I highly recommend this article by the Rev. Kevin DeYoung, the Senior Pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan.
DeYoung points out how the generation of people under 30 believe they can solve the world’s problems from the comfort of their pub chairs after a simple conversation over cold beer [full disclosure: I own a pub chair (two, actually) and love having conversations over cold beer. The truth hurts, sometimes]. We all want to be rock star Christians like U2 frontman Bono, jetsetting across the world to “raise awareness” about the world’s problems as if people older than 40 had never realized people were in suffering. We want to save the world, but we DON’T want to do the tedious, hard, and often thankless work of ministry in the trenches. We like to be spiritual without the actual commitment of serving a community through institutional structures. As DeYoung says, we like being spiritual but not religious (how many times have you heard a believer say “No, I’m not religous, rather I have a relationship with Christ”?). DeYoung points out that our over-emphasis on personal spirituality has created a narcissistic and entitled generation that’s leaving the church in droves in order to “be spiritual” on their own terms. Many may see this as a good thing, but one must wonder if we’re throwing the baby out with the bath-water.
After all, an institution is simply an organized group of people who’ve agreed to do certain things a certain way. And since life isn’t static, institutional norms and rules change all the time (witness the current evolution of Anglicanism in ACNA). These norms and rules were created to meet objective goals that are quite worthy of our respect (i.e. hand down the tradition of faith; communicate the gospel; serve the weak, the needy, and the poor). But since people in our generation all want to be revolutionaries like Martin Luther or the apostle Paul (or worse, Che Guevara–why is his mug so popular on T-shirts?), we want to throw away institutional norms in order to do Christianity “better”. But why reinvent the wheel? Especially if the old can simply be renovated, rather than wholly recreated.
DeYoung respects the “doers of the Word” who toil thanklessly to fulfill their responsibilities to their neighbors in the church. Their virtues are perseverance, endurance, consistency, responsibility, dependability, and relentlessness. They’re not trying to save the world, but they are trying to help the person sitting next to them in the pew.
I say, Amen to that.