Back in October of 2012, a Pew Research poll caught a great deal of attention from the media in general, and religious media in particular. This poll showed that the number of those unaffiliated with any religious tradition had grown to one in five Americans (19.6%), and one in three Millennials (33%). Millennials are those aged 30 years and under. Research shows that this generation of youth and young adults has become increasingly disenfranchised with organized religion. It’s not that they don’t believe anything (they would call themselves” spiritual, but not religious”); rather, they prefer not to be associated with a specific religious tradition.
Young people look at the state of the Church today and experience grave dissatisfaction. Churches and denominations spend enormous amounts of time, money, and energy arguing amongst themselves about whose interpretation of scripture is most accurate, whose theology is most orthodox, whose stance on social issues is most righteous. Congregations wrangle over what “style” of worship will attract the most worshipers: Liturgical, Traditional, Contemporary, Charismatic, Blended, Emergent? All the while, young people (and the rest of the unaffiliated world) look on and ask, “Is there anybody who’s actually doing what Jesus commanded?” As Johnny Sears puts it in an article in the magazine Weavings, “They are fed up with a Christianity that has been more focused on marketing the faith than living it, and they are looking for more.”
Opening our Bibles, we find that this is not a new problem, but it is one that both John and James address. John writes, “This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth” (1 John 3:16-18, CEB).
James, the brother of Jesus, is even more specific in identifying the problem the church faces today: “My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, ‘Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!’? What good is it if youdon’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (James 2:14-17, CEB).
In one of my favorite fictional book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin, a commonly uttered proverb is “Words are wind.” Today’s Millennials have hit upon something that the Church would do well to take very seriously. “Being the body of Christ” is not an exercise in orthodox theology; it is an exercise in fellowship, that is, love. Words are wind. If we want more people to come to love and serve the Lord, if we want more people to become a part of the Body of Christ, then we’ll have to stop talking amongst ourselves about how important the Church is, and start doing what’s important: actually being the Body of Christ in the world.