The quote above by Hemingway can used to describe daily instructions given to my 8-year-old son.
Me: “Son, go to your room. Make your bed, get your baseball gear, and put it in the back of my truck. When you return, put your toys up. Ok?”
My Son: “Yes Sir!”(Leaves)
My Son: (Comes back seconds later) “What did you say again?”
I discovered my son’s inability to listen effectively stems from two reasons:
1. He was thinking about something other than the tasks asked of him
2. He forgot what I told him because he wanted to do what he “thought” I said
Either way, he was misguided and did not do what I asked him to do. In order to complete the task he had to check back to the original message. As a member, clergy, and apologist of the institutional body considered the church, and as a part of the greater organic following of Jesus, I believe it is vitally important that we begin to listen well in order to be effective witnesses and prophetic voices in a world that increasingly finding inspirational refuge in other places and organizations, especially among youth and young adults.
As a youth pastor, I am privileged to share life with some of the greatest of God’s creation: Youth and Young Adults. Young women and men with dynamic stories and promising futures as leaders. When I ask them how they feel about the church, the rain pours. This generation, the App Generation, the generation guided by smartphone apps and social media that provide application for life, find themselves at a dynamic intersection of life and history. At one stop, there is the Church’s history of glory and triumph, creeds and doctrines, councils and synods, dogmas and theology. At the other stop, there are new opportunities, innovations, and vast possibilities, and technology and media outlets that can be used to communicate the Church’s messages with greater reach and efficiency than ever before. At this intersection, young people are asked to engage and embrace archaic rituals and written literature of a time that fail in comparison to their iPhones and Apps, eBooks and Kindles, and a world of exploration available to them via social media. Yet they also intersect in a place where theology meets theatrical performance, where churches turn the Gospel message into beautiful visual displays of art, dance, and music. It is a dynamic intersection.
However, at the intersection, the Church must confront it’s biased services catered to older adults who have “real cares, real issues and are real tithe payers”, while either ignoring youth and young adults altogether, or designating the responsibilities of instilling spiritual truths, family values, biblical understanding, interactive worship, and ecclesiastical appreciation solely on the backs of youth pastors and their few youth workers. They enter churches where nothing they experience on Sunday comes remotely close to their daily social interactions. In many churches, they remain silent, unmoved by the ups and downs of our traditional services, or slightly amused by our attempts of relevance by way of injecting some of the latest jargon or slang or fashion into our sermons. Often they are more engaged by whats happening in the world of their following, they leave church without the slightest understanding of what took place.
In other churches, they are relegated to a space where they are either herded together to do “activities” like daycare with little to no space to really engage God and God’s activity in the world, or they are attempt to replicate the happenings of the main service in what we consider “youthful” ways. And it is in these spaces, if the youth pastor is attuned, must listen. Listen to the cries and complaints of boredom caused by being forced to come to church against their will. Listen to the silence and detachment through blank stares and attention to the happenings in their App world. Listen to their thirst for understanding through their inquisitiveness and challenging of our theologies. Listen to their disgust through frustrations driven by parents with their bible “belts” and closed ears. We have to listen.
Listen Church… “But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs”- Mark 10:14 (NRSV)
What would the Church look like, how would the Church respond, and where would the Church be if it chose to listen to the words above? Jesus in the busyness of his day, on the journey of his ministry, did not find it burdensome to attend to the children being brought to him. He did not delegate the responsibility to a few of the disciples while he continued to preach to the adults. He did not tell them the were the most important thing to the kingdom then ignore them until the Passover service when they get to sing and dance and recite verses from the Torah. He intentionally engaged them! While contextually this narrative deals with a singular healing episode, the nature of the text reveals a bit more. What would the Church look like if it became indignant because the blood of our children that cry out from the streets due to horrific murders by the hands of gang members, negligent parents and police officers? How would the church respond if it listened to the petition of the young people of the Black Lives Matter Movement for justice and the appropriate valuation of the lives of young African-Americans in America and abroad? Lastly, where would the church be if it heard the confusion of young people who worship in segregated spaces on Sunday yet work, learn, play, and grow in spaces of diversity? Church we have to listen.
Listen Church… “…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19 (NRSV)
Perhaps one reason for the disconnect at the intersection is the Church has forgotten the instructions. Perhaps as Hemingway suggested, the Church has never listened. Perhaps that is the reason that in the midst of the glory and triumph, creeds and doctrines, councils and synods, dogmas and theology, the Church stopped listening intently, effectively, and compassionately to the voices, cries, screams, concerns, questions, and challenging of its youth and young adults. Maybe its time for the Church to peek back into the life of Jesus in order to hear the instruction anew. Maybe through a fresh look into Jesus’ life can the Church see the prophet who was unafraid to speak truth to power to provoke change in unjust and unrighteous systems. Perhaps if the church could peer again into biblical narratives of Jesus to see a priest who was concerned and committed to all people and not just those with “real cares, real issues, and are real tithe payers”.
At this intersection, what if all that is good about the church came together with all that is good about life for youth and young adults to develop services that were both inspiring and engaging for all in the congregation? What if the Church could witness 140 plus young men and women standing in pulpits, on stages, and on street corners, preaching with passion and conviction like those at the Academy of Preachers Festivals that take place each year around the country? What if the church was able to regain its prophetic witness by joining with young organizations like Black Lives Matter, Young Activists United, or Youth Speaks to evoke change in our country? When the Church listens, the rock that was founded to ensure the gates of Hades does not prevail, rises victoriously to bind the chasm that has separated the church from the App Generation and loose the chains that free us to change the world.