In the space of about ten minutes, I was reminded of two subjects which profoundly moved Arthur Lough and awakened a fervor deep within him—contemporary Christianity and the church’s relationship to twenty-somethings, the generation which sociologists call Millennials and some Christian social analysts call Mosaics. The longer Arthur talked, the more ardent his mannerisms, the more urgent his tone.
After a brief pause, during which it seemed he thought deeply about how much more he wanted to say and in what terms, he picked up where he had left off a moment before.
“I know that we talk about the importance of the ‘formative years,'” he said, making invisible quotation marks in the air with his fingers. “That generally means childhood and adolescence. And I don’t dispute that argument. Those are crucial years, without doubt. But consider all that happens during that decade between ages twenty and thirty.
“Twenty-somethings make life-shaping decisions about education, career, marriage, finance and debt. It’s the decade during which they test their beliefs about what is real, what has meaning. And sadly, many of them are making these decisions apart from the influence of a faith community or church.”
“Why do you think that is?” I asked.
“They’ve lost confidence in the church as an institution,” he replied. “Or maybe they think of the church only as an institution and not as a community. Twenty-somethings value relationships above programs. They look for honesty and authenticity above authority and dogma.
“Unlike older folks, twenty-somethings don’t regard doubts and questions as a sign of weak faith. In fact, they are suspicious of people, especially authority figures, who never seem to doubt anything—at least nothing they will admit.”
Arthur’s awareness of the characteristics of twenty-somethings—the Millennial Generation—came honestly. He taught that age group at the college level for fourteen years, and he developed a genuine love for them. At the same time, he wasn’t intimidated by them, and he didn’t find their quirks or their questions off-putting or threatening.
“There are numerous books, written by Christian evangelicals, that provide insight into the Millenials (or Mosaics),” Arthur told me. “If you’re interested, I would recommend three as a place to start. The first is a book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons called unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters. I used that book as a text for a course called ‘Contemporary Christianity,” which I taught during my last year as a Bible college instructor.
“Since then, both of those guys have written follow-up volumes, of a sort, and I recommend them too. Gabe Lyons’ book is called The Next Christians: Good News About the End of Christian America. The newest of the three is one by David Kinnaman called You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith.
As he was telling me the names of those books, Arthur again reached into his well-used shoulder bag and extracted a single volume. It was a copy of the last title he had mentioned, the Kinnaman book, which he opened to a section he had marked with a yellow Post-it note.
“Listen to this,” he said, and began reading aloud from the book.
The next generation (meaning the Mosaics or twenty-somethings) is caught between two possible destinies—one moored by the power and depth of the Jesus-centered gospel and one anchored to a cheap, Americanized version of the historic faith that will snap at the slightest puff of wind. Without a clear path to pursue the true gospel, millions of young Christians will look back on their twenty-something years as a series of lost opportunities for Christ.
“And then there’s this,” he said, moving his finger farther down the same page.
Like a Geiger counter under a mushroom cloud, the next generation is reacting to the radioactive intensity of social, technological, and religious changes. And for the most part, we are sending them into the world unprepared to withstand the fallout. Too many are incapable of reasoning clearly about their faith and unwilling to take real risks for Christ’s sake. These shortcomings are indicators of gaps in disciple making.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Arthur said as he closed the book and laid it on the table between us. “This is precisely where the church is dropping the ball.
“And this is the situation which has given rise to the emergent church. This is what fuels emergence Christianity. I only wish I felt more confident that the emergent phenomenon truly represented the mid-course correction that the church needs so desperately.
“The first chapter of the Gospel of John describes Jesus as the One who shows us the glory of God, ‘full of grace and truth.’ The problem with emergence Christianity, I fear, is that it is strong on grace but a little more shaky when it comes to its understanding of truth.
“A lot of Mosaics (twenty-somethings) grew up in churches with precisely the opposite problem. They were big on truth but not so good when it came to showing the grace of God in their dealings with people. These young people have decided that they would prefer to move in the other direction.
“For them, it is more important to be grace-filled, compassionate, tolerant—traits which they imagine were characteristic of Jesus—even if it means they surrender something when it comes to defining truth as a foundation on which to build their lives and their relationships.
“That is the church’s biggest challenge so far as reaching or hanging on to this twenty-something generation is concerned. That old adage, ‘they don’t care what you know until they know that you care,’ has never been more true than it is today in relation to the Millennial Generation.
“This is a great day for the church. These young people offer us a great challenge and an equally great opportunity. Like David Kinnaman wrote in that quotation I shared, too many evangelical churches practice ‘ a cheap, Americanized version of the historic faith that will snap at the slightest puff of wind.’ Millennials reject that kind of Christianity, and rightly so.
“Instead of wringing our hands, however, Christian leaders ought to interpret the exodus of twenty-somethings from their churches as an opportunity to go back to square one and re-think what church is all about. Nothing is more important than that.”
“You should start a church with that kind of focus,” I said. “You have made a clear diagnosis, and you have the knowledge and the experience to help raise up a church of the sort you’re talking about.”
“Oh, I’d love to,” Arthur said, nodding his head ever so slightly. “I’d love to.”
I was just about to ask him why he didn’t do it when Arthur looked at his watch. We had agreed that our coffee and conversation sessions would not run longer than ninety minutes, and we were closing in on that time limit. Arthur slid the Kinnaman book back into his satchel, stood up to put on his wrinkled windbreaker, and extended his hand.
“I’m glad we’ve had an opportunity to connect again,” he said. “I don’t have a chance to talk about things like this very often.”
“Would you be open to doing this on a regular basis?” I asked him. “Say every Monday afternoon? At least until we resolve all the church’s problems or we get sick of each other, whichever comes first?”
He smiled. “I think I’d like that. At least for a while.”
“Great,” I said. “Then I’ll see you here next Monday at this same time.”
“Well, ninety minutes earlier than this,” he said, grinning.
I felt good about the commitment we had just made. “Mondays with Arthur,” I thought, as I walked out into the brisk January air. Has a nice ring.