Churches are losing their spiritual vitality. Older generations are increasingly disenfranchised with church and younger generations are increasingly non-committal. Middle generations are getting fed-up. Churches are declining at an alarmingly rapid rate and have little to no respect in their communities. Suddenly, Christians are becoming a parody of themselves. Why? What’s happening?
There’s a cancer growing in our churches. It’s eating away the core of what it means to be a body of believers and replacing it with an idea that the individual is more important than the whole. It threatens to turn our worship experiences into nothing more than emotional candy. And if we don’t recognize the problem and make a concerted effort to counteract it through prayer, evaluation, and humility, then the future of our church is very bleak indeed.
One may recall the “worship wars” of the nineties, where churches fought over “traditional” versus “contemporary” worship styles. Many churches came out of this with a balanced approach, which seems to be most healthy. What is key here is that the heart of the worship wars was the freedom to worship God in a more individualistic way. If you enjoy worshiping to modern music, then do so. If you prefer traditional piano, organ, or orchestra, then do so.
It would be tempting to label the current cancer in our churches as an extension of the worship wars. But that would be an incorrect assessment. Yes, it may outwardly manifest itself in the style and approach to how the church does their worship, but the cancer is much deeper.
It’s been proven scientifically that the release of endorphins by our body can generate addictive behavior. It is also no secret that heightened states of emotion can release generous quantities of endorphins. The result is an addiction to euphoria. People who suffer from this, bounce for object to object, seeking the next emotional high. People seek out sex, drugs, alcohol, parties, thrills, danger…anything that can invoke that heightened state of emotion to release endorphins and adrenaline into their system. They are addicted to it. And if their current situation renders them numb to the addiction, they move on to someplace new in search of the next high.
This is happening in churches. People are developing addictions to a “worship high.” They get into their trance-like state of “worship,” work themselves up emotionally, and receive those wonderful endorphins. And if they can no longer get their high from that church, then they seek out another church that can provide it.
Suddenly, worship is no longer about God and is about the person. It’s not about what God likes, but what we like. When a person seeks out emotion in worship, what they’re really worshiping is themselves. Unlike the worship wars, it’s not about the best individualistic way to worship God, it’s about the selfish need to worship to satisfy an emotional addiction.
And heightened emotional states of worship can be found in almost every religion…so don’t claim that warm-fuzzy endorphin rush is from God, because it’s not. Your argument is invalid. You don’t need a rush to worship God. Yes, an experience with God can produce an endorphin release…but people are perfectly capable of inducing that sort of thing without God.
The Millennial Generation
Some people put the Millennial Generation as being born as early as 1976, but most put it as late as 1982. I happen to fall square in the middle, and I take that as my prerogative to choose whether I want to be identified as Gen X or Gen Y (Mill. Gen). Here are some characteristics of the Millennial Generation…and it is for these reasons that I mostly prefer to be called Gen X.
Millennials are a generation of self. There is more focus on what society and people can do for the welfare of the self than there is for the welfare of the community. It’s about what “I” want or what “I” think is best or what “I” view as right and proper…and other opinions can be hanged. Millennials assume technology is the norm and that everyone is on the cusp of what is modern. Millennials collect people and friends like other generations might collect stamps. And if one friend displeases them, they move on to the next in the collection. Millennials are not afraid of change or to shake up the status quo, but as noted above it’s not usually motivated by the community needs, rather it’s motivated by self.
Get the picture? I’m not trying to say Millennials are all evil or selfish, just trying to point out what the general world view is. It’s not that they are incapable of thinking about community, but by default their instinct is to put self first. There are many books and articles written about the ideals of this new generation, so don’t take my word for it. Here’s one for quick reference – http://chronicle.com/article/Millennials-Are-More/131175/
Now put all these things together. Millennials fall easily into the emotional addiction form of worship. After all, emotional addiction is about worshiping self and Millennials default to serving self. When it comes to the worship wars, Millennials will always go for the type of worship guaranteed to give them their emotional fix.
Millennials are beginning to run our churches.
Let that sink in. Scares the crap out of you, doesn’t it? With Millennials in charge of the church, churches will become about self. They will develop worship for the sake of emotional addiction. When the question becomes “Am I pleased with this worship?” and not “Is God pleased with this worship?” then you know there’s a problem. And let’s be honest, God couldn’t care less about the style, age, or instrumentation of a worship song. What he wants is “worship in spirit and truth.” Regardless of how emotionally charged a Millennial led church might be…chances are it’s worship of self, not of God.
Leadership is no longer about the good of the church. If the leader thinks it should be done a different way, then everyone else can be hanged. Self is always right and self always takes precedent over the community. Millennial church leaders are making decisions in the name of “outreach” and have no clue how to minister to the flock right in front of their eyes. That’s because outreach equals growth. And growth equals prestige. And prestige equals pride. And pride equals self. You don’t get to self by ministering to the existing congregation. You get humility.
And I think Millennials are mostly allergic to humility.
Look around you. How many churches can you name that have been taken over by Millennials? How many of those churches look and act exactly as I’ve described? The cancer of it all is that it’s not going away. Eventually, Millennials and later generations will control all of our churches. I hope that a few of them will stand up for what is right and what is true, and will cry out against this shallow self-absorbed emotional approach to building a church.
And just so I’m clear, I’m not calling Millennials the cancer, rather it is the combination the worship war, emotional addiction, and a Millennial mentality that is colliding together unrecognized and unchecked. Millennials are not all to blame. Emotional addiction has been a problem for many generations, and Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers can be thanked for the worship war.
I would challenge Millennials reading this to evaluate their goals and ambitions. Find ways to remove self and to replace it with community. Be the voice that stands out in your generation, and proclaim that church is not about “me” or a warm fuzzy feeling or the style of music or dictatorship in the pulpit. If you already recognize this and are already trying to take a stand in your generation, know this…I’m proud of you. Keep up the good work. The future of the church depends on you.
All we have to do to stop this cancer is recognize it for what it is, accept that it exists, and inoculate it with prayer, evaluation, and humility, and with an emphasis of working together as a community of servant believers.
Church is about God. Period. It’s time we started acting like we really believe that.