The Good Fight
On the flight to Dallas to interview Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas, we read an article about the principles that should guide churches hoping to reach the younger generation. According to the author, the key is customization. The article stated that 18 to 30 year olds have grown up without boundaries, they create their own playlists on their iPods, and they don't want a church that sets high expectations or limits their options.
Obviously the author has never visited The Village Church.
When Chandler arrived at "The Village" in 2002, the church was in a season of restructuring. The primarily Boomer congregation of 150 invited Chandler (27 at the time) to bring a younger perspective. With experience as a college pastor, and a firm commitment to Calvinist theology, Chandler began adjusting the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the The Village.
Rather than lowering expectations and preaching highly practical sermons, his preaching focused on doctrine, God's character, and an unashamed call to commitment and holy living. Today The Village is a multiple-site church with over 6,000 in attendance and with the majority of members under 35. Chandler's impact has also made him a leading voice in the New Reformed movement, which represents the resurgence of Calvinism among younger Christians.
Leadership editors Marshall Shelley and Skye Jethani met with Chandler to discuss what he's learned about reaching young people with the gospel, and why the trend toward pragmatic discipleship is failing to move his generation toward godliness.
When you first came to faith, how did you understand the process of growing in Christ-likeness?
I grew up in a pretty abusive home. There was a lot of sin in my house. So after I got saved in high school, I still had a lot of really big issues. I had massive amounts of anger in my life, and I still struggled with lust. At the time I thought there were really only three sins—sex, drinking, and cussing. So I immediately tried to clean those things up. But I had no idea how hard it was going to be.
I had been fed a gospel that said, "Do you want a better life? Do you want to be happy? Then come to Jesus." But when my struggles with sin didn't immediately go away, I felt I had been lied to. I felt I had been duped. No one told me how much deeper sin was, or how ruthless Jesus was going to be once he took over my heart.
What have you learned since then?
I've learned that the process looks different for different people in different locations and with access to different resources. It's very complex, and that's the error we make in many churches—we try to standardize the process for everyone. There is a guy on staff here with a very similar story to mine; he's struggled with similar things. But God worked to sanctify him in a very different way than he worked to sanctify me.