Revitalizing the Gospel and the Urgency of Reaching Young Adults

May 2022

Dear People of Bethlehem,

One of the first things we have revved up, in light the waning of COVID protocols, is our Confirmation Program. It has been a pleasure to begin meeting with eight of our young people! Finishing up their Confirmation years are [names withheld]; join us for their Confirmation Day, during the worship on June 5, 9am.

Just beginning their commitment in working toward their Confirmation in two years are: [names withheld]. You will see them begin in coming months their roles as fellow leaders in the church, doing things like acolyting and reading on Sunday mornings. Another crucial component, of course, is deeper education in the Christian faith.

One of my passions as a pastor is to revitalize our Christian messaging around a Gospel of New Creation — namely, that God in Jesus Christ is saving the whole creation. For human beings this means being invited into a new way of being human by following Jesus. I firmly believe that a revitalization of the Gospel is the key to welcoming back the younger generations, for whom the version of the Gospel we grew up with — focusing on ‘going to heaven when you die’ — no longer works. They crave salvation from the many dangers currently facing us. And I believe that that’s exactly what the Gospel should be about in the first place.

Christian author Brian McLaren shares many stories in his books of encounters with people — both church members and the unchurched — struggling with their faith in the traditional messaging of the church. More recently, these stories have shifted more to stories of young people wary of the church. In Faith after Doubt, he tells of a recent encounter with a young woman named Charis. Charis came up to Brian after a talk he’d given and invited him to coffee. She began, “Look, I’m almost thirty and I’m dating someone and it’s getting pretty serious. And eventually, we want to have children. . . . I wish I could find some group of people who have sifted through all the best from the past and use it to help people like me get a little more of that harmony in our lives that you talked about this morning. For all the problems I have with what I was taught growing up, I do feel that having a faith community was worth a lot to me. And I think the world will not be a better place unless we can find a way to have healthy faith communities without all the ______.” (Expletive deleted)

Brian began to respond regarding the struggle right now that most churches are having in attracting the younger generations, but Charis interrupted,

“I get it. I get it. They want the ‘millennials’ like me to come and save them. . . . Look, I do all the [trendy] stuff. I do yoga. I go to therapy. I do these online self-awareness-unleash-your-inner-goddess courses and stuff like that. But I’m not an idiot. I know about climate change and nuclear war and economic inequality and all that. The world is in such a mess! I don’t just want to be a good, happy, fulfilled, spiritual consumer while it all goes down the toilet. I want to be part of a group, a movement, that’s trying to . . . you know, save it. There. I said it. I want to be part of a community that isn’t obsessed with just saving their own damned souls, but that actually wants to try to save this world that we’re on the verge of destroying.” (Faith after Doubt, 134)

In my own experience of ‘conversion’ to a revitalized Gospel, I find that it not only addresses concerns of young people like Charis, but it is also more faithful to the original Christian movement whose story is told in the New Testament.

Confirmation studies can provide an ideal venue to test this out. Can a revitalized Gospel be conveyed to our youth in a way they find relevant and helpful — and, of course, remaining faithful to the biblical faith? I don’t use any of the published Confirmation materials; I find them to be lagging behind in the revitalization process. So I am crafting my own approach to an orderly passing on of the Gospel, using a wide variety of resources and media.

This Spring we are beginning with the weighty matter of sin. If we are to follow Jesus in living into a new way to be human, we need to better understand what has been holding us back from becoming fully what God created us to be, and how following Jesus can begin to help free us from Sin’s power and thus live into a new way to be human.

I hope this sounds interesting to all of you! I’m convinced that this is one of those times in the 2000-year history of the Church when relearning the faith is an essential for everyone. In the coming years, perhaps we can talk about adult catechism, too, a relearning of the Christian faith that meets the challenges of our times — including the welcoming of the younger generations so that the Church’s mission will go on, instead of the current trend of witnessing its dying out. I will be producing an outline of what we learn in Confirmation with kids. I’d be happy to share it with parents and other adults. Adult catechism is something I do in my preaching, a little bit at a time each Sunday. But I believe it will be helpful, perhaps essential, to supplement the learning-via-preaching with “adult catechism” — and, ultimately, the most helpful way for all the adults at Bethlehem to support our youth in their educations.

In the meantime, don’t forget to support _________ on their Confirmation Day June 5th.

Peace, Pastor Paul

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