The Cloth from Which I Come
I don’t like labels; they can feel narrow and constraining, like a cultural straitjacket of sorts. That being said, they do have their place and, like it or not, I am a millennial. This certainly invites the criticisms of entitlement and fragility, and the astronomical expectations of innovating and start-upping, but of course it’s not all bad. There are the millennial perks of growing up remembering the turn of the century, watching Lord of the Rings in cinemas, and Facebook gaming (Restaurant City, Farmville and Mouse Hunt), and what I would consider the golden era of Disney cartoons! It’s with this background that I have come to know Christ, exist as part of his Body, and am attempting to seek the wellbeing of the Church. With all this in mind, I’m now trying to respond to the initial findings of The Generations Project that Graceworks is embarking on.
Facing the Skeletons Within
I appreciate how the initial findings revealed that “millennials value community and accountability” and would whole-heartedly agree with that. I grew up in environments where secrets were kept in closets until the unfortunate days when doors fell off and the skeletons clattered out, hurting those around, making a cacophony that rung on forever, and searing into minds a memory that no one wished to remember.
I would say that that is a reality in the Church as well but, for most, those doors have stayed solidly closed, locked up and bolted shut. Many of us, both institutionally and individually, have taken extra effort to make sure the closets stay that way. But those closets take up space, and perhaps by some God-given gift of intuition, we just know that those closets are there. There are those who, fed up with the skeletons in their Christian life and seeking true change and help, bring their skeletons out. They are often met by criticism, scorn, and shame from the Church. Ironically though, in my own experience, when the skeletons were brought out, by those of us who timidly, weakly, and in great shame carry them, it has been the only way to begin the process of burying them away in the dirt, once and for all.
Perhaps I’ve lost you in my analogy — all I’m trying to say is that in our shared vulnerability we grow. We grow because we no longer hide. We grow because we no longer fear being found out. We grow because instead of preventively and frantically adding more locks and fastening more bolts to a rusty old door, we do the embarrassing, humbling, empowering work of burying skeletons away into the dirt from which we came. And as we do that we are fashioned into the image of Christ, no longer controlled by our skeletons, but led by his Spirit.
As a millennial, but perhaps more importantly as a Christian, I want to bring my skeletons out, that the light and love of Christ shining through his Body may help me in that process of my sanctification. And I hope that as much as I ask that of the Church, I offer it to her to. At the end of the day, who are we kidding? I’ve got secrets, you’ve got secrets; God knows them, and God invites us to be the mediators of His work to one another. Maybe it’s time we started sharing them, not for the glory of messy faith, or the appeal of being a “rebel”, but for the only purpose worth living and dying for, becoming truly human in the light of Christ.
Glory in Weakness, Not Performance
In connection to this first idea of vulnerability and its natural partner of accountability, is the idea of achievement or lack thereof. I would again agree with the findings from the report that the overstructured, over-programmed, and performance system of churches can be seriously aggravating on a good day, and downright depressing on a bad one.
I have rarely been told nor shown by the world or the Church that weakness has its value. In a world of “Top 3 Millionaires Before 30”, and in a Church of “[insert number] First-time Visitors at [insert church]”, my takeaway is “achievement is glory” and “glory is God”. Culturally, I think we have failed to grasp the importance of weakness, while Christianly (is that a word?), we have failed to grasp the glory of weakness. Paul likens our lives to jars of clay carrying the treasure of God — the good news of Christ! (2 Cor 4:7–9). But too often have I felt the pressure in church to present this treasure in a jar of the finest gold, purest silver, highest-grade jade, or whatever fancy material you can imagine.
The Church seems to have sometimes forgotten that she is a Body, not a business. Bodies are limited — in their weakness they are messy and difficult, they need help and healing. They lumber along, and while they can be extremely efficient (think of our circulatory systems) they can also be the opposite (how about the need for sleep?). And yet they are wonderful in all of that. Our weakness reminds us of the holiness of help, our inability calls to mind the glory of a good God. Perhaps if we would learn to accept our weaknesses and live out our callings through our weakness and not despite our weaknesses, perhaps then we would become the Body, as God had intended, not as man desires us to be. If the Church is to be the Body, she will miss the mark, she will not be the most efficient, she will be superfluous at times (why does a body need eyebrows?), but she will also be beautiful, collaborative, gracious, dependent on all of her parts and on God.
Our achievement need not be the barometer by which we prove our value, but unfortunately, many a time it has felt that way. We should certainly seek to labour well and lovingly in the Kingdom for the glory of God, but too often have we laboured hard and single-mindedly for the Kingdom in order to earn the love and approval of God. This has been given to all who would receive it in the love of Christ, and perhaps it is time that we as the Church begin to learn to be well-contented in that.
Different Different but Same
We all have unique backgrounds, and though they may be more similar within a generational “cohort”, they do influence us, but they do not have to define us. It is my hope that in weakness and vulnerability we may humbly invite the work of the Spirit to nourish and grow us into beauty and glory.
I have been grateful to respond to The Generations Project as a millennial, but I hope that it is not read just as that. I hope that my response is considered as that of a brother in Christ, a fellow sojourner on this journey; one who knows Christ, as you do; one who exists as part of the Body, as you do; and one who attempts to seek the wellbeing of the Church, as we must. There is no better way to end my reflection than through echoing Graceworks’ desire that there may be unity through empathy. God help us.
This article is in response to last week’s commentary Millennial Christians and the Institutional Church and is part of the Graceworks Generations Project. Through this series of commentaries, we hope to invite honest conversations that will lead to greater unity through deeper empathy for one another in the body of Christ. If you are a Boomer, or from another generation, we would love to hear how you think the church can begin to build bridges. Leave a comment on our Facebook page GraceworksSG or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan is a final year Master of Divinity (Intercultural Studies) student at Singapore Bible College. He has been a witness and participant to the work of Christ in big church, small church and non-church communities.