a friend of mine (chris) sent me the following “open letter” via email. i’ve since found it on brian mclaren’s site. anyways, i was amazed by this letter.
As a 24-year-old youth leader, I have had many conversations with teens and twenty-somethings, both churched and unchurched. If we truly listened, they might say something like this:
Dear Church, Leaders:
By now, some of you are beginning to notice that we, the high school upperclassmen, college students, and young adults, have lost interest and have decided that our time and money is better spent elsewhere. For those who actually want to know why, here is your chance to listen – and we know that this may be hard since many of you have learned to pretend that you’re listening to ease your aching consciences. Just so you know, you haven’t fooled us; we can see through your pretentious attempts. However, this is one last chance to hear us out – we may not speak again, so fasten your seatbelts.
Whether you realize it or not, we have actually learned very much from you, our priests, pastors, teachers, and parents. Sadly, we have learned more from your lives than from your lectures and sermons. We have learned that it is much more important to seek financial stability from high-paying, prestigious jobs and collect needless junk than it is to pursue a life of self-sacrifice and adventure. We have learned to evaluate others on the basis of race, gender, income level, and appearance. We have learned that memorizing mindless creeds and analyzing theological systems have little power in making us better people.
We have learned how to outsource responsibility. We have learned to leave childcare to the professionals, caring for the poor to the government, social justice to the ACLU and NAACP, reproductive decisions to Planned Parenthood, and environmental awareness to the Darwinists and tree-huggers.
Most of us will never return, at least not to an institutionalized church. We have zero interest in participating in your silly, religious subculture. Honestly, it’s ridiculous, cheesy, and self-serving. We will never give you our money, which we’d rather spend on rent and alcohol, so that you can make your Lexus payment or add to your building fund.
Do we sound too harsh? Where do you think we learned how to judge?
It may surprise you to find out that, although our church attendance is slipping, we are very interested in spiritual matters, perhaps more so than you. We are desperately searching for something touchable to transcend our lives of quiet desperation. We hate our jobs, we don’t know how to have healthy relationships, we are constantly seeking the next thrill. We are terribly bored and dissatisfied. We are screaming for answers.
We have also learned that we don’t want the life of any adult that we know.
You asked for it, so here’s our wish list:
We want our lives back. You told us that God wants us to live exciting lives, but that’s not what we found. We want our individuality valued. You told us that God created us exactly they way we are for special reasons – why do you invest so much time and energy trying to strip us of our uniqueness so that we can fit inside the same tiny little box you try to put your God into!!! By the way, most of us who may appear at a glance to be lazy are simply unmotivated. We’ll spend hours on creative projects; however, we simply have no desire to participate in a dehumanizing workforce that requires us to leave our individuality at home just to play a monotonous role in making another piece of worthless junk. Give us a reason to put our hearts back into our work.
Teach us HOW to think. You want us to believe that God is Sovereign and self-evident and that absolute truth exists. If He does, then He can speak for Himself. He doesn’t need a hypocritical entourage to defend Him with sleazy, used-car-salesman manipulation tactics. Teach us how to identify spiritual truth and how to spot the work of God in our lives – don’t hand us a pamphlet to memorize.
How about a little compassion? Whether we think Jesus is the Son of God or not, most of us have a favorable opinion of Him and recognize that he knew how to live a selfless life. We may never participate – after all, one of the other things we learned in Sunday school was how to live comfortably with a disconnect between our beliefs and our actions – but if you made honest attempts to follow His example, at least we could respect you.
One last thing: stop trying to make us fill your seats and sing your songs and listen to your sermons before you will “minister” to us. If you have no interest in forming actual human relationships with us, then don’t even bother. We are not projects. We aren’t an untapped market. We don’t need another program. We don’t need another product to consume. We do need friendship and we do need identity. Meet us here, and we might listen. Oh, and by the way, at that point you still might not need to say much because we pick up so much more from watching than from listening.
Your prodigal slackers