Don’t worry, I’m not resigning…at least, not from my vocation. If I did, however, I would not be alone in doing so. According to an article released six years ago by the Barna Research Group, 3-in-5 Millennials who grew up in the Church have dropped out at some point. I imagine that number is higher now, especially as I anecdotally look at friends and colleagues who have “dropped out.” And they’ve done so and continue to do so not without good reason.
One article that’s made the rounds on my social media feeds lately was this one written by a pastor-turned-blogger/podcaster who wrote one of those “open letter[s] to the church from a millennial.” Usually I dismiss these sorts of letters mainly out of personal objection – I’m a Millennial. She and other authors who claim the monolithic “we” do not get to speak for me. But if I push past my own offense and dismissive arrogance, I see that she makes a lot of really good points – ones that resonate with me, and with those I love who have given up on the local church. She laments and rightly critiques the hypocrisy of churches (particularly their leaders…something Jesus Himself did with uncomfortable regularity). She laments and rightly critiques the inconsistencies, inequalities, and inability to engage difficult conversations in charitable (read loving) and honest (read truthful) ways. Implicitly, I hear her lamenting and rightly critiquing the institutional church’s inability (refusal?) to change its own problematic culture. Ronald Allan Pablo captures this sentiment well in his article, Sometimes the ones who resign are the ones who care the most for the organization:
Sometimes the ones who resign are the ones who care the most for the organization…those who see the big picture, understand the problems and the possible solutions, but because of their inability to push for the execution of those solutions, are tormented by thoughts of missed opportunities, unrealized potential, wasted resources, and simply what could have been.
For worse and for better, institutions have inertia. For worse, institutions can get caught riding in the ruts of their traditions. For better, they can innovate from within them.
Christian Intellectual Jaroslav Pelikan makes an important distinction between traditionalism and tradition. “Tradition,” he writes, “is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Too often my own tradition, the United Methodist Church and its local churches, clergy, and laypersons, has gotten stuck in traditionalism, sometimes mistaking old ways as something ‘new’ or ‘innovative’. The clearest evidence of this, to me, is the fruit – or lack thereof – that has been harvested the past 60 years. From that vantage point, today’s missing millennials and impending schism passed off as a “protocol for grace and reconciliation” is a damning judgment against old ways that clearly are not as good as we have mistakenly chosen to assert.
So, today I announce my resignation: from the old ways that I mistakenly confused for the Way of Jesus.
I announce my resignation: from the cynicism and apathy that tempt me to walk away from it all.
Today, I announce my resignation: from resigning.
I won’t give up. I won’t give in. I won’t quit. But that also means I won’t keep doing the same old, same old either.
The next several weeks, I will be exploring new ways derived from the Old Ways as I seek to appropriate what Greg Jones has called Traditioned Innovation. As my denomination heads into a year that will change it for the rest of my years, it seems as good a time as ever to recall the heart of our Story: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. It’s a good time to look truthfully and with great scrutiny at lessons I need to unlearn going forward. It’s a good time to put some old ways to death so that new ones might be given life.
Death. Resurrection. All things new. From a Wesleyan-Methodist ideology.
Should be fun(?). See you next week. Hopefully on Monday 🙂