young people

14 Things the Church Needs to Do in 2014

Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

Churches aren't doing enough Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

With 2013 gone, many people will be contemplating how 2014 will be different from the year gone by. Some people want to lose weight, read more, travel the world, or stop biting their nails.  New Year’s resolutions are supposed to give us tangible goals to better ourselves for the year to come.

Resolutions, however, are not just for people. I believe that there are 14 things that the church needs to do in 2014 if it is to thrive, grow, and be relevant in the 21st century.

Saving Faith

Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

JIm Wallis reads from the Poverty and Justice Bible. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

For many, including myself, the past few weeks have been discouraging, given the state of our politics and culture and what many vulnerable people across the country are experiencing. But despite the frustration and even grief sometimes I have been reminded of the importance of “saving faith.”

My favorite Twitter response last week said this, “If all American Christians behaved as you do, I wouldn’t have to be such a huge a**hole of an atheist.” (Edits mine.) It came in response to a column I wrote about the new film, 12 Years A Slave (see it if you haven’t yet!), the continuing realities of racism in America that we still tolerate, and the need for churches to provide leadership in the changing demographics of the country by becoming the multiracial faith communities we were intended to be.

The week before saw many of faith leaders, pastors, and young people out in the rain at the U.S. Capitol during the government shutdown in a “Faithful Filibuster,” reading each day through the 2,000 verses in the Bible that speak of how we should treat the poor and vulnerable. One of those nights a family friend, the father of one of the boys I have coached in Little League baseball, came over to our house. He said, “You know I am an atheist, but I really admire what you are doing at the Capitol — that’s what Christians ought to be doing.”

Right after the government shutdown ended, Sojourners had our annual staff orientation. The program included each staff member telling their story of when and why they came to join us. Listening carefully, I was struck by how many Sojourners staffers recalled times in their lives when they were about to lose their faith, but rediscovered it after stumbling upon Sojourners. In my remarks to them that day, I also told stories of a few of the legion of people who have told me over the years of how they had lost or were about to lose their faith until they heard the messages about a faith that does justice.

It has all reminded me again how Sojourners began.

If You Build It, Mean It

Worship illustration, orestpath /

Worship illustration, orestpath /

We're all exploring and asking, "What's next?" This particular question serves us well when we ask where our young people are.

"What's next?" and the related, "Who will take us there?"

So, this morning I was primed and ready to read "What Millennials don’t want from the church" by Rachel Sloan. It's a quick and worthy missive in which she says, "The most frustrating part of being a Millennial is that my church does not understand me." What specifically doesn't the church understand? Well, "Millennials (despite the terrible things you are told to believe about us) want real authentic, worship and real, authentic churches. We want churches that want to have a relationship with us."

Having made the same mistake many, many times, this time I decided to get my Millennial friends to chime in on the post. Some rightly reminded me that speaking on behalf of any one generation is an impossible task and presents certain rhetorical problems.

Introducing The Emerging Voices Project: One Vision. Many Voices.

Today, Sojourners is launching a new project called Emerging Voices, and it’s one of the most exciting things I have been involved with for a long time. It aims to mentor, develop, and promote the most dynamic up-and-coming communicators — speakers, preachers, and teachers — who so clearly are called to lead and publicly articulate the biblical call to social justice.

The vision for this project is exciting and something to be celebrated. It also calls to mind a critical observation: Our world often wants saviors, not prophets; new messiahs, not leaders.

We want heroes with superhuman strength who save the day, not mere mortals who speak the truths we typically don’t want to hear. Even the modern day giants of social justice — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Mahatma Gandhi, for example —were at best prophets, but never saviors.
It’s easy to slip into the mentality that one person, one voice will rise up in a generation, and that he or she will change the world as we know it. Perhaps we even think, “Maybe I will change the world.”

Young Snake Handlers Grasp the Power of Faith

Snake handling image via Arie v.d. Wolde/ Shutterstock

Snake handling image via Arie v.d. Wolde/ Shutterstock

NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- Andrew Hamblin's Facebook page is filled with snippets of his life.

Making a late-night run to Taco Bell. Watching SpongeBob on the couch with his kids. Handling rattlesnakes in church.

Hamblin, 21, pastor of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., is part of a new generation of serpent-handling Christians who are revitalizing a century-old faith tradition in Tennessee.

While older serpent handlers were wary of outsiders, these younger believers welcome visitors and use Facebook to promote their often misunderstood — and illegal — version of Christianity. They want to show the beauty and power of their extreme form of spirituality. And they hope eventually to reverse a state ban on handling snakes in church.

Christopher Hitchens, Diana Butler Bass and the Third Great Awakening

Old Time Prayer Meeting image via Shutterstock

Old Time Prayer Meeting image via Shutterstock

Everyone who calls me to speak somewhere, it seems, wants me to address the issue of declining church membership, and particularly how to connect with younger adults. The problem is that sometimes the invitation is built on a false premise. It’s the hope of many churches that if they can find a way to connect with younger people in a relevant way, those young adults will join the church and save the institution for future generations.

And while this is possible in some situations, it’s really the wrong question to be asking.

The explicit question I get asked, time and again, is “How do we better serve younger people?” And if the question really ended there, we could have a pretty productive conversation. But there’s an implied subtext in most cases that we have to tease out, and often times, the church isn’t even willing to admit that this footnote is married to their question. So although the words above are what are spoken, here’s what they really want to know:

“How do we better serve younger people (so that they will come back to our institutions and save them)?”

The Afternoon News: Thursday Nov. 10, 2011

The Afternoon News

The Afternoon News

Reawakening the Radical Imagination. Proposed Keystone XL pipeline route may be reassessed. OpEd: The answer is: Spend less. Cornel West keeps the faith for Occupy Wall Street. Most Americans support raising the minimum wage. Smithsonian museum on Jefferson's Bible. Poll suggests evangelicals favor redistribution of wealth. Defining poverty in a land of plenty. Is American becoming a nation of poor children? Are older Americans better off? Immigration in the South. Are unions and young people a winning combination for 2012? Unemployment claims drop for the second straight week. And Christian leaders talk about marriage and sex.

Jim Wallis and Richard Land Discuss Evangelicals and 2012 Elections

Tonight, Sojourners and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission are co-sponsoring an event to discuss religion and the 2012 elections. Rev. Wallis and Dr. Richard Land will delve into what they believe the religious issues will be and should be from now until election day.

The event is already turning some heads. A Washington Post article by Michelle Boorstein summed up the unique nature of the event in a headline, "Evangelical opposites to hold discussion on 2012 presidential race."

The "Atonement-Only" Gospel

If justice is only an implication, it can easily become optional and, especially in privileged churches, non-existent. In the New Testament, conversion happens in two movements: Repentance and following. Belief and obedience. Salvation and justice. Faith and discipleship.

Atonement-only theology and its churches are in most serious jeopardy of missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. The atonement-only gospel is simply too small, too narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private.

An Open Letter to the Occupiers from a Veteran Troublemaker

You have awakened the sleeping giant, too long dormant, but ever present, deep in the American democratic spirit. You have given voice and space to the unspoken feelings of countless others about something that has gone terribly wrong in our society. And you have sparked a flame from the embers of both frustration and hope that have been building, steadily, in the hearts of so many of us for quite some time.

Throughout history, often it has been left to the youth of a society to do that, and you boldly have stepped into the role of the emerging generation, which sometimes means saying and doing what others only think. You have articulated, loudly and clearly, the internal monologue of a nation.