We often read newspaper accounts of firefighters rescuing nearly-dead victims or policemen employing brave tactics to deter violence. When reporters ask how these heroes were able to perform under such dangerous conditions, the response is frequently that “our training kicked in.” Repetition, discipline, and purposeful routines in the past are able to produce clear thinking and swift action in the moment.
The firefighter, for instance, endures extensive training to become a firefighter and to remain one. The rhythms of his life are centered on his need to be ready. He studies the city for the best routes to potential blazes. The drills at his station keep his mind sharp and his muscles poised. He is a firefighter, and all his activities are aimed toward this identity.
We would be right in saying that our firefighter is a liturgical animal. His liturgies reinforce his readiness to put out fires. Often he faces distractions and social pressure from friends and strangers to relax his routines and to pause his habits. Why must he always carry his radio to concerts? Why must he often sleep at the fire house, next to the pole? Why must he work weekends? Why must he watch his diet? We can call these counter-liturgies, for they seek to deform and devalue his identity. But our firefighter is vigilant; he must not only hold fast to his commitment to the formative rhythms that constitute a firefighter, he must also resist the deformative pressures that call him away from his role.
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.
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:
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.”