First Third Conversations

Being Church Beyond Our Walls

Did you read Amanda Nelson's thesis yet? If not, it is posted at the bottom of the previous post.

I want to commend Amanda on her work in digging into what the church needs to learn about the spiritual lives on young adults. Her stories of young adults are similar to so many stories of young people in our contexts. I agree with many of her ideas on what the church can learn and want to add some more thoughts on what can be done to reach young people who have so many gifts to offer the church.

One thing that resounded with me while reading the stories of 4 young adults reflecting on their spiritual experiences in the wilderness is that we, as church, need to be creative in how we are reaching the young people in our communities. The culture has changed and the church has not. We cannot assume that people know the language, practices, and traditions and/or are finding meaning in it. Research shows that young adults today are some of the most un-church people in decades. If young people feel that what is happening on Sunday morning isn’t relevant, then we need to step outside our walls. What can the church look like outside of a building? Look at Jesus and his ministry. Jesus didn’t spend time in the Synagogue. Jesus walked with the people. He preached on the hillside, by the lake, and around a table. He told stories that were relevant to their lives. And Jesus knew when he needed to depart into the wilderness to pray.I think about all of the information we receive each day.

As I write this blog, I have Twitter, Facebook, and email open on my computer. Each day we are inundated with ads on our phones, online, on radios, TV, billboards, I could go on and on. No matter where you go, information is being pushed at you, whether you welcome it or not. It is hard to listen to what God is saying to us when we are being flooded with information. We long for a break from the noise. “We need the wild” as Amanda says, to remind ourselves who and whose we are. Our lives are different when we are unplugged. We are allowed to create our own experience, without judgment. We don’t have to fit into the box of this is church.

Earlier this year, FirstThird reflected on the power of outdoor ministry and why church can’t be more like camp. I loved my summers at bible camp growing up. The songs, bible studies, musicals, Christ walk, and relationships with friends and counselors became formative parts of my faith journey. This is the story of many children. They have a powerful experience at camp and wonder why the church feels so different. Hearing the stories of young people who left the church after their childhood makes me wonder why we aren’t listening to their stories of why they left. Our focus should be on the younger generations and walking alongside them as they mature, helping them see God at work in their own experiences. We cannot assume that children understand the beauty of a sunset is God’s masterwork. Or hearing the still small voice of God through a friend praying with you around a campfire. We, the church, need to give them the tools and language to name the faith practices that are happening in their lives. It is more difficult to reach them once they are already gone.

I’m afraid I’ve posed more questions than solutions. And maybe that’s ok because every congregation has a different landscape. What direction one congregation will go may not work for another. It’s about not being afraid to step out and trust God. I am reminded of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. God promises never changed throughout their wilderness journey. The land was theirs; they just had to trust God. The Israelites needed their time in the wilderness to see the hand of God at work in their life. We too need our wilderness experiences, whether it is retreating to the Grand Canyon, or a local park, to experience God. Let us live by the example of our young people and learn that transformation happens when we let ourselves live beyond the walls of the church.

by Julie Hagen.

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