Tuesday, April 27, 2010

unChristian: how a generation is re-thinking church

I came across a copy of unChristian (David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons: Baker) over a year ago; I read portions of it, and then loaned it to a friend whose daughter is somewhat disconnected from the church. The copy never came back, and that was ok. Later I was in a small group with United Methodist Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of New Jersey, and he strongly suggested that we read this book. I came across another copy, and for the first time I began a serious reading of it.

unChristian is an exploration of what a new generation (ages 16-29) thinks about Christianity. It comes from the evangelical right stream of North American Christianity, with the imprimatur of George Barna, who contributes a forward. It is a sober reporting of real data drawn from a group that the mainline church seems to be having difficulty retaining. There is, the authors report, "a growing tide of hostility and resentment toward Christianity" (24), an attitude that comes less from the media and more from personal experiences with Christians. We are known more for what we oppose than for what we are for. And the three most commonly held perceptions held by outsiders, about Christianity, are that we are 1) anti-homosexual 2) judgmental and 3) hypocritical.

Do these perceptions matter? Kinnamon and Lyons are clear that these perceptions are the result of relationships by outsiders to the faith with Christians. This should move us to self-examination, and, they insist, a "wake up call" (39). The authors dig deeply into six broad themes (hypocrisy, the focus on getting converts, antihomosexual, being sheltered, too political, judgmental), and provide nuanced spiritual reflection on both the diagnosis and a potential response. Hypocrisy, for example, is the shadow side of our lack of transparency and our need to live in grace.

I will invite you to find a copy of unChristian and scan the pages. The book concludes with a range of responses, mostly again from the broader evangelical world (John Stott, Charles Colson, Jim Wallis). I would also invite United Methodists to reflect on this data as we seek both to "re-think" church and to engage an increasingly missing generation. We may be placing obstacles in the way of an authentic encounter with the faith. Christianity (and United Methodism) in our time has an "image problem". The stripping away of negative perceptions (and realities) will lay the groundwork for a constructive engagement (Andy Crouch, in his wonderful book calls this Culture Making) with the world that is our parish. An important mission field----the 16 to 29 year olds who live in our midst---surrounds us. A first step is to evaluate what we are teaching and preaching, and why.


Blogger Georgia Mountain Man said...

As a lifelong United Methodist and well outside the referenced age group, I have to say that I have become VERY disenchanted with the church for all of the reasons listed and from too many bad personal experiences, some of them with UMC "pastors," who have shown me that they are more interested in numbers, particularly money, than in people. One example, and I will try to be brief. My second cousin died last year. She was the oldest living member of her UMC church and totally dedicated to it. Did her pastor visit her in her last months in a nursing home? No. Did she visit her at home prior to that? No. The only inquires the minister made were in regard to the possibility of money or property being left to the church. I might add that the church has less than 30 active members. I have other examples, not the least are the scores of hypocrites, many of which claim to be ministers of the gospel. I also see millions being spent on church structures and "family life centers," gyms and whatnot and nothing being done for those who might need that money or spiritual assistance. I see large sums being charged for the rental of church facilities and even paid food service staffs, along with paid nursery workers, etc. What a waste! Sorry to be so long winded, but I'm on my soapbox and could go on and on.

3:56 PM  

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