Read Rachel Held Evans Again or, Missing the Millennial Point

Something lies beneath the dustup created by Rachel Held Evans CNN blog post. It is more than what appears to be a patterned response to anything RHE writes. The usual suspects tend to use whatever Rachel writes to prop up their shtick; and that applies to critics and supporters. You know what I mean. It is the sort of reading that is really not reading. Read her post carefully and then a few of the responses. It was as if people were reading differently cached posts on the Interwebs.

I am not a Millennial. The Pew Research Center offers an online quiz to see how Millennial you might be. My responses confirmed what some would have noted my age clearly indicated. Not Millennial.

But, Patty and I have raised two Millennials. Our Youth Pastor is a Millennial. Our Associate Pastor is on the edge of being considered a Millennial, much like Evans. The observations Evans made in her CNN piece may not be scientific. She may not have offered the perspective of someone with sociological street cred. Her observations are not far off.

I always read Scot McKnight. He posted an excerpt from Brett McCracken’s response to Rachel’s post. Here is the bit that caught my eye,

How about the opposite? Millennials: why don’t we take our pastors, parents, and older Christian brothers and sisters out to coffee and listen to them? Perhaps instead of perpetuating our sense of entitlement and Twitter/blog/Instagram-fueled obsession with hearing ourselves speak, we could just shut up for a minute and listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before?

Me thinks Brett both hit and missed. He missed in that what Millennials do not care to hear is how they should buy the coffee. This smacks of inviting women to be the ones to make the advance in a conservative religious world where men dominate. Why not invite the men to tea and ask them about life as a male? Nothing short circuits being heard than telling those desiring to express themselves, or to participate, that they somehow owe those keeping them on the sidelines a bit of coddling.

What McCracken hit on gets at the heart of this issue. It is far better to have a conversation. One of these days Scot will resurrect his stuff on the Art of Conversation, at least I am hoping, and told him so. We have replaced conversation with psychographics.

It all started with Saddleback Sam, who incidentally morphed from the West Coast to Chicago and took the form of Unchurched Harry. No, this is not the place where we vilify Rick Warren or Bill Hybels. Neither is the Devil, nor devil. Warren actually, if my memory serves me well in these advanced years, came up with Saddleback Sam after canvasing the area where he intended to plant what is now Saddleback Church. If psychographic profiles were available then, the church was just hearing about it.

I began work in the Doctor of Ministry program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1991. We were introduced to psychographics. Instruments like VALS, and VALS2, helped segment the population analyzing V-alues, A-ttitudes, and Lifestyles. Combined with demographic studies, churches could benefit from psychographic studies to be better equipped to market themselves to unchurched populations. In other words, intentionally or unintentionally, churches influenced heavily by the Church Growth Movement opted to get into marketing themselves to these segmented groups. And, we found another way to segregate the Church. How many remember Gen-X Churches popping up?

Incidentally it was this issue that caught the attention of those who eventually formed Emergent Village, the loosely organized group once called Emergent/Emerging/emerging.  They, like Evans today, did not think the church needed more marketing, or to learn how to be more cool and hip to reach Generation X. By the way my hip hurts. I digress.

The full on move to market the Gospel may in part be what is behind the recent Gospel-centered movement. But, if we are not careful, Gospel-centered simply becomes the new Ad campaign. Once that is the case, it becomes and empty signifier. It means nothing.

The issue underneath Rachel Held Evans CNN blog post is that we have traded statistics, demographics, psychographics, and the consequent market segment profiles for spending time with real people. Our friend Ed Stetzer staunchly believes these categories are helpful – Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennial, etc. Maybe they do have their place. But, these shorthand markers for the years a given generation fits combined with psychographic market data make shorthand of our relationships.

McCracken is correct. And so is Evans. But, we do not need to see if Millennials will sit down with their pastors and church leaders or vice versa, we need real people with real names to take real time to talk. Chat it up about life and faith. Stop casting people into bins to make it easier to apply your shtick or formula. Open up to the hard work of real hospitality that makes room for another person who will surely not be like you, nor think like you, nor process the world as you do.

Take the time to learn their names, their hobbies, and their life experiences. Spend time developing friendships that flow both ways. Stop already with classifications as if everyone fits neatly into such a description.

Incidentally, you may be glad to know that Rachel Held Evans believes the church is good for Millennials. She enumerates the reasons here. I am sure she believes Church is good for all people for the same reasons noted in her new CNN piece.

According to the Pew Research Quiz I fit Generation X. Demographically, I am a tail end Baby Boomer. I know, some of you think I am a tail end all right.

What really brought this whole affair home for me was a lunch date last week with three Millennials, or borderline Millenials – Justin, Trent, and Tim. One fellow pulled out his phone and read Herman Mehta’s response to Evans’ post. I asked if he read the article that stirred the response. He had not. Justin did say Mehta’s article was quite interesting. While Christians decided to take up arms and sides with/against Evans, Mehta said, why not try Atheism?

If that does not get your attention, Christian pastor/leader, you should put down the leadership books that simply rehash marketing for the church and pick up the Gospels, the ones in your copy of the New Testament. Follow Jesus’ pattern of friendship and see what possibilities rise from the death of viewing people as a market niche to be won.

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About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

4 comments on “Read Rachel Held Evans Again or, Missing the Millennial Point

  1. Tim Dahl says:

    Oh wow. I remember seeing the “try atheism” comment, and I intentionally didn’t click it. I had an assumption of what it would be, and it turned out that way. It was painful to read. We (pastors, religious types) do tend to shoot ourselves in the foot, and in doing so are turning away so many people.

    It makes my heart hurt.


  2. Tim Dahl says:

    Hey Todd, I was reading the Washington Post article by Brett McCracken, and I notice where you quoted him. I was wondering if you noticed that Brett claimed to be Millinial? His harsh statment wasn’t that “They” should buy their preacher coffee and listen, but that “We” should buy our preacher coffee and yadda yadda yadda. For some reason knowing that he is one of them, makes me less harsh in my critique of him. If he was a Gen Xer, or Boomer, or whatever; then I would be more critical. Anyway, I was just wondering if you had caught that or not. To my reading, it seemed that he was protrayed as something other than a millinial. But then again, I’m not known for reading very closely. 🙂


    1. Tim,

      I did know that McCracken represented himself a Millennial. Even when a person speaks from within a group toward which his criticism is pointed he or she may still prop up the power that keeps said group feeling a sense of derision for its different values. In this case, McCracken has a position other Millennials do not so his suggestion seems, to my reading, the same as if I had made the suggestion.

      I guess what I am pressing is that in every situation where a dominate groups holds sway there yet lies the possibility to be co-opted by the powers, in this case given a platform, to repeat what those in power would want said. I believe this is unwitting and not some sinister plot by McCracken or his publishers.

      Another thought came to me at lunch with a couple of fellows, one a Millennial. The group to which Evans wrote and maybe the same that would read/hear Brett’s reaction is very narrow and small. The key word is, “leaving the church.” Her words were not for someone who is not considering church. Evans does not address those who never have been to church. She calls attention to the issues important to a group she has interacted with in her speaking events and in response to her writings. I still contend we do well to listen. For my experience with this group, more Millennials are not looking to grab the microphone at a coffee table. They would like someone to help them see how to manage the inconsistencies of a failed hospitality to those Jesus clearly said to love – even those we deem enemies.

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