Sweetgreen (“Mommy and Daddy are keto,” Grace says), Chelsea shows me the She group on the Churchome app. She scrolls to a message written by a woman who describes forgiving herself for having had an abortion when she was 18, posted on the day the Reproductive Health Act was passed in New York last January. “Thank you for sharing your story and offering hope and comfort in Jesus,” Chelsea wrote in response. “He loves us all so very, very much regardless of what we have done. When He looks at you He doesn’t even see the act of abortion.”

Regarding his 2005 comments on abortion, Judah says (through his publicist), “We have grown significantly in the past 15 years. I wouldn’t agree with my approach when I was a young pastor on many issues and understand that no life decision is easy. We hope to be a loving home for humanity, no matter what someone has experienced.” When I ask Chelsea what she would say to a member of her congregation considering an abortion, she is quick to clarify that, unlike a priest, a pastor—at least at Churchome—isn’t meant to provide counsel. “We know what we’re good at, which is the Bible and Jesus and telling His story. And we know what we’re not good at. There are amazing trained professional psychologists and counselors [for that].” That’s why, on the Churchome Global app, the Smiths titled a section of videos “Question and Response” rather than “Question and Answer.”

Throughout the two days we spend together, Chelsea has few answers for me. So I call her up a few weeks later to ask more questions: What is Churchome’s position on LGBTQ members, for example? “Every individual is entitled to their own persuasion, and it’s not our job to persuade. It’s just our job to proclaim. They feel just as loved and welcome and a part of our community,” Chelsea says. Have Judah’s views on homosexuality changed since 2005? “We are a church who love and welcome people regardless of their beliefs or background,” he says. Would Churchome be open to having a gay pastor? After a long pause, Chelsea says, “We are very much in the category of ‘We love everybody. God is for everybody. And God’s heart is for people.’ So our hearts are for people, and that is where we land, absolutely.”

A response, certainly, but not an answer.


I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works (plural) of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit (singular, one fruit) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26)


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November 30, 2019
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