I confess, I’m a Millennial church curmudgeon. Although the stereotypical image of a “church curmudgeon” is the bad tempered elderly man, arms crossed, complaining about how the music is too loud and the pews too soft, I am still a curmudgeon to be reckoned with.
Donning a bow tie and skinny jeans, with dark-rimmed glasses and a pair of loafers, I strut into churches with one mission – to judge it and its ministry. I’ll nit pick the artwork, or lack thereof. I’ll chastise the congregation for not having online giving and pontificate to my friends over brunch on how the place is from the stone age because the website isn’t up-to-date. And, fair warning, if the slides during the worship service are just one second off . . . sorry, but that’s tantamount to undoing the work of Jesus on the cross.
Like I said, I’m a Millennial church curmudgeon — the scary thing is I’m not alone.
More and more, when I get together with Millennials to drink our craft beer, sip our cortados, or nom our organic quinoa burgers, we like to grouse about what we don’t like about church. Sometimes, we even like to form “age appropriate” communities from within the incorrigible institution itself, not for Bible study of course, but to formalize our little gripe groups into beautified bitch sessions.
Even so, this attitude of cool criticism, as it is, is a cancer in the church. It’s not healthy for the curmudgeons or the congregations they censure.
Yet, given proper direction, we Millennial curmudgeons can be a positive force for change in the churches or other institutions we pan and/or shun. Our angst, aggravation, and appraisal can be tuned toward productive ends. Here are three things we can do (and older folks in the institutions can do to help us) to turn our curmudgeon-ness into constructive criticism for the sake of reconciliation and restoration:
1. Articulate our concerns (listen to our hearts)
When we have an issue with the church or another institution — even if it’s a matter of preference — we should address it with its leaders directly. We Millennials should not keep it to our ourselves (or our gossip gang) and let it fester until it mutates into passive-aggressive rage or some church-hopping, or establishment-eschewing, habit based on our personal preference.
Instead, we need to bring our complaints forward and let them be heard. Maybe things won’t change, but maybe they will. All we can do is be honest, and straightforward.
Of course, this requires that our elders listen. If a Millennial is taking the time to talk to you and air his grievances, be sure you hear his concerns, appreciate his perspective, and consider making a change. If you decide not to, then give us the respect to explain why and don’t give us, “It’s the way it’s always been done” or “We just can’t make that change” or “But the donors won’t like it,” because those, as far as we are concerned, are cop outs.
2. Appreciate the elders (mentor us as sages)
Millennials are not the future. Boomers, Gen X-ers, the Silent Generation, or G.I.’s are not the past. We are all a part of the present — fighting for the church or our institution’s cause together in the now. It is best, then, if we take the time to learn from each other in multi-generational community. This means that elders will need to listen to our ideas, appreciate our voice (see above), and invite us into leadership (see below).
But it also means we Millennials should realize we do not know it all, we are not God’s sole gift to the church, and we have a few things to learn. We are warriors and coming kings and queens, but we need the wisdom of the sages, the sagacity of the present leaders, to learn, grow, and earn the right to lead. A pastor of mine once advised me to always have an older mentor to challenge me on a regular basis, and it’s the best piece of advice I ever received. I suggest that other Millennials do the same.
3. Assume leadership (give permission)
Yet, we Millennials not only need to listen and learn, we also need to lead. We need to step up, raise our hand, and take responsibility for our church, cause, or organization. Serve on the committee, go to seminary, or join the board. Lead. But, and this is a big but, this means that we not only need healthy challenge from our elders, but permission and invitation. We cannot lead where we are not endorsed. We need the blessing of our elders to lead with authority.
However we do it, we need to lead together, learn from each other, and avoid one of two extremes: churches and institutions with young leaders and a bunch of old grouches or one with an older leader and a bunch of Millennial curmudgeons.
God help us.
Image courtesy of Vadim Sherbakov.