“The Bible clearly says…” Apparently the age of IT and social media has turned millions into Bible scholars who don’t need to hear about the Bible’s clarity and who don’t believe the Bible is clear on much at all. Millennials want a lot more hesitation, qualification, humility, and admissions of fallibility in pastors’ sermons. It’s claimed that this will build greater trust in the Bible!
I must admit when I see Washington Post headlines like 5 Church Phrases That Are Scaring Off Millennials, my first instinct is “Tell me what they are, so I make sure to use them all in my next sermon!”
I know, I know, that’s a perverse and twisted reaction; but it eventually passes, sanity and reason return, and I try to listen for the truth in the midst of all the over-sensitivity.
So let’s examine these terrorizing and terrifying words to see if we should drop them, modify them, or indeed say them more than ever!
1. “The Bible clearly says…”
Apparently the age of IT and social media has turned millions into Bible scholars who don’t need to hear about the Bible’s clarity and who don’t believe the Bible is clear on much at all. Millennials want a lot more hesitation, qualification, humility, and admissions of fallibility in pastors’ sermons. It’s claimed that this will build greater trust in the Bible!
I agree that where the Bible is not dogmatic, the preacher should not be dogmatic. I also agree that way too many pastors claim the Bible’s clear support for what are often just personal preferences and prejudices. However, there is plenty that the Bible is crystal clear on, no matter how much people try to muddy the waters or blunt the blade. In these areas we must insist on the clarity and authority of Scripture.
Verdict: Say it, and say it loudly and authoritatively, but reserve it only for areas that are indeed clear.
2. “God will never give you more than you can handle”
Millennials object to this because they say it implies that if you can’t handle life, if you need outside help (e.g. friendship, therapy, etc), then your faith is not strong enough.
If millennials understand the phrase in this way, then I can understand why they hate it.
I actually dislike this phrase too, but for different reasons. God often gives us more than we can handle, in order to make us feel our need of Him, His Church, His people, etc.
Verdict: Retire the phrase, but for Murray rather than millennial reasons.
3. Love on (e.g. “As youth group leaders, we’re just here to love on those kids.”
They find this creepy and and troubling. “We may understand that we need help, but we certainly don’t want to be anyone’s project or ministry…It may just be semantics, but being loved on feels very different than being simply loved. The former connotes a sudden flash of contrived kindness; the latter is simpler…but deeper.”
I’m with them on this, although I’m not sure I can reason it out as well as they do. It just gives me the creeps.
Verdict: Take it to the trash.
4. Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as “Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding”
“Millennials are sick of rhetoric that centers around who’s in and who’s out. We know our own doubtful hearts enough to know that belief and unbelief so often coexist….We want to be accepted, not analyzed.”
There’s a lot of misunderstanding here. Of course, unbelief exists even in the strongest believer’s life. However, the Bible is very clear (Did I just write that? I think I hear millions of millennials stampeding to the hills)…Yes, the Bible and Jesus are very clear that there are only two gates, two roads, two destinations, and that we are to analyze or examine our selves to see if we are in the faith. Sermons help us to do that.
Verdict: We need more of this black and white clarity, not less. But preachers need to be skillful spiritual surgeons to ensure that they do not break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax.
5. “God is in control . . . has a plan . . . works in mysterious ways”
Millennials believe this but don’t want to hear it, especially when things go wrong in their lives. “We are drawn to the Jesus who sits down with the down-and-out woman at the well. Who touches the leper, the sick, the hurting. Who cries when Lazarus is found dead…even though he is in control and has a plan to bring Lazarus back to life.”
They have a point here. The sovereignty of God is a glorious truth, but Christians often do toss it out way too quickly and tritely when they should be weeping with weepers. Cue the best line in the whole article: “The Jesus we read about enters into the pain of humanity where so often the church people seem to want to float above it.”
Ouch! Painful truth.
Verdict: Keep it, but delay the use of it.
So, thank you millennials for your honesty and your challenges. We want to learn from you and love you.
But we also hope you will learn how to learn from us; and even learn how to love us too. Cliches and all.
Read The Washington Post article here: 5 Churchy Phrases that are Scaring off Millennials. [Editor’s note: the original URL (link) referenced is no longer valid, so the link has been removed.]
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart hand, and is used with permission.