Wednesday night I attended my first service at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church where Shay works. It was a Lenten service. Besides being bored out of my mind by a traditional service rich with Christianese that sounds so foreign and fake even to my clergy ears, I could not help but notice the absence of a generation. It seemed like anybody under the age of thirty that did not have to be there was not there. Where has today’s church lost this emerging generation, and what can we do to re-claim it?
I see a picture of the church at the end of Acts 2. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
This is a picture of a “fellowship”. It is the entire body of believers in the early church. There are a few key things that I notice:
One - “All the believers were together and had everything in common”. This is a far cry from the church that we see today. There are programs for the elderly, student ministries, emergent services, children’s education programs, modern services, post-modern services, singles groups, young marrieds groups, middle aged groups, and on and on and on. We can guarantee that within this Acts 2 community there were teenagers who did not understand the adults and vice versa - yet they still were “devoted… to the fellowship.” They learned from one another. They all sought the teaching of the apostles - because the teaching was that of Jesus Christ - not the kind of topical teaching that we come across today.
Two - they had no church building. They met daily in the temple courts. This is not like hanging out in the church narthex every day - the temple courts was the hub of society in Jerusalem. It would be like meeting downtown in today’s culture. Furthermore, when they met privately, it was in one another’s homes. The church was the body of believers - not a building that they met in.
Three - they “had everything in common”. This was essential because they were focused on the core of their beings. The centrality of their identity came from Jesus Christ and his involvement in their lives - not from their doctrines, denominations, or beliefs about this or that. To say that they never had disagreements would be foolish - they were human. However I believe that this passage implies that they overlooked their differences and focused on the all important roots of their identity - in which they “had everything in common.”
Four - “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” In the church culture that I work in we so often focus on numbers. It is easy for me to claim that I am running a successful program due to it’s growth from four to twenty-five in nine months. But I would be doing a dishonor to the cross to claim credit for the growth. It is not me. I am merely the messenger, sent by God, qualified by God, and empowered by God reach a small contingent of students in this generation. The Lord is who adds to our numbers - not us, not our programs, and not our abilities.
And so how have we lost this community?
We have moved from teaching Jesus Christ to teaching biblical topics. Now - don’t get me wrong - this is not a bad thing. Topical teaching is a helpful element in the spiritual journey and education of Christians. However, it is not the road to our salvation, and it is not the definition of our core identities. When we begin teaching on the classical divisive elements of the faith, whether it be drinking, dancing, baptism, or whatever other demoninational differences we can come up with, we lose focus on the core definitions of our identity to debate our differences.
Furthermore, with this focus on topical teaching, what is relevant for one generation is not relevant for another. A high school student is not interested in “How To Manage Your Portfolio from a Biblical Perspective”. Nor is a middle-aged businessman interested in “Peer-Pressure: How Should We Respond?” Churches often gear their lectionaries to the demographics that are in attendance and thus thwart the involvement of generations that have no interest in that particular generation.
Secondly, we are in the middle of a cultural paradigm-shift. This generation often labeled as the “emerging” generation is not interested in doing things the way their parents did things. The cookie cutter “seeker-sensitive” services are no longer cutting it. This generation longs to be involved with a community that sees faith, rather than learns it. They want knowledge poured into their hearts rather than their heads.
So how must we respond?
I believe that the generational groups are a good thing when in context of a larger community of believers. High school students need to know how to respond to peer pressure. They also need fellowship and community with individuals their own age. However, unless we return to the community made up of all generations, this “emerging” generation will simply turn into what it is we despise already - a generation stuck in doing things their own way, not taking into account the greater community of believers.
We must remember that we as believers have everything in common. What we do not have in common gives flavor to the individual churches scattered around town - from the styles of worship to the dynamics of an individual community. But if we continue to get hung up by our disagreements that do not matter in an eternal perspective then we will never re-capture the Acts 2 community church that we were designed to live in.