The other day, my alma mater posed a question on Facebook: “How can the Church more effectively reach out to younger generations?” Many Christians are asking this as church membership in America declines, and there are a lot of bad answers out there. As someone right on the border between the two generations in question, I’d like to get the basic answer down first: What do Millennials and Gen-X need from the Church? Forgiveness of sins. So I guess the best approach to reaching us would be convincing us that we need it (preaching the law) and then delivering it to us (preaching the gospel).
But, well… short and pithy has never been my strong suit. Leaving it at that is like telling someone that the Law is simply loving God with all your heart soul & mind and loving your neighbor as yourself. True, it teaches us the core of what the Law is, but doesn’t necessarily teach us what it looks like in practice. And so just as we need some moral instruction to teach us what the Law looks like, we also may need instruction on what preaching Law and Gospel to “young people” looks like.
I therefore offer up the Ten Commandments of Reaching Young People. First table is primarily for pastors’ relationships with young people; 2nd table is for all Christians’ relationships with young people.
2. Thou shalt not come up with artificial preaching gimmicks.
What does this mean? Pastors should fear and love God so that they do not make every sermon 49% law & 51% gospel or turn everything in the Bible into a bad metaphor for the Sacraments, but rather trust that He has already put these important matters in His Word and has no need for pastors to add them in.
3. Thou shalt not use the efficacy of the Word as an excuse for poor, shallow, or negligent preaching.
What does this mean? Pastors should fear and love God so that they do what has been given them to do to the best of their ability. While they should not trust their own efforts to achieve the Spirit’s work for Him, neither should they see themselves as a mere set of shoulders holding up their vestments so that they need not concern themselves with doing a good job. They aren’t casting magic spells from the pulpit; God has promised to act through their work, not instead of it or coincidentally with it.
5. Thou shalt not segregate youth from the rest of the church.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not create separate age/life-status groups but instead recognize that there is only one church, and if we segregate youth, we simply push them out of her. If what we’re already doing is important, then we need to teach them why they should join in. If they rightly suggest that we are neglecting something important, then let them start doing it with us. If they wrongly suggest that we are neglecting something important, then we must teach & correct them.
6. Thou shalt not command inquisitive minds to “just have faith” and “set their human reason aside.”
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we learn to answer their questions as best we can (i.e. apologetics) and trust Him to create a faith that keeps reason in its proper, God-given place.
7. Thou shalt guide and discipline the young in doing good.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we trust that His love will motivate Christians to do good works and therefore train our youth to embrace & channel that motivation. Sanctification is not the Think System. God has not authorized us to protect the doctrine of justification by refusing His call to provide such instruction.
8. Thou shalt be counter-cultural when God’s Word is counter-cultural.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we put His Word above the word of our culture–not just on hot-button political issues, but on all of it. Yes, yes, conservative churches are very good at remembering that marriage is between a man and a woman, and liberal churches are very good at remembering not to favor the rich over the poor. But I’ve yet to see a church of either stripe where the older women train the younger women on working at home and submitting to their husbands (Titus 2:4-5) or where youth struggling with sexual purity are taught to find a spouse (1 Cor. 7:2,9). Remember: teach the whole counsel of God, even when it’s not The American Way.
9. Thou shalt let the Law and the Gospel do their work
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not snatch away the Law or withhold the Gospel. The Law need not always be encapsulated in “<insert sin here> is very bad and you should never do it, but it doesn’t matter anyway because you’re forgiven.” It is ok to just say “<insert sin here> is very bad and you should never do it.” Give them some time to take heed lest they fall. Likewise, the Gospel need not always be encapsulated in “everything you do is very bad and you can’t help it, but it doesn’t matter anyway because you’re forgiven.” Don’t wait for fear, trembling, and the pangs of hell before preaching Christ Crucified. If you remember the whole counsel of God, you’ll cover both of these in abundance without taking either one away.
10. Thou shalt not use silly gimmicks like “the 10 commandments of ________” as teaching tools. Otherwise you might have to add superfluous items just to make it to 10.
Like the original 10, breaking any of these means breaking the first, and keeping the first means keeping all of these. If our congregations really teach the whole counsel of God, they won’t have time to make these common mistakes.