a letter from an exhausted/exasperated young person who has a complicated love/hate relationship with the church

PART 1 of 2

Can I be honest?

I find the church exhausting. At times infuriating.

I’ve spent the last decade working for a few different local congregations—from conservative Baptist to non-denominational to mainline Protestant—and to be honest, regardless of their theological/ideological/political nuances, they have all generally caused within me the same feeling: endless frustration.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Church. I believe it to be the single most potent and powerful possibility for the transformation of the world (and by “transformation of the world” I mean the actual restoration of the various ills and suffering and ecological devastation we experience and cause one another and the creatures around us…not the whole “getting people to think and vote just like me” agenda it’s been turned into). It’s why I continue to participate in it, why I continue to identify myself as “one of them.”

But there are times—more often than not—that it drives me absolutely crazy.

I’m in my early 30’s. I was born at the tail end of Generation X. I grew up with corporate downsizing and political scandals, and am therefore generally skeptical of people in positions of power. I was a latchkey kid, so being independent is pretty much second nature (although, inwardly, all I want is to connect with others). I spent a good chunk of my childhood in a single parent household, so the whole ‘nuclear family’ thing is actually bit of a foreign experience/concept for me. I have seen technology advance exponentially throughout my lifetime and was young enough when the trend began to have been able to ride that wave fairly comfortably and competently.

I exist in a world of diversity and globalization, of extreme expression and sharing (a la social networking). I engage a society and culture that connects virtually, that speaks more with sounds and images and “Likes” than it does words, and where the words themselves are becoming symbols and codes for other words through an almost tribal form of emotive texting. I am comfortable with (and actually excited by) the mashing up of ideas and concepts and sources into a cacophony of stories and thoughts and experiences (notice my almost obscene use of hyphens?) in which there isn’t any one right answer or message save for the one that YOU take away from the whole thing. I am deeply postmodern. This is the world I live in. This is my experience of existence.

Except at church.

At church I step back into a veritable time warp…and I’m not talking about a “This is so old/ancient it’s cool!” sort of scene, but more of a “Why does this place smell like my grandma’s living room? Seriously, it smells JUST LIKE her house” sort of vibe.

I am officially at a loss for words when it comes to the insistence of so many churches to try and preserve within their walls a snapshot of a certain cultural point in time…while at the same time bemoaning the fact that there aren’t any young people around, and secretly dreading whether or not their congregation will even exist 50 years from now (which I have found many mainline Protestant churches to be doing). How many meetings have I sat in on where so much energy and emotion was spent on arguing over seemingly non-essential things?  For instance: whether you use a piano or organ during worship isn’t going to determine whether young people attend or not.  It’s like asking a soon-to-be terminated employee what font they would prefer to have on their pink slip (and no, Comic Sans is not appropriate.  Ever). Because if the entire repertoire of songs–or philosophy of worship in general–is distasteful to young people, they don’t care what instrument is being used to accompany said repertoire. And for people who are immersing themselves in genres like stomp-grass or post-rock or prog-rock or neo-rockabilly, whether or not a piano or organ accompanies a song that has no relevance in their world (musically, at least) is simply a non-issue.

Does this image make you nervous?

And here’s the clincher: young people will put up with a LOT* …to a point.  They will put up with dreary music. They will tolerate outdated worship spaces covered in countless shades of off-white and the same silk floral arrangement that’s been sitting next to the alter since 1973. So the fact that they are willing to let a lot of things slide, yet are still so meagerly present in so many congregations is a problem worth worrying about.

Because there are a couple things young people simply won’t tolerate. They will not put up with what they deem to be a lack of community and/or authenticity, and they will not abide anything that appears to simply be going through the motions or the semblance of just being part of some spiritual/religious club. They aren’t interested in towing the party line that has no bearing on their social and cultural experiences. And–most terrifying to previous generations–they aren’t threatened by threats of “It has to be this way or nothing at all.”


Because this is a generation of self-starters and micro-entrepreneurship. They have no problem whatsoever starting up their own things. And they have been. And they are. And they will continue to do so.

And they’re not coming back to darken the doors of the places that insisted it had to be done THIS way and THAT way or it couldn’t be done at all. Churches have been reduced to elementary school playgrounds with the endless bickering and threats made by this faction or that one taking their proverbial ball and going home. And those playgrounds are getting noticeably more empty.

And the more meetings I continue to sit in on, the more music I sing that I don’t relate to, the more input I’m asked to give on young people and their participation in the church (which will never be implemented because that would require the church to *GASP* change something)…the less I care. Not care about the Church (the whole “universal body of Christ” thing), but care about participating in the traditional local congregation, and the more disheartened I am about the whole venture of it.

I was recently in a church service where the message of the sermon was about the intergenerational representation of congregations, and one of the points was that previous generations need to realize that younger generations can’t be told stories the same way the previous generations were told them. The language has changed. The environment…the substrate upon which we now build has changed. Because of this, the pastor added that previous generations needed to be willing to listen to the stories and voices of the younger generations as well.

Now at some point in the midst of this great message the children in the Sunday school class had been taken outside to play in the grass with some balloons, and you could hear their laughing and shrieks of joy and surprise outside the windows of the sanctuary.  What an appropriate backdrop for such a message!

And then it happened.

An older gentleman in the congregation stood up, walked clear down the side aisle, opened the door to the church yard and told the children that they needed to quiet down because a service was taking place inside.

And in that moment something in me broke.

Some dark, black, gloomy hole within my being dropped into endless freefall. During a message about generations needing to be willing to listen to one another, some guy actually got up and told the younger members of the church to shut up.

Any hope I had for change died in that pew. Any hope I had for conversation, for renewal, for cross-generational interaction choked to death center-aisle on the cranberry-colored carpet runner and to the sound of the words: “You kids need to quiet down.”

The closing song for the service that day was accompanied by both the piano and long-neglected organ. People were overjoyed to hear the playing of its pipes. I don’t know what the song actually was (any one of a number of songs that all sound the same to me). I just know I had to grit my teeth the entire time, that my knuckles were white as I gripped the back of the pew in front of me, that all I could think was, “Really?! REALLY?! That was worth getting up in the middle of a sermon for? That was a duty you felt obliged to carry out?  Is that really ‘how it’s done’ around here?”

I can’t help but wonder how Joshua felt when he saw the beauty and wonder of the Promised Land with its verdant fields and lush produce. How excited he must have been to help get the entire nation of Israel in there to begin settling it. I mean, he had been so close he literally TASTED it. But their response?

“We’d rather suck on sand for the next 40 years.” (Okay, so that’s a bit of a loose translation.)

I wonder if something inside of him broke. I wonder if some bottomless vacuum opened up within his gut as well.

An entire generation had to literally die before Joshua could once again move into the direction he knew the nation was called to go. How often did he dwell on that? Over the span of those four decades, how many days did he sit on the edge of the river and look longingly to the other shore and think, “We should be on the other side. Our story should be happening over there.” How many times did he voice that to the council, to those in the encampment around him?  And how many times did he hear the reply, “Don’t worry so much about all that, Joshua…you’re young. That youthful fire will die soon enough (we call that maturity) and then you’ll learn how to be practical and respect our cultural traditions. So have a seat, quiet down, and turn to page 289 in your hymnal…”


Jump to Part 2…


* They will express tolerance as long as there is hope that someday those less attractive aspects may in fact be allowed to change.  If not…they are generally out the door.




  1. June 5, 2012    

    Gutsy, honest, and provocative…

    • June 6, 2012    

      What a well-written commentary! I am a 62 year-old art teacher and would like the author to know there are many of us “seniors” with similar experiences and feelings. Many of my friends are “believers in exile” as the priest/author, Spong supposes. I have found spiritual support through the Spiritual Directors International organization. The group is denominationally and spiritually inclusive and diverse. We have a small group that meets here in home to celebrate spiritual growth and gifts, (artistically and otherwise), encourage inner exploration, and to pray. The meeting is facilitated by a friend in town and I have shared my teaching experience in mandala exploration and art several times. In the greater Spiritual Directors International group of participating teachers, ministers/priests and spiritual directors of many disciplines, there is much opportunity for classes and growth. Check out the website – And I like hyphens, too!

  2. Heidi
    June 5, 2012    

    Like it. Like it even more that this is only part one of two.

  3. Shannon Eisert
    June 5, 2012    

    Oh Thank you Ron! My very sentiments! That is why I so love the Guild.What an appropriate analogy in scripture as well. I however, am standing mostly on the outskirts of church these days specifically because of this. While I love the sacred words,they sprang from sacred experience…and I tend to find that outside of the church more often than in. I experience God happening all around, and Spirit is vitally alive in so many people who have walked out of those doors in order to really wrestle with the deeper questions, and grown. Many ways to bend the knee, be in awe, receive mercy and rejoice in gratitude!

    • Barbara Otto
      June 6, 2012    

      I agree with you both. I have been working for the church as a church musician for 37 years (yes I’m a fossil) and have seen the battles. Totally frustrated that people are not listening or watching what young people are doing. I get extremely frustrated when people say “oh this is what young people like and make the decision against my objections that we can only play one kind of music”. I have found more truth and spirituality outside the church walls. These days I rather be outside the church walls than in it even though I love the liturgy and ritual. I am changing my focus and back in school learning to become an ordained minister and want to bring Word and Sacrament out there while working on change on the inside. The Church will never regain or get people back in without changing its unwelcoming ways. Shutting children out of worship will certainly prove to be the death knell to the traditional church ways (or even “contemporary” worship styles).

  4. Cynthia O'Brien
    June 5, 2012    

    It’s everywhere, Ron, but especially infuriating here in Portland. You are not alone. See you soon, brother. Write on.

  5. June 6, 2012    

    Awesome, insightful and disturbing. Be encouraged that hope is still alive. Authenticity and grace will thrive wherever the Spirit blows upon humble and open hearts.

  6. June 6, 2012    

    Heartbreaking but oh so true. Looking forward (I think) to part 2.

  7. June 6, 2012    

    In college I was in the same church in Lincoln, Nebraska, that author Warren Weirsbe (in his 70s) attended. Warren made it a point to be a part of the loud, energetic college group service (of about 600 students) on a regular basis. He loved being up there with the youthful energy.

    That is to say, there is SOME hope.

    More later when I have time. Fascinate post that really resonates with me.

  8. June 6, 2012    


  9. June 6, 2012    

    This is fantastic. I’m sharing it. but please, who is “Ron?” Why post unattributed writing?

    • ron
      June 6, 2012    

      Hi Ann, I am actually the author. Since my name was posted at the top and I generally contribute most of the posts on this blog, I don’t usually give much thought about claiming authorship above and beyond that. This blog is the written extension of the place in which I work and am in community: http://grunewaldguild.com/blog/?page_id=2

  10. Patty J
    June 6, 2012    

    A good article. NOT all churches are that way. So many are. Trick is finding one that gets it. The silly thing is- usually by the time a church gets it, its too late. As a church leader I have sat around with the 6 or 8 elderly folk remnant that wring their hands and say, how do we get the kids in here? And in my guts I scream, “You had your chance and blew it when they were here.

    The good news (besides the obvious Good News, that Jesus died for everyone’s sins-and stupidity!) is that there ARE churches that do get it, and do it right, and well. You can always tell because they are the ones that are growing, reaching out, doing cool things. In this economy, many of the ones not doing it are simply shutting their doors.

    I believe it was Rick Warren who mentioned something about God not wasting the seekers in a place where they wont be fed and accepted anyhow…

    Now if I can just find a church that stops doing silo ministry (childrens min, and youth min, and men’s min, and women’s min, and college min, and old people min) and starts doing FAMILY min, and MAKES families for everyone to be part of….. giving EVERYONE a place to connect and belong and be challenged…. Then we’d be rockin….

  11. June 6, 2012    

    I didn’t read any of this article. I just want to say, white people in hip clothes terrify me. So, Yes.

    • Rick Bennett
      June 7, 2012    

      you should have said, “hip” clothes.

    • dar
      June 11, 2012    

      dude, is it only white people in hip clothes that terrify you!!
      I dont think that the clothes should be an issue, its what is on the inside that matters, as the saying goes, ‘dont judge a book by its cover’, think about that one will ya!!
      peace be with you!

  12. Rozella White
    June 6, 2012    

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS POST!! We believe in death and resurrection, right? What if the church in it’s current form must die so that new life sprouts? And what if it has nothing to do with what we are doing, but rather what God is up to? That’s where I find myself… I love the church. And always will. But I don’t think the Kingdom of God is ensconced in our current trappings (Praise be to God!) but I do believe that the Spirit is active and moving IN SPITE of our psychosis. That being said, where the community is gathered, God is present. Where relationships flourish, God is present. Where people walk side-by-side in times of crisis and tragedy, God is present. Where there is joy and abundance of life, God is present. My call is to help bring these realities about, regardless of whether or not I work for the church. That is my vocation as a believer… If we believe worship is a way of life, then we should be looking to our younger generation to see how they are living life in the midst of their current reality. I feel like we need more sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists who are also theologically trained to re-imagine what it means to be the church. Now I think that leadership is important. So in my case, I work with young people and families. But I consider my vocation to be much broader than my congregational call at any given time. I will mentor/support/love/challenge/form/walk alongside young people as a person of faith myself. Until we are willing to sacrifice it all, then I don’t think anything’s going to change. Doesn’t Jesus say something about that a time or two…? ;-) Looking forward to part 2…

    • June 7, 2012    

      In the early 1990s, I remember hearing a member of the Lutheran clergy who spent a lot of time looking at church history pointing out that all the indicators are in place (now 2 decades ago) for a second major reformation of the church…. not just tuckpointing the cracks or rearranging the furniture, but a core reshaping of what church “looks like.” His bottom line was that even though things were looking gloomy for the future of the church (and would probably become even more gloomier in the near future) it was his belief that after things looked bleakest and the dust settled, the church that would arise from this mess would most likely be a wonderful new thing.

      Since then, I have seen more and more evidence that he was right on the money. I have seen many blogs and (believe it or not) print articles comparing the state of the church to the eve of a revolution, the messiness of childbirth, (and as you pointed out) death/resurrection.

      The church moves at an incredibly slow pace. I hope and pray that I will be around to see its new regeneration!

  13. Barbara Otto
    June 6, 2012    

    Looking forward to Part 2

  14. June 6, 2012    

    I am a youth director in a large protestant church. I intend to share this at youth group and ask my kids where our church is failing.
    I really want to know.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to express your frustration, so I can use it as a tool. I look forward to part two.

  15. Andrea
    June 6, 2012    

    As a leader in a mainline protestant church, I just want you to know that this stroy brings me to tears. It is not because I disagree with anything you have said. The story of the adult silencing the children has happened lots of time in my congregation. And yet while I am trying to honor the “tradition.” How do I welcome you? That’s my dilemna and I am trusting the Spirit to lead and guide me Thank you for writing. I am looking forward to part II

  16. Glen Enander
    June 7, 2012    

    I agree with the sentiments, but, as one other wise blogger from your generation posted “Jesus is not your magic puppy.” Of course the church frustrates young people!! It’s not right that it does, but that is the nature of social organizations. I humbly suggest reading C. S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters”, especially the part about choosing and attending churches. I strongly agree that the incident you described demonstrated serious lack of discernment. But, the church does not exist to serve us…(and I know this won’t be popular)…Christians exist to serve the church. Frustrated? Good. That means you care. Good post, but there is another side to the issue.

    • June 7, 2012    

      Christians do not exist to serve the church! Christians ARE the church. The church exists to serve the world and to brings about God’s kingdom, not to maintain a certain way of being. I am very frustrated by the assumption that “the church” means “the way things are now.”

      From everything I read in this blog post, it sounds to my that the author does not want Jesus to change and has no criticism of Christianity as a religion. There’s no magic-puppyism here. Just a pointed critique of how the voices of this generation are systematically excluded in favor of the status quo.

  17. Pastor Kristy
    June 7, 2012    

    Your thoughts echo those I’ve been reading in the book, “You Lost Me.” I so appreciate your thoughts. So tell me, as a Pastor, what can I do to help? I’m not so old myself and I am passionate not just about traditions but about this Life-Altering, revolutionary: Jesus. I want to live up to my calling as a Disciple to follow and give Glory to God. If you could DO something to change it, what would it be? I really want to know? And by the way, I would have stopped the sermon to say something to him, but I have to confess, I DO sometimes us Comic Sans (and secretly enjoy it). I’m a little odd like that.

  18. Rev. Debra Jene Collum
    June 7, 2012    

    I totally ‘get’ what Ron is saying and sympathize. I want to give a little different perspective to the conversation. I am a veteran clergywoman (20 years in this gig plus a number of years in lay leadership) who has served in various ministry settings all of which have been family/intergenerational focused. What I have learned is that each generation in the mix needs to listen to the needs of the other. EACH GENERATION. The tricky, frustrating and wonderfully rewarding part of being the spiritual director of an intergenerational ministry is making sure that each generation has a voice. And then, after deep listening and conversation, helping those voices become woven into one fabric that is called “a church.” Not “the” church but “a” church which is located for this particular time and place for this particular mission.
    While I do not condone the quieting of the children in the way in which it was done, I do understand the motive behind it. I would suspect that the noise from the playground made it very difficult for the older members of the congregation to hear what was being said in the worship service. Believe it or not, some people come to worship to hear, learn and take away some lesson/message from the service. It isn’t just an experiential moment in time, it is a time and place to hear a concrete word from God. Some are rightly concerned that they might miss that word if they can’t hear it.
    While I love hearing children in worship (and on the playground outside,) as the pastor of all the worshippers in the congregation, I have a responsibility to be concerned that all can hear and experience the service in a way that nurtures and feeds their spiritual needs.
    I will often say to new parents and to the congregation that coming to church must be very confusing to toddlers who are learning to talk. In every other setting we are encouraging their newly formed language skills but when they come to church we ask them to be quiet. Yet, it is important that children learn, as a part of their development into non-narcissistic adults who need a Savior, that they are not the center of the universe.
    The ideal in this scenario would have been for the leaders of the children’s play group to have instructed the children that during worship it is necessary for them to play quietly so that everyone could experience the worship service. This would be a lesson in the practicality of the Golden Rule, hospitality, and what it means to be a part of the whole integrate weaving together of community. Teaching children, young people, adults and the elderly that together they can form a community that respects the needs of each generation at all times is such a valuable ethic in this silo-ed world of ours. The church, mosque, synagogue has a unique role to play in this forming of a society that learns to play, work and worship God together well. There are very few places where generations gather for a single purpose. How good it would be if brothers and sisters of all generations could learn to dwell together in the house of God in mutual respect. It would be like oil flowing down into the lives of our communities. It would be like the kingdom/reign of God coming to earth as it is in heaven.

    • Rose
      June 11, 2012    

      I agree; I am only just out of my twenties but hearing those shrieks and giggles would have meant that I could not focus on the sermon. Telling the children beforehand to be mindful of the sermon going on inside would have been a great move.

      OP, not everyone can focus- or hear- with background noise going on. Just something for you to keep in mind the next time this happens.

  19. Rick Bennett
    June 7, 2012    

    the only thing from the picture that makes me nervous is the hipster outfits that are no longer in style. Must be a bunch of Christians to still be wearing fedoras and neck scarves so far behind the trend:)

  20. Tracy
    June 7, 2012    

    I dunno. My thought when reading about the man who got up to tell the children to be quiet was not that it was a contemporary see-how-oldtimers-systematically-block-the-young. It was, hmmm . . . this looks like a test. How patient can we be with the lunkheadedness of everybody with us, including ourselves. Or what other funny parable is being told here–this act, at this moment? Finding examples of church people behaving badly is like shooting fish in a barrel. I expect its always been, (I’ve read the Bible) and always will be. Could we kick it up a notch? Is there something else we can say other than postmodern 20 somethings do things differently than 70 somethings? Because honestly, that story is being told everywhere we turn.

    “The message of the sermon (was) about the intergenerational representation of congregations.” — Really, that was the message? What was the text? Seems like it is still some institutional project we’re talking about. That would sustain my attention for about 25 seconds.

    The Gospel is not, “Jesus taught them how to speak to one another across generations, and they did, so thanks be to God for their wonderfulness.” It’s something else. And I can’t help thinking that while you’ve named a problem, if we waste too much energy on it, it is energy we aren’t using other places. And I know that every church with a pastor in skinny jeans bearing a smartphone isn’t thriving either.

    • Meilin
      June 9, 2012    

      It is important. If I feel the church is not responding to me and does not care for what I think or have to say, why would I go?

      • Corey
        June 12, 2012    

        Me, me, me.

        • Meilin
          November 17, 2012    

          Well, yeah. We all experience the world through a filter of “me”.

  21. June 7, 2012    

    Thank you. I’m looking forward to Part II.

  22. John
    June 7, 2012    

    Joshua and Caleb endured the 40 years of wandering because their focus was on God – not the people. Nor did they go out on their own because it was not about them. Why not become like Joshua and Caleb and lead?

    And there is the example of Jesus, my Saviour. He spent His time ministering to others not being ministered to. Again His focus was on His heavenly Father – not Himself nor the people around Him.

    Interesting that you are experiencing the same frustration He had with the “religious” people of His day. The Pharisees and Sadducees were practicing a religion just as many in the churches are today. He challenged them and us to have a relationship with our heavenly Father not just practice in a religion.

    The greatest theologian of the Methodist church is not John Wesley but his brother Charles, author of thousands of hymns. There is tremendous value in singing theology. But my favorite bands are Delirious? (who are no longer recording music – major bummer!) and Third Day. Again where is the focus – is it about me or is it about Christ.

    Now an opportunity to minister – maybe God has placed you in your congregation to work with us gray hairs helping us to not be Pharisees and Sadducees. Likewise, minister to the young helping them to appreciate and honor us gray hairs – we have been in their shoes frustrated with the old traditions.

    Remember, IT IS NOT ABOUT me – it is about God the Father, Jesus His Son and the Holy Spirit.

    In Christ’s love and service

  23. June 8, 2012    

    Ron – THANK YOU! I’m a 60 y.o. Episcopal priest and I have been preaching this to my congregation for years. The older generation (the one older than me) just doesn’t get it. But I’m going to forward your letter to some of them who are concerned with growth and hope that it sparks some understanding. Blessings, Eric

  24. Benazeer
    June 8, 2012    

    Excellent article, although I’ve experienced the same feeling of lack of authenticity, lack of real community, and an insistence on going through the motions in young-adult-driven “emergent” churches as well. In fact, I (as a just-turned-thirty-year-old) have so many disagreements with the way “emergent” church is done IME that I have to roll my eyes and excuse myself from the room every time our earnest vestry (thanks be to God my term of service is over) talks about adopting emergent church techniques to lure attract young adults.

    Honestly, I don’t care care about the organs, or the incense, or the 17th century hymns. I don’t go to church for the music (that’s what concerts and soundcloud and pandora are for, among others) or the decor or the flowers. I go to church because Jesus calls us to live and work and serve and love in community with other believers. And while the desperate desire among some of our older brethren to freeze the world in a snapshot of 1950s we-love-Jesus-and-America-too glory is definitely one of the causes for the lack of true Spirit-filled community, it’s by far not the only or biggest thing that’s wrong with Christian congregations today.

    • Keith Coppage
      June 8, 2012    

      Liked Benazeer’s response. Lotsa commentary here on “The Church” here but I have to say the older gentleman who wanted a quiet service has just as much right to it (and maybe is in need of it) as the kids have to be joyous and boisterous.

      Splitting services (one traditional, one contemp–but it really needs to be contemporary, not 1960′s folk) helps. Attend a Newman Center Catholic Eucharist gathering late nite (10:00? 11:00?) in a college town. Have a “Noisy Mass,” which some churches do, where infants and toddlers run wild. Let the teens out of the service for their own gathering. Night time services for the singles and lonely. Services with potlucks for the young families too exhausted to clean up the dining table at home. Bring everyone together for the biggies–Christmas and so on, but don’t expect a one-size-fits-all approach. And for crying out loud, quit talking about the water project going in some horrible country, and have some prayer and discussion on how the love of Jesus Christ can help the lonely, the divorced, the unemployed, the parish people struggling with loss of family, friends, home because of money, addiction, rejection,and so on. Quit being afraid to address heaven and hell and forgiveness. Young people care about what’s going on in Somalia but–and this is hard to swallow–not much. Tell them how to deal with misery in their own home and you’ll have ‘em. And they’ll bring their friends.

      • Benazeer
        June 8, 2012    

        Thank you Keith, but I’m going to have to disagree with you here. Silo-ing is one of the problems I see in a lot of congregations. By all means, have small groups and youth ministries and whatever else you like that serve people where they are, but bring the whole community together regularly. One of the single most important aids to my growth as a Christian has been worshipping with and serving with people who are very different from me, who I would never have met were it not for the church. Older people, parents, children, people from a different socioeconomic background, people with far less education than me, on and on. I’ve learned so much from my fellow congregants that I wouldn’t have gotten if we had seperate services for “Twenty and thirty something grad students with no children”

  25. John Clothier
    June 8, 2012    

    Ron is leaving ‘the church’ gracefully. Thanks. Most young people leave with four-letter words. The gender issues are not about ‘the church’. The issues are much more fundamental: all over the world young people are demonstrating for recognition.

    Our schools have become baby sitting operations for the unneeded. Churches dont need to assist in that. With too many people on the planet, feelings are going to be hurt and tummies are going to be empty. Overpopulation is the problem to be addressed. I mean, if we take care of the big problems then the little problems will take care of themselves. (Organ vs. rock band is a little problem).

  26. Rebecca
    June 8, 2012    

    An older gentlemen told me that there are two types of people at church: those running down the halls and the ones yelling at them to walk. Since he likes having kids around, he said he intends to be a runner. I felt so welcome and my kids are welcome there too. Phew!

  27. Brandon
    June 8, 2012    

    I can’t help but feel that there was a lost opportunity here. The elder gentleman was acting in love for the rest of the congregation. In his day, children were “seen and not heard” and I believe he was probably doing what he did out of a deep respect for the pastor and the rest of the congregation. Why did no one love him enough to say, “excuse me sir, but this is the point of the message, and we must allow this generation to love Jesus in the language they understand.”

    That type of boldness may have been appreciated by the older gentleman. And, something about “let the little children come to me” and “Get behind me Satan” suggest Jesus may also have approved of that action.

    • Brenda
      June 8, 2012    

      Amen, Brandon! Why do we feel that we cannot say anything to fellow Christians? We do more harm by “not hurting their feelings”.

  28. ron
    June 8, 2012    

    I feel like I need to make a few clarifications just to prevent any sort of ‘straw man’ realities from being created. And, as much as I would love to respond individually to every comment on here, I have to refrain simply because I want to encourage an environment of actual dialogue, not reflexive defensiveness that can so often become the norm in these types of conversations/topics.

    First, I’m not ‘leaving the church.’ Some people seem to be taking this in such a way. In the very beginning I stated: “It’s why I continue to participate in it, why I continue to identify myself as ‘one of them.’” I have no intention of leaving, so please do not equate frustration/exasperation with fickleness or lack of commitment.

    Second, my church is not one where the kids are running up and down the aisles screaming (even if there were, there are so few present that it probably wouldn’t make a difference). The kids are taken downstairs for Sunday school (after the Children’s Moment) for the duration of the primary service and, for the vast majority of the time, are never heard…let alone act disruptively. They aren’t running into the seniors during coffee hour, they aren’t jumping off the mini stage in the basement. They are usually sitting at one of the half-dozen tables set up downstairs for our post-service coffee hour, quietly munching on cookies. And truth be told: I get just as irritated as the next person (if not more so) by people who allow their children to treat a church building like a playground…so this isn’t a case of a parent just letting their children do whatever they feel like whenever they’re in a church building.

    This was, so far, a one time anomaly where the kids were taken outside and allowed to play with some balloons (no, we don’t have a playground, either. In fact, the limited church grounds are quite unfriendly for children to play in/around).

  29. Adam Buff
    June 8, 2012    

    I have to take a moment to pause and challenge a few things in this article. I will start by saying getting up and yelling at children to be quiet isn’t very helpful. On the other hand, when did it become the churches responsibility to cater worship/music to the younger generation. It is not like older members in the church grew up listening to Bach organ pieces as their “pop” music. The music of the church carries with it a tradition and connection to our collective past. Do I think we should exclude new music that proclaims the Gospel of Christ? Of course not. But by the same token I don’t think we should exclude music of the past, simply because it is old. If we attempt to cater our music to what is popular and hip, we will perpetually be alienating parts of our congregations. Is a church of all young people any better than a church of all old people? I would think not. I think that we, as the younger generation(I say this as a 24 year old) must appreciate and find the meaning in “older” music while at the same time sharing new music that proclaims Christ.
    I would also point out that if our churches all moved towards new and exciting music for the younger generations, when do we change it. What will happen is that people who are currently in their 20s will grow accustomed to “their” music and as they age they will always want that music as it is contemporary. The problem is that it is contemporary only to them. I am a part of the Lutheran Church and I have seen this is the reluctance of many 50 year old’s to part way with the Chicago Folk Service and other music that was written in the 70s. It is still played at many Lutheran “contemporary” services. When do you stop using their music as the contemporary and bring in new music. Is the church a place where each generation should meet separately so that they can have their music. I would hope not, and offer instead the suggestion that we worship using a wide variety of music and don’t attempt to pick music that “brings in the youth”. Our mission is to proclaim the love of Christ to the world.

  30. June 8, 2012    

    Love this post. But let me say that I don’t think the issues you address are intergenerational issues only. I’m in my 40′s and have experienced much of the same frustration. For me, it’s that I see that the church structures (meaning not just physical structures, but all aspects of how we “do church”) are out of touch with my community and world. People talk about “inviting your friends to church,” but “church” as I know it is not a place that people in my community would want to be. All the while there are many I know in the community around me that are looking for genuine spirituality, and especially a place of community, acceptance and love, and if they ever found those things in “church” they would be beating down the doors. It’s like there is a separate church culture (or several separate church cultures, take your pick) that have frozen certain aspects at some point in time, which doesn’t relate to anyone who wants to be truly alive and engaged in living reality of now. Not that it’s bad to have a church subculture (or counter culture even), but the problem lies in that our church subculture often looks nothing like Jesus, and an awful lot like those who were so threatened by the freedom and life of Jesus that they plotted to have Him murdered.

    That is not to say that there are not those communities of faith out there that are asking these kinds of questions. There are, but also as you point out, sometimes the questions are being asked while simultaneously being blind to the many things that we are doing that don’t look like Jesus.

    Anyway, thanks for the many thought-provoking reflections. And thanks for your honest transparency. I am feeling perhaps in inspired towards some fresh reflections of my own :).


  31. Rick
    June 8, 2012    

    Loved Part 1 and looking forward to Part 2.

    I am 41 and feel your pain. I do not attend but am very interested in finding a church home. I think I am like many of my (our) generation.

    Your piece inspired me to think about the similarity between a church and a business which leads me straight to Jim Collins (my favorite business writer). He worries about what makes some businesses great and what causes others to fail or never become great. How do once-great companies fall into decline?

    What would happen if we asked him to advise a church? Likely he would say that churches that are great or getting better have a certain type of leader and an inter-generational idea of why they exist. Failing churches compromise.

    I wonder if knowing what mistakes businesses make changes how churches approach a new generation?

  32. Bella Englebach
    June 8, 2012    

    This is a wonderful post — but just one thought about the older gentleman. His hearing is probably not as good as Ron’s — and if he wears a hearing aid, the high-pitched children’s voices may not have been “background noise” to him, but foreground noise. While his action of telling the children to pipe down was unfortunate, he may not have been doing it as a highly-significant symbolic move to tell people that youth is not welcome in the church. He may simply have been trying to hear!

  33. Damaris
    June 8, 2012    

    I appreciate your honest evaluation of something I’ve seen over and over again in churches from the Westside. I came to the conclusion that if a church doesn’t add to my spiritual life and I don’t add to it, it’s time to go elsewhere. Each church has its own style, reflected in the congregation and the style and messages of the preacher. There is one out there for you, Ron. If you don’t find one, maybe you should pray about meeting with others of like mind and start a church. You could agree on the music, the type of preacher (teacher, exhorter, etc.), and the programs, etc. One thing to consider is that the church is made up of flawed individuals, some of whom attend church for the wrong reasons. And there’s the rub! Now you have people who are there for the right reasons and others who are there for the wrong reasons and these must come together and agree on things. More complications. That’s why if you find one that is 80% or more your match, stay and make a difference with the talents that the Lord has given you. Hope and pray for your church and its congregation. Ask the Lord to show you how you might help. I can see you with youth. Perhaps disenfranchised youth. That will keep you so busy, that you’ll find less and less to pick apart, no matter where you end up. It would be great to hear from you as you ponder and experience this topic.

  34. Marisa
    June 9, 2012    

    Ron, THANK YOU!

    I was so glad to read this, even if it reignited the massive stockpile of explosive frustration I sit on because, simply, I cannot live without worshiping the God of life and redemption and who makes all things new. That means church.

    Lord have mercy, church.

    Ron isn’t talking about frustrating, flawed people. He isn’t talking about getting every last speck of frosting off the plate of his every desire. Someone who LIVES IN COMMUNITY doesn’t lack for commitment and frankly, the fact that anyone would suggest he’s just nitpicking is incredibly revealing of the very defensive, self-centered reflex Ron is talking about.

    Since many of you have taken the example for the whole of the phenomenon Ron wrote about, and suggested that the older gentleman was just hard of hearing, let’s go with your hypothetical. Here’s what this scenario *could* look like:

    Older gentleman gets up, unobtrusively goes to the kids’ leader, and says, “I’m having a hard time hearing, is there any way to get the kids to play quieter for the duration of the sermon/whatever?”

    Why is that different?
    1) Because it doesn’t cause further interruption to the service
    2) Because it allows the kids’ leader to do his/her job, and respects that someone (usually younger, usually female) might be the best person to deal with the situation, and is in fact paid or at least appointed to do so
    3) Because it negotiates conflict in a way that simply takes responsibility for a need rather than shaming an entire group of people, in this case children with balloons, for not anticipating his need as if his ability to hear was somehow a result of the moral corruption of 7-year-olds.

    Do you get the difference? If not, well, then probably no one can explain it to you either. Please go ahead and lock the doors and save the rest of us from wasting our time investing our hearts and energy in your expensive clique.

    It is the profound lack of awareness, the entitlement, and the narcissism of those whose attitude is “I got mine, now screw the rest of you” that Ron is talking about. It’s about churches that say they want “young” (under-50) people in leadership while insisting that we can’t possibly change X because the matriarch/patriarch would have an absolute meltdown (in other words, a tantrum). It’s about inheriting falling-apart buildings and budgets that blow through endowments because it never occurred to anyone that maybe upkeep and financial management should be based on a timeline of at least several generations, not just the span of one’s own retirement until funeral.

    “Ask the Lord to show you how you might help”? Seriously? That’s just one of the many unbelievably condescending comments on this thread. I get the feeling Ron has plenty of inspired ideas about how to help – the point is, no one’s listening. They’re too special, knowing, and entitled to their very own audience of people they can bully into submission.

    So many of us – younger and, importantly, not-younger – are finding ways to make and be church that require lots of negotiation, look to really care for the health of the community, make room for different needs, and attempt to create a living and vital participant in the neighborhood, rather than a building that’s closed six and a half days a week.

    I *dare* you to try the same. At least it would be a different conversation than the condescending, stupid one about whether young people like organs or not.

  35. Olivia. Caulliez
    June 9, 2012    

    In the UU church i go to, we start out the service with the children , sitting with their family ,for about 15 mn, then the minister or some other person reads a children’s story … With a cross age message,, the children are invited to sit close to the altar when they hear the story, and then we sing/bless the children out as they go to sunday school.
    Looking forward to part 2

  36. Sue Breisch
    June 9, 2012    

    Wow! Wow, wow, wow, wow… Thanks so much, where is part two?

  37. Charles
    June 9, 2012    

    I find it very sad. The entire relationship between elders and their progeny appears to be broken and the honor called for for their parents (God’s commandment) is no longer a priority.

    This is the epitome of the “me” (actually should read “ME!!”) generation upon whom it’s parents doted and provided without much structure or requirement of involvement.
    Everything must be an experience which most of the time excludes faith and discipline.

    The expectation of RECEIVING rather than GIVING is quite evident in the article. The problem then becomes” What happens when he no longer receives (after then church changes to accommodate his needs) what he thinks he wants”?

    I am especially sad that Ron’s generation expects to be provided the courtesy of being entertained/engaged rather than to plug-in and become involved with commitment.

    And what about the whole purpose of church? Is it really to make sure OUR needs are met?? I always thought it was to worship God how HE wants to be worshiped, while we fellowship with one another and take care of each other’s physical needs. Am I so wrong???

    And the most basic of all worship seems to be missing form his needs/importance as well: the most ancient form of worship and the most direct teaching of Jesus for His remembrance: the Eucharist and His ACTUAL BODILY presence in the accidents of the bread and wine. That we ACTUALLY must eat His flesh, and drink HIS blood to have any part with Him (John 6:41-59).

    It’s all about God. Not us.

    Can’t wait to see what part II addresses.

  38. Brenda Bolton
    June 10, 2012    

    Beautifully written, but more importantly, captures the pivotal word in this entire essay: authenticity.
    Too often organizations (of every type, not churches only) try to solve a problem by adding window dressing, but none of the efforts reflect the authenticity essential to genuine connectivity.

  39. Lisa
    June 11, 2012    

    I am also a GenXer and can totally relate to your feelings of frustration with the church, as well as your care for it. What has helped me tremendously is to not see myself as somehow removed from the church. The church is not some thing, building, or entity separated from us – the people. We are not victims, and this is our time to boldly be the change…

  40. Paula
    June 13, 2012    

    I’m a Gen-Xer and personally, I LIKE the traditional hymns played in my church.

  41. June 13, 2012    

    Please see Ron’s Letter, Part 2 (http://grunewaldguild.com/blog/?p=1804)

  42. Charles Ragland
    June 13, 2012    

    Ron, thanks for this. I was ordained 30 years ago and it seems to me we Christ followers could cut through a whole lot of distracting and divisive stuff if each congregation will focus on the answer to the question “How does this ministry, word, or action help the congregation be and make disciples of Jesus Christ, in a true faith community, for the blessing of God’s world?” (That’s a slight remix from B. McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy.”) In other words, let’s get down to the essentials of what the Church is called to be and do in and for God’s world, yes?

  43. Weiwen
    June 13, 2012    

    harsh but true imo

  44. June 14, 2012    

    I have spent my entire ministry, 50 years, attempting to assist and coach the churches where I was pastor or a staff member to deal with the very issues in this essay. I think Bob Dale has dealt with this in many books, most recently in his excellent GROWING AGILE LEADERS.
    Of course, the first to deal with this in the manner we are to use was Jesus. There is no resurrection without death. New wine in old wineskins is the worst method for what we need. We need new churches and old churches to in some way bury the past and welcome the future. It’s tough pastorasl work, but I love it. Prophets usually lose in the beginning, but if they are really speaking for the Lord, the always win in the end.

  45. June 25, 2012    

    Dear Ron,
    Thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable,authentic and articulate.I share your exhaustion with fights over non-essentials, the inability to hold different viewpoints in tension, and the ongoing confusion of symbols with the truth to which they point.

    I hear your desire to move deeper into a life of faith in which worship commissions us for service and send us out to make a difference in the world, in Christ’s name. I really resonate with that.
    I don’t know where you live but if you’re close to Monkton, Maryland, come and visit.I’d love to have a face to face conversation.

    Like any other church community we’re flawed. We have the usual cadre of curmudgeons (of all ages). But there are a lot of folks here
    who understanding it is not just about which hymn or what instrument. And sometimes when the Light is just right – and we’re paying attention – the Spirit gets a hold of us and it is something to behold. Come and see….www.saintjames.org

    You are the kind of energetic, thoughtful and committed person I’d love to have in our church.

    Your brother in Christ,
    Charlie Barton+

  46. Lowell Byall
    July 13, 2012    

    Someone sent me parts 1 and 2 of three. Can you send me part 3? I’m with a group of pastors and others working on the same issue and I think you have a lot to say.
    Thank you!

  47. October 2, 2012    

    hi nice to read this article and i want to say that the church can be a free legitarian most people. We need a principal religion for this live and love..

  48. Tyler Powell
    January 26, 2013    

    Hi Ron,

    I am a 30 year old pastor in Canada and I found your words deeply moving. Especially since I share many of the same thoughts about the church. I was wondering if I could have your permission to use your blog (this particular article) in a visioning process with my church?

    Let me know,

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