What Do We Do?
Theme: God’s Truth is Marching On
Occasion: Youth Sunday 2014
Scripture Readings: Psalm 46: 1-3 and Mark 12: 38-40
It is always an honor to stand at this pulpit, knowing what this church has meant to Silliman University and to the Dumaguete community.
Students, who can proudly claim to be true Sillimanian’s from as early as elementary school, will recall their first Convocation message spoken from this Pulpit. Students who grew into young adults at Silliman High School will recall their coming of age Bequeathal message spoken from this Pulpit. Young adults who came as college students, who learned and struggled on this campus, will recall their send off and final baccalaureate message spoken from this Pulpit. This is a special place and it is always an honor to stand at this Pulpit.
This is on my mind today because it is YOUTH SUNDAY, and i honestly struggled with God about what should be spoken from this Pulpit today. I began with the Youth in mind and started to formulate a message for the Youth. But I have a feeling that God is asking me for something different. This is a congregation of mature adults who need to hear a message for adults on the subject of Youth.
I have just been on the most exciting adventure. This was not an adventure to the USA or Europe, but a journey through the Philippines, to churches from Luzon to Mindanao, to small islands off Samar and Masbate, who continue to invite me to help them understand and engage the emerging new religious culture around them. The issues are familiar: Younger members are leaving for neighboring contemporary churches; conflicts arising over allowing a youth band to be part of worship; anger spreading because the financial priorities of church are channeled to outreach and not to evangelism and church growth; disagreements festering because of introducing a projector screen in the sanctuary and changes to the age old traditional liturgy.
The question they want answered is: WHAT DO WE DO?
I visit churches, churches and more churches: some I could be excited about, some I could only be sad about, and some just surprised me. I can tell you today that after time in all those churches.
I found that I could locate them in either of two groups: 1. The “puede na me” or the “whatever” churches and the “birada na me” or the “changed gear” churches.
I discovered this after asking them the question: “Tell me what is happening in your church”
PUEDE NA we are keeping true worship from the happy clappy worship. It is happening all around and they are taking advantage of the innocence of the young people who do not know what church or worship is. We know that God is not interested in quantity, but quality. where two or three are gathered in my name, remember? Jesus said, “I will be there”.
Will you be all right? I ask. “Hmmm Puede Na” That is why I call them the “Puede Na” Churches.
Then there are those churches I visit and I ask: “Tell me what is happening in your church?”
WE CHANGED GEARS. Changed Gears?I ask.Yes we were about the put our full time Pastor on part time.Our church programs were already cut to only 1 Sunday School Class. But the beginning of something new is happening in this church. People are coming back and coming in. People are volunteering and participating. We are excited. We have changed gears and are on our way.
That is why I call them the “Changed Gear” Churches.
Tell me more, I began to talk with these “Changed Gear Churches”.
What do you mean “We Have Changed Gears?”
We feel God has helped us to understand that the future belongs to those willing to let go, to stop trying to minimize the change we face, and rather to maximize our willingness to learn how to be a true church in a new world.
Another dynamic energy filled growing church in Pagadian told me this: We battled to oppose change – but the more we fought the smaller we got! Until we decided that the battle is not to oppose – but to guide the change! The real battle is to stay involved and in control of our continued remolding; To stay involved in the shaping of the change that keeps coming at us.
On my journey this past year, I ended up on one day, speaking to church workers on the small island of San Vicente, Northern Samar. A small island of copra gatherers and fisherfolk, seemingly harmless, but I was told not to go out too much alone because of Pirata’s. On this early morning, however, I could not resist, secretly stepping out of the host family house to walking to the beach at sunrise. It was idealic, the small bangka size fishing boats paddle in with their catch. The women and children gather around with woven baskets to assist in the segregating and counting of the catch before it is offered to the rest of us standing around.
As I walked the shoreline I noticed a fishing boat slowly paddling in and easing up on the beach. A crowd started to gather around and so I came closer. In tattered shorts his body was so weathered and baked, and his black hair had streaks of red from the many years of drying salt water but it was mostly covered by a T-shirt that also covered his face, except for his eyes. The Ninja look!
As we all tried to get a little closer, his eyes showed that he was not comfortable, he reached down under the board he was sitting on, and pulled out a small bag, and began to open it. I took a few steps back worried that he may be disturbed about all of us and this was a knife to protect himself. I remembered Pirata! From inside the bag he pulled out something wrapped in plastic. This couldn’t be a gun, but just in case, I took another step back. He unraveled the plastic and it was, oh my oh my it was, it was, a CELLPHONE! He immediately began texting, and within the next few minutes the problem was solved. His children were around him to assist in the segregating of the fish and we were all relaxed.
It was another reminder that the world has changed! Under our feet and around our churches the world is changing. From San Vicente to Dumaguete, from Davao to Manila, the world has changed. This was the first lesson our “changed gear churches” were telling me, the world has changed!
“Oh Remember those Tamaraw FX family vans some years ago with the fashionable signs on the window Baby on Board”, remember those Honda Econo Cub 70 red or blue motorcycles with mothers carrying their babies on the back with an umbrella over their heads? Well those babies, yes those sweet babies, they are now all grown up. They are not only driving vans and motorcycles now, they are driving our culture! They grew up as the first generation to learn to walk with computer technology, the internet, and cutting edge communication technology. They never knew the world without it!
They live and use cutting edge technologies causing amazement and sometimes frustration to the generation of their digital illiterate parents. I am still shocked when at meetings a colleague brings her 4 year old child and hands over her Iphone and the four year old will sit quietly playing games and even take a Selfie on the IPhone.
Whether Texting or Instagraming or Tweeting or Facebooking they are always in touch with their friends.
They are experiencing Africa and Iraq even the other planets through virtual computer games. They are seeing how it is to play the guitar, skim board, or understand the principle of photosynthesis on YouTube! They have shifted from books and words to the screen and the virtual. Their learning capacity has shifted from pages and wordy lectures – to visual images and virtual experiences.
These are Silliman Students today who were once those babies on board! They grew up with the screen, the scrolling and the brilliant technology of today. They grew up with more images and less words.
Brian McLaren in his book The Church on the Other Side, expresses it this way. “We are at a crossroad – the church is leaving a period when we communicated with modern people who needed to be informed by research and reason in order to appreciate truth. Now we have entered a new period when we need to communicate with a new generation who need to be inspired by the visual images, the emotional story, and the reality of experience in order to appreciate truth.”
These “Changed Gear” Churches are telling me. If history has taught us anything, it is that, as long as we keep having babies, our babies will grow into children and our children will know and learn the world of their time. And will always rise up and call us: OUTDATED.
Two weeks ago I picked up the Manila Bulletin and began reading an article titled: McDonalds Faces Millennial Challenge. It opened with the statement, “The world’s largest restaurant company by revenue is on decline with younger consumers.” It went on to say, “40% of the 35,000 worldwide McDonald restaurants were finding their sales on decline because consumers in their 20’s and 30’s are defecting to healthier food choices.” I was shocked, no not McDonald’s! That can’t be! McDonald’s can never be OUTDATED! No No! The article went on to give this reason, “The millennial generation has a wider range of choices than any generation before them and they are promiscuous in their brand loyalty.”
The Millennial Generation, is the name given to the generation who were in elementary and high school at the turn of the millennium. That means they were born between the years 1984 to 1995. That means they are the youth and young adults of today.
Listen to this, a book by Strauss Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, points out that “the Millennial Generation has brought an end to Religious Loyalty and with them an era of Religious Shopping has begun.”
This means that once upon a time, by virtue of being a Silliman University student you may have been loyal to Silliman Church come high or low. But today’ generation the Millennials, are cyber natives and as easy as the click of a mouse they are ready to go to a more appealing site, a site that is as modern as they are.
This information is telling me that the reason I am NOT speaking to as many young people in my own beloved Silliman University Church today is because there are parts of who we are that are outdated to this generation! Yes it hurts and yes they have gone on and have chosen other sites!
Our scripture passage today is taken from the Book of Mark where Jesus is offering advice. This advice he is offering is to a special group at a special time. The special group is a congregation in a temple in Jerusalem. The special time is at a period of change when the old ways of the temple are now questioned by Jesus.
Jesus says: “Beware of the Scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and be greeted with respect in the market place, and take the best seats in the temple…
It sounds to me that Jesus is not pleased with some important folks in the temple.
For Jesus, the time had come for change. And as the story unfolds, He was making the point that the temple, as it was, was no longer relevant to the world. That the temple, as it was, was no longer meaningful to God’s people. And the Scribes, who were holding things in place and as they are, were outdated. In fact, as story after story would unfold, Jesus would make changing the temple among his favored causes.
In my work with this new generation, the youth and young adults of today, perhaps because they grew up dictating into their computers what they wanted to see, what they wanted to hear, what they wanted to learn, they have a massive sense of entitlement! That means they expect to get it their way or they delete and scroll.
Perhaps because they grew up seeing words on their computers turned into colorful and visually sensational fonts with dynamic layouts! This new generation has no patience with just words.
That means they expect our words to be visually sensational and dynamic!
They are not easy, but the beautiful thing we learn from all the research on the Millennial Generation is they are a generation attracted to a relationship with God! They are filling churches around the world! Their dedication is unquestionable!
But their requirement is this: God has to be communicated and worship has to be performed in words and song that are visually sensational and can connect to them.
What then does this now mean for us? What do we do?
Do we want them in? Our do we want them left out?
If we do want them in it maybe painful, there maybe some tears shed because the most important change is not going to be out there among them, but in here. Changing our reluctance and resistance to change.
If we do want them in then we are going to have to be humble enough to allow parts of our ministry to be updated.
And when we can finally agree that change is not an evil thing. New creativity will come flowing from talent in our congregation. New innovations and ideas will fill our meetings.
When we can finally agree that no one persons version of Christianity or Worship or Church is final, true, and absolute. And we are willing to listen openly to everyone. And we are willing to let the ideas of the young people translate into action and programs in this church not for them but by them.
And we begin putting energy and resources into the Youth Worship, and give freedom to the Youth Worship to grow experiment and develop. Oh a new day will come! This Church will Boom!
But there is one last thing. This year my joy has been teaching Religion 61: Christian Ethics.
To be in the classroom with these Millennials, to see how they give presentations with all the bells and whistles on screen! They are amazing young people!
Earlier this year I was in Manila staying at the Shalom Guest House where many of us from Silliman stay because it is near many important places and maybe most importantly the large Robinsons Mall.
If any of you have been there you know that you can enter and exit the large mall closer to Shalom through National Bookstore. On this late afternoon, I had just been strolling through the Mall and was on my way out and back to Shalom. And like any good marketing group, National Bookstore placed a bargain table just along the exit pathway. I took a glance and saw an eye catching interesting book. Normally, if I were in Dumaguete, I would never consider a second look at such a book, but this is Manila, so I paused, took a look around and picked it up. It was big like a coffee table book, and the picture on the front was revealing its title: The Art of Lovemaking: The Secret to a Happier Marriage. I started thumbing through it, oh wow they look happy, oh wow that is artistic. Oh wow, when suddenly, like an electric shock, voices shocking voices, shocking words! Sir Cobbie, Sir Cobbie, naa pod diay ka diri! Hey guys sir Cobbie oh! Six of my Christian Ethics students were on a field trip to Manila for another class!
Oh my, how to make this book disappear, I tried to hide it but it was not easy. I was already imagining the tweet message or even the fb post, that in just seconds the whole class would know, Sir Cobbie in Manila – reading an Unethical Book! I wanted to Die!
But somehow by the grace of God, it never went viral!
In their ground breaking book, Growing Up Wired: Raising Kids in the Digital Age, Filipino writers Chua, Dionisio, Fernandez and Alignay, speak more specifically about the Filipino Millennial youth being a disappointed generation:
“They have grown up in the age of the OFW Phenomena. Left to Grandparents or one Parent, they saw or know broken promises, broken security, broken lives all too well. They have grown up in the age of the expose’s of their leaders. Their youtube skills have given them access to the frauds, the scandals, the lies, of Presidents, Chief Justices, Senators, Congresspersons and even Clergy! Words and promises and those in authority have let them down! Words and robes have no credibility to these Millennials anymore!”
These writers are making the point, if we want to connect with them: We just need to be real, consistent with what we say and to follow through. For them, most especially for them, the saying “walk the talk” is so important. If you say it, do it. If you promise it, give it.
I look out here today, and I am excited. I am excited because we have this time and opportunity. Sure some of us think that this is a hard time for the church, we are without a Pastor and the process left us wounded. But the lessons from the churches that have “Changed Gears” tell me there is possibility and potential. Even in this time without a Pastor, in fact it may be all the better that we are without a Pastor because we can call in those in those who have been staying away. Come on back, yes we need to invite!
We want everyone to be in the project, yes all are invited! Together we are going to let our creativity flow. Together we are going to let our imagination go. Together we are going to draw upon our talent and wisdom to define what it is we need to be as Silliman University Church. To define what it is to be meaningful and relevant at Silliman University Church. To define what it is to be church on a University Campus.
We will include the new ways into the old ways. Yes some old ways have to go, but not all things, the magic is to find balance.
And then when the new Pastor comes the Pastor is going to have your great ideas to work with.
Ideas for Silliman University, ideas for tomorrow, ideas we own!
And even if there is some pain in some change. Let us remember that God has given us this promise:
Beware of scribes who have attitudes and go therefore and bring everyone you can into the new way of life as I have taught you, and don’t worry I will be with you always, here and as you go and everywhere in between.
God Bless you Silliman University Church.
Let’s not just be puede na! Let’s change gears and birada na! The Truth does not stand still. The Truth Marches On!
God Bless You!