What would your dream church be like? Undoubtedly this question could prompt a wide and diverse array of responses if simply based on genre, stylistic programming, and personal worship preferences. But what if we were to probe deeper to a core desire for community; What church would we be drawn to?
Forgiveness and acceptance. Nothing drives teenagers and young adults from the church faster than being rejected, and nothing draws them in faster than being accepted. Both are currently happening in spades in Adventist churches around North America.
Jessica’s experience captures both extremes—and on the same Sabbath. “I once visited a church near my home church that has a reputation for being really liberal. Everyone was so welcoming and casual (everyone was wearing jeans) and I felt so free from peer pressure. They sang a song that said, ‘There is freedom in the house of the Lord’ and I just started crying. That afternoon I went back to my home church and one of my dad’s friends came up to me and asked me why I was wearing jeans, and why I didn’t go to church.”
In one discussion group, we noticed that the same people were sharing both types of stories—how they felt accepted at first and rejected later. When we probed on what caused the transition, they told us, in paraphrase, “the more they knew about me, the more I felt rejected.”
It seems that older adults tend to look at specific struggles and assign a judgment of the young person’s heart or intentions. But the young people often told us that God was using these struggles to draw them closer to Him, a process the older adults could not see.
Tracy shared her story of where her poor decision left her feeling judged by the church as opposed to feeling comforted—unfortunately she then felt defined by a single instance of sin. “In one of my past relationships, I let my boyfriend take me too far. . . and I really can’t forgive myself. I am praying God helps me forgive myself. It is tough to overcome something that has gone against your beliefs and I was stupid enough to let it happen. Each day I pray I can overcome this.”
The stories and surveys suggest what is needed is the patience to form solid relationships that exude forgiveness and acceptance—trusting God to make the necessary changes and recognizing change also needs time. Never discard someone in the midst of a personal struggle, for it may be just what God is using to make the person into who He needs in the church.
One of the beautiful things in Scriptures is this loving endurance that GOD has with Biblical characters and their winding journey through doubt and faith, rebellion and loyalty, obedience and forgiveness. GOD's acceptance and forgiveness are life changing for Bible characters and 21st century Christ-followers alike. May your journey with Millennials afford you grace-filled moments to convey these beautiful aspects of GOD's character to next generations.