Husbands, imagine this: A friend comes to your house for dinner. You enjoy a delicious meal that your wife has made, and catch up on life. Halfway through the meal, your friend does something unbelievable. He starts listing things that your wife could have done better.
"The chicken is too tough," he says. "You should have marinated it longer. And the broccoli is overcooked, mushy and bland. My 12-year-old daughter could cook a better meal." But it only gets worse. He starts to criticize her character, even ridicule her. "She's not the woman you thought she was, is she?"
I'm guessing his visit would be cut short. And you'd probably send him away with a few choice words. Even if he was right about certain things, you simply wouldn't tolerate someone openly and caustically criticizing your wife. You love her, and because you do, you look past her quirks and shortcomings.
But we tolerate this mean-spirited criticism all the time when it's directed at the church. If we're not careful, it's easy for us to look at the church and her leaders, and say, "The church should have done ____." Or, "I wish they hadn't ____." Or, "She's not what we hoped for."
You fill in the blanks.
A culture of critique
We hear these sorts of critiques constantly. We see them on social media, in blogs, and in articles. I work in Christian publishing, so I see the constant stream of opinion pieces voicing frustrations with the church. The sad truth is, negativity sells.
Take for example the recent discussion on "why Millennials are leaving the church." This topic has been in heavy rotation on social media the past couple weeks, and writers like Rachel Held Evans have generated heated discussion. In her recent CNN article, Evans said, "We're not leaving the church because we don't find the cool factor there; we're leaving the church because we don't find Jesus there" (my emphasis).
Rachel is not the first person to explore this issue, nor is she the first to make bold statements like "we don't find Jesus there." She's voicing frustrations shared by many 20- and 30-somethings. Evans argues that "the church"—really just a subset of American evangelicalism—is "too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."
To be sure, I hold some things in common with critics like Evans. Along with my Millennial brothers and sisters, I long for substance. I want to live in a faith community that is connected to the historic church, animated by God's Spirit, steeped in Scripture and theology, and committed to embodying the gospel. So in that regard, I am like Evans and others who see the need for continual reformation.
But I don't think Evans and other Millennials are leaving the church because they don't find Jesus. My suspicion is they're wagging their fingers at the church because they don't find the Jesus they want. Evangelicalism certainly isn't flawless. However, I think Evans' claim that Jesus is absent from "the church" is absurd. Not only is it theologically false, it's a slap in the face to Christ's bride, a purely rhetorical statement that simply provokes controversy rather than fostering Christian unity.
I'm not delusional. I realize that Millennials are indeed leaving the church. I've had close friends abandon their faith, and it breaks my heart. But I don't think the church is entirely to blame for the exodus of these individuals.