Category Archives: Local Church

Distinctly Christian

(Ryan Mayo, Programming Director at the Oread Center, is responsible for the opinions in this essay)

GK Chesterton once described the novel Robinson Crusoe as a wild romance of prudence and limits. In the book, Crusoe has been shipwrecked and left adrift before finally reaching an isolated island. Curiously, Chesterton concludes that the most significant passage in Defoe’s entire story is a list.

This list is an inventory of all of the items Crusoe managed to retrieve from the sinking ship, and Chesterton declares it to be “the greatest of poems.” His gladdest thoughts were of an axe, book, compass, coat, and rope – with the realization that they could have been destroyed in the wreck but weren’t. Unfortunately, his most troubling thoughts were of the wonderful items that had been ruined or lost. Several times Crusoe weeps at losing pictures, matches, blankets, and other objects of utility or sentimentality.

So Crusoe endures until rescue, simultaneously giddy with his found inventory and sober-minded about his lost items. For Christians, Crusoe’s state is ours also. We are tasked with making sense of the loss, forging ahead with what survives, and considering the rescue.  For Crusoe, the rescue was a future hope rooted only in his wishes. For us, the rescue has already been initiated, and yet much of its effects are still anticipated and not felt.

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Millennials in search of a better church

by Ryan Mayo

Abstract: Millennials have been vocal about the reasons for their disappointment and detachment from the local church. Yet their critiques of worship style, gospel presentation, and other public practices are not often accompanied by wise suggestions for reform. The local church should embrace this emerging generation with winsome warnings and offer a long and historic perspective about the deep liturgies of church involvement.

For the last 15 years there has been a mildly successful formula for publishers seeking to capture young evangelical readers. It looks like this: prompt reflective Christians in their late 20s or early 30s to chronicle the ways in which the institutional church failed them and their peers.1 There are some variables between the writings, such as the degree of disappointment or the depth of research, but the general plotline remains the same. The authors, about a decade removed from their involvement with the offending institutions, will predictably generalize their church’s particular offenses to include the near-abandonment of an entire generation. The final chapters, however, nearly always offer a ray of hope for the institutional church, as the authors outline a few steps to reconcile Christ’s church to the generation it has soured.

If churches want to retain Millennial participation, these authors have suggested that they adapt to their changing demands, which mostly fall into three categories: worship styles, gospel presentation, and public involvement in social justice activism.

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Skipping Church: Donald Miller and Disconnecting

One of my favorite childhood books was called If Everybody Did (Jo Ann Stover).  The plot was simple:  the left side of the page featured a questionable ethical decision while the right side showed what society would look like “if everybody did” that same thing.  These offenses ranged from littering to squeezing a cat too hard.  For example:

Jo Ann Stover, 1989

I’ll admit that I still think of this book and its simple lessons in ethics whenever a prominent writer offers unorthodox visions of what Christianity should look like.  If Everybody Did provides a helpful grid to think through the logical implications of Christians acting en masse.

This week Donald Miller wrote an admittedly ill-advised piece on how he prefers to skip out on his local church.  After significant backlash from the internet world, including The Gospel Coalition, Miller attempted to clarify his statements and diffuse some of the frustration.  Best known for his 2002 book Blue Like Jazz:  non-religious thoughts on Christian spirituality, Miller captured the non-committal heart of millennial Christians who liked Jesus and spirituality but either resented or ignored the traditional church experiences.   He is no stranger to controversy when it comes to church doctrine.

This particular piece focused on Miller’s dissatisfaction with local expressions of church and worship.  He confesses that he doesn’t “feel connected to God through singing” and doesn’t “learn much about God hearing a sermon.”  He adds that he’s just like “most men” in his frustrations with traditional church services.  Miller also finds fault with the way the message is given, citing his studies of psychology to demonstrate that lecturing only appeals to a small portion of the audience.  Lastly, he admits that he rarely attends church, choosing instead to connect with God most intimately and most often through his work, since “church is all around, not to be confined to a specific tribe.”

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