I was on an airplane recently when I encountered a woman just a few years from retirement who, not knowing who I was told me that she was proud to say she had raised her kids to have no faith at all.
She said, “I was raised by divorced parents, one Methodist, and the other Episcopalian and by the time I was a teenager I was done with church, god, and all the rest of it.”
I was reading some Karl Barth the other day, and his words jarred my thinking about a phenomenon that I’ve been watching grow over the last decade. I am seeing more and more young adults raised in church completely abandon their faith or blithely say, “I’ve never had a faith that was my own.” I know these things because their parents come to me for advice, prayer, and direction.
Here’s what I picked up on from Barth. Life is a movement in time – the movement of continual striving and work for small or great accomplishments, for new personal or career goals. The reality is that for the most part, all of your work in searching for progress in your life doesn’t mean you’re actually getting anywhere but but only experiencing activity.
All of the striving and movement makes it feel as if you’re getting somewhere, yet you are not deepening at all – only feeling the movement of all your activity which won’t bring any deep sense of significant peace to the soul.
Some millennials went to presentational churches, hearing cleverly delivered propositional truths that were good, orthodox and in line with John Calvin’s Institutes but missed something altogether. There was little to no transformation noticeable from the people on stage, in the pew or their homes with mom and dad.
Researchers may come to more scientific reasons than I’m suggesting here and I’ll wait and comment on it when the data is compiled. But I think somewhere in here is the issue of removing the freedom, awareness, and action of the Holy Spirit from church life.
All of the billions of dollars spent by denominations and mega-churches over the last 40 years spent on activities, programs and materials have led us with a generation of adults and young adults who have never had a transformational experience with God.
I’ll jump to my main point. I’m seeing a “jaded” group of adult children, skeptical of everything and everyone, full of fears from every direction, and lonely – spiritually disoriented.
The definition of jaded means to be made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or by having or seeing too much of something. Much could be said here, but I’m not sure I need to go any further with this because you know people who are jaded or are experiencing some level of it yourself.
- Skepticism – Perhaps wounded from being disappointed with leaders in the church, or the experience of church, you find yourself more and more longing for AUTHENTICITY.
- Fear – Maybe you’re in a scary place spiritually feeling and confused and fearful. The only thing that will take away this underlying fear is hope. Hope that there is more and that there is something bigger and that God is real.
- Loneliness – The feeling of being completely isolated or “not” in a community of the faithful but perhaps in a community of the “religious.” This, in my opinion, is simply the longing for authentic and unconditional love. But honestly, for the most part,“ the church” is the last place on earth that you be realistic about your shortcomings, secret sins or doubts.
Ezekiel related to those that were spiritually disoriented on how the glory of God had lifted from the Temple. The year was 587 BC Jerusalem was destroyed. Most of the people were being taken away into captivity, and all the holy symbols, its daily routine & rituals that had held Jewish life together were gone.
Secularism from Babylon was gnawing away at their belief in One God – Yahweh. There was plenty of confusion when it came to worshipping God – which god as much of their religion had become blended? Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel lay the blame at the feet of the people for falling for other gods and meshing it all together.
God’s chosen ones are displaced: forced into Exile Jerusalem is burned and the holy city destroyed. King David’s influence and the dynasty was over. Exile forced them to relinquish their hold on the past and an openness to receive the new future God had for them.
God’s great oversight in their life was displacing their routine, which had led them to idolatry, and was now birthing a new way of experiencing Him. All of this change about 600 years before the time of Jesus was in fact, making room for Jesus.
This is what I believe is happening to this generation of adult children that were raised in the church. God’s allowing this shaking up, this exile of sorts to take place to work a greater and more profound transformation in this next generation.
Many have become “jaded” when it comes to anything to do with God, church, Jesus or the Bible just like the business lady on the airplane I mentioned earlier. Maybe it is our religious techniques and rituals and factory like mentality that has birthed a religious kind of bondage that has this generation rejecting anything to do with God.
Whatever the case, Americans tend to want things succinct and transactional, and so we’ve reduced the gospel to a brief kind of “one and done” conversion culture which has little to no transformational value when it comes to the human heart.
The lady on the plane asked after telling me raised her kids to have no faith, says “What do you do for a living?” I was only able to get out three or four sentences when she basically said, “This conversation is over!” Even though I had not initiated a conversation with her, the very idea that I represented the organized church completely shut her down. Obviously, I respected her wishes but I did pray for her much of the flight.
But this is the very thing that God was addressing with His people in Ezekiel’s day. The people were going through all of the rituals at the Temple but their hearts were far from God and they were not being a good reflection of what God was wanting to do in the earth.
The destruction of normal religious life, and Solomon’s temple, directly set up Jesus ministry. The temple of God had moved from brick and mortar to the person of Jesus Christ and then upon His ascension to the Father, he gives us the Holy Spirit and tells us that we would become “Temples – Sanctuaries of the Living God” here on earth.
The reality is that from the time of Ezekiel to the time of Jesus the story for us all continued. Jesus came and was raised and completed your story and mine.
Some good things are coming from this jaded exile:
- This shift from a monologue they heard at church to a dialogue initiated by the Spirit who is continually working on these adult children who’ve left the church.
- The Spirit is always about Transforming and Renewing the human heart and not so much three songs sung at you followed by well-crafted words.
- God is doing a new thing. Isaiah, a contemporary of Ezekiel said, in 43:18-19 Do not remember former things, behold I am doing a new thing.
- God’s love is involved in the dismantling of American religious life because, at least in the lives of the people I’m talking about, it has lost its heart and personal passion for God.
- Exile does mean loss, transition, change, discomfort and the pain of leaving the familiar behind, but the verse often quoted from Jeremiah, who lived during this same time period told them. God says, “I know the plans I have for you…”
The American church at the grass roots may be in exile. Just like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel could see God involved in what was happening and could only speak to the people to try and get them to wake up and notice that God was speaking through all of this loss of tradition and normalcy. These three prophets were able to pick up on God’s new activity and help them see that all their religious activity meant nothing if the passions of the heart are not engaged.
The experience of going to church has changed in America because God has allowed a de-construction of the rituals of wearing suits and ties, dressing in choir robes singing songs about God, to be stripped away.
Some people even quit churches over not being able to sing on the stage. Little to none of this has any transformational aspects attached to it – but only reflects why God is allowing a dismantling of how church services are conducted across the country.
- Allow your jaded skepticism to deepen your desire for the authentic.
- You’re looking for contentment not accomplishment when it comes to spiritual things.
- The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has come and provided a purpose and a connection with him and with one another through love and joy.
- The whole point of having a prophet speak to them was to get them back in alignment and living their lives to God’s Word spoken over them.
- They were to have a love beyond their legalism and be ok with leaving the familiar behind.
Here’s what God told Ezekiel to say to the exiles:
Ezekiel 11: 16 “Therefore, tell the exiles, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Although I have scattered you in the countries of the world, I will be a sanctuary to you during your time in exile. 19 And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them.19b I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, 20 so they will obey my decrees and regulations.
Prophetically in this passage we can see:
- Because of Jesus we became His personal sanctuary
- We are becoming a people with a new heart and a single focus on God.
- God is softening our hearts that we might seek Him and care about what He cares about.
- God is raising up a people who can live in a pluralistic (all gods are treated as equal) world with joy and faith.
- We are coming to see that loving our neighbors is a huge part of what we are to be doing in the earth, reflecting God’s goodness all the time.
If someone you love is so jaded they won’t even come to church, don’t panic but pray. You can be confident that God is at work in their own experiences to introduce Himself in a new way.