The following letter was compiled purposefully by a group of Baptist millennials. As you read, you’ll quickly see we are motivated by love with the goal of gracious, productive conversation leading to understanding and greater unity—ultimately resulting in many, many more lives being changed by the love of our amazing Savior, Jesus Christ.
Please read with this context in mind.
We are Baptist millennials. Your vision and pioneering faith have inspired us and challenged us to dedicate our lives to the cause of Christ. We look up to you, and we respect your counsel. Now, more than ever, we need your guidance. A very real tension exists in our hearts between what we see in our churches and what we believe God is calling us to be as the 21st century New Testament church.
Millennials are leaving our churches. You don’t like this, and neither do we. Many millennials want to articulate their thoughts and frustrations within our movement, but have a hard time finding an outlet where they won’t be ignored, immediately rebutted, or labeled a “liberal” who just wants an “easier Christianity.” Sadly, many have already left our ranks searching for a place to be heard and understood. Unfortunately, this has led some to compromise in serious areas of doctrine and truth.
It’s not our desire to have church “our way” or for it to be “all about us.” We desperately need the leadership, experience, and wisdom of those who have gone before us. We look to your example, counsel, and friendship.
The following list articulates what many millennials desire to see in our churches. We hope this list will be the beginning of authentic, transparent dialogue between our generation and those that came before us as we pursue the same goal together—Jesus!
1. We want to hear Jesus preached every time.
The absolute desire of our hearts every Sunday is to see the person of Jesus. We want to know how our life can be radically changed by Him. We understand how Jesus relates to our salvation, but we want to grow in our understanding of how He relates to our sanctification. We want to hear Jesus from every passage every time.
2. We believe preaching should emphasize grace over moralism.
Too often, preaching lands on the side of moralism rather than Jesus and grace. Declarations such as, “For God to use you, you have to meet the standard of God,” will only lead to people working harder at bettering themselves so they can be accepted by God.
As you know, works prior to and after salvation do not put us in better standing with God. We are “right with God” because of Jesus. It is when we fully understand our position in Christ that our works become a natural outflow of His Spirit and are not tainted with men-pleasing motivations. We want to know how our position in Christ leads to revival, giving, holiness, our witness, right thinking, right living, and every other area of the Christian life. We long for preaching from the inside out, not the outside in. Moralistic preaching that motivates by guilt, pressure, and judgment may manufacture some temporary results, but preaching that motivates with Jesus will produce results that are sustainable for a lifetime.Moralistic preaching that motivates by guilt, pressure, and judgment may manufacture some temporary results, but preaching that motivates with Jesus will produce results that are sustainable for a lifetime. Click To Tweet
3. We believe preaching should build our minds.
We crave well-studied, intellectual preaching that can withstand critical thinking. We desire to be educated from the pulpit. In the Internet Age where information is everywhere, it is vital to have solid content. There is no excuse to be ill-informed or agenda driven behind the pulpit. Just because something might “preach” doesn’t mean it should. Hobby horses and rabbit trails may have their place, but please give us Scriptural substance!
4. We believe preaching should inspire our hearts.
Well-crafted, alliterated outlines help us to keep the message organized and to remember the facts. But we also desire preaching that leads us to worship; that is, a passionate, obedient response to truth. We need preaching that inspires our soul and moves us to action.
As one author said, “We pray for informed minds and inflamed hearts.” The “heart” is not just the emotions, but the seat of the mind, will, and emotions altogether. What the heart most wants, the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable.What the heart most wants, the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable. Click To Tweet
Preaching to the heart usually begins at the point in the message when the speaker begins to apply Jesus to the text (see point 1).
5. We believe preaching should be reasonable and conversational.
We love when truth is declared with authority, but we really connect when spoken to and reasoned with in a conversational way. We’re not asking to compromise truth, but to simply speak the truth from the pulpit in the same way you would in a conversation. Passion can easily be mistaken for anger.
Concerning the Christian Life
6. We are missional and desire to align every aspect of our lives with that mission.
Missional living is doing because we understand the why, not just because we are told to. We long to be a part of something bigger than ourselves—something that can’t be explained by human effort and reasoning, but by the power of God.Missional living is far more motivating than conformity. Click To Tweet
Missional living is far more motivating than conformity. Conformity might tell us what or how, but we are very likely to question those without the why. If you sense us searching for the “why” behind everything, it doesn’t mean we are looking to compromise truth. We just want to connect every aspect of our lives with our biblical mission, which we believe is found in point 7.
7. We believe our mission is found in the greatest and second commandments.
Jesus made it very clear through His teaching and even more clear through his living that there should be two overriding emphases in our lives—loving God and loving people (and not just those within the church). We believe that the life Jesus lived in his public ministry was one that we are to model. Jesus perfectly loved and obeyed God as he ministered and served those around Him including the outcasts and marginalized in society like the publicans and sinners.
We long to hear practical sermons on how we can model Jesus in our daily lives. We long to sit at the feet of Jesus and then take the love we have found in Him to a world in desperate need.
8. We believe the problem with our culture is sin.
We know our culture is bad. We know sinners are lost. While we are against the sin of our culture, we don’t ever want to give the impression that we are against the sinners of our culture.While we are against the sin of our culture, we don't ever want to give the impression that we are against the sinners of our culture. Click To Tweet
Comments like, “That Hollywood crowd, they’re the dirtiest people on earth!” and “That [pop singer] is a wicked reprobate!” really bother us. We understand what’s trying to be conveyed, but it doesn’t come across right (especially to the lost people we’re bringing to services). We feel this leads Christians to think they’re better than the lost when in fact, Jesus loves saved people just as much as He loves lost people. We don’t have a greater version of His love just because we’re saved. We are all equally sinners, and we are all equally loved by God. Preach against sin, but teach us how to love sinners.Jesus loves saved people just as much as He loves lost people. We don’t have a greater version of His love just because we’re saved. We are all equally sinners, and we are all equally loved by God. Click To Tweet
Concerning Local Church Ministry
9. We value people over programs.
We are passionate about people because Jesus was passionate about people. But he also seemed more eager to sit down and have a meal with them in their home (not His) than he was about making sure they came to his next preaching event. We quickly put new converts on a “next step” chart and begin processing them through our systems of assimilation, but do we let them know that we really care about them? Do they know that we love them even if they don’t “process” as quickly as we would like?
The church is a body, but it’s also a family. The body speaks of its function, while the family speaks of its relationships and spirit toward one another. Relationships are essential. In fact, relationship is at the core of the Gospel. Do people really feel they are part of the family?
10. We are more committed to the future than to the past.
We are thankful for the past and what has brought us to this point. We know that we can learn from the past and highly respect those who have gone before us. But we have 30+ years of ministry ahead of us, and we are more committed and excited about where we are going than where we have been. We sense from our leaders a strong desperation to hold onto what “has been” for the sake of security, comfort, and familiarity rather than a passion to charge forward.We are thankful for the past, but we are more committed and excited about where we are going than where we have been. Click To Tweet
11. We prioritize realism over formalism.
“Church” is not the weekend service. It’s a body of believers doing life together and calling others to enter into the family of God with them. We feel there is a huge disconnect between what we experience in our church buildings on Sunday and where we are actually living on Monday. We crave real authenticity. However, the style of our churches often communicates formalism over realism. Whether it’s the way we dress, the way we talk, or even the way we present ourselves on the platform. There exists a perception of perfection that on one hand feels unattainable, and on the other leads to more moralism where we promote formalism as the evidence of holiness. We’ve also witnessed how formalism can lead to a judgmental spirit similar to the Pharisees.
12. We want to be innovative and practical in our outreach.
Our churches are really good at knocking on doors, and we are glad for this, but we want to do more. We’ve taken one verse from the book of Acts and built our entire outreach program on it.
We want to serve our cities and be a part of the solution to the everyday problems our communities are facing. We want to go to where the sinners are, not just invite them to come to us. We want to serve the needs of people in practical ways. Jesus almost always met a physical need before tending to a spiritual one. We want to actively, personally, and genuinely be involved in the lives of hurting people so that through those relationships we can introduce them to Jesus. This kind of outreach is messier, harder to organize, and more challenging to our faith, but we crave it.We want to actively, personally, and genuinely be involved in the lives of hurting people so that through those relationships we can introduce them to Jesus. Click To Tweet
13. We are tired of the in-fighting and politics.
We’re weary of what we see going on between good Christians. We are willing to admit areas that are preferential and not doctrinal and give space to those who are different from us. We want to be missional and forward thinking, not always defending our position and fighting with other Christians. While we might say we separate with other Christians on matters of doctrine only, this has not always been the case from what we’ve observed.
14. We don’t feel bound to traditions that have lost their meaningfulness.
We are interested in truth over preference or tradition. Tradition that is truth we wholeheartedly embrace, but tradition that is preference we may question or do differently than the generation before us.Tradition that is truth we wholeheartedly embrace, but tradition that is preference we may question or do differently than the generation before us. Click To Tweet
Concerning our Worship
15. We desire to worship passionately.
It’s not our desire to just put on a show or being trendy. In fact, style of music is secondary to our desire to passionately worship the One who is worthy of all praise. We tire of the world worshipping their gods more passionately than we worship ours. We look around our congregations on Sunday and wonder, “are these people singing the same words I am?” We crave genuine, authentic, responsive worship. We fear our formal style has taken the life out of our worship. “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised.” A powerful God deserves powerful worship!Style of music is secondary to our desire to passionately worship the One who is worthy of all praise. Click To Tweet
16. We desire to celebrate our Savior.
We want to celebrate our Savior, His grace, and all He is doing every time we gather. We want to celebrate changed lives, broken addictions, the unstoppable power of the Gospel, and the depths of the riches of our Savior. Too often it feels we are going through the motions to simply get it over with so that we can get on with our day. Everything we read in Scripture tells us to stand up, shout out, sing aloud, praise, and exalt our amazing God. We long to see this joyful, vibrant response to God in our churches.
17. We desire to sing fresh songs.
Hymns are good, but they’re not better. We appreciate, enjoy, and love to sing the best of the hymns. We are committed to the same truths found in the hymns, but we desire to sing songs that have been borne from the soul of our generation; songs that speak to our present relationship with Christ. We want to evaluate a song on its own merit in theological and affectionate expression, not on its origins, who wrote it, or who it is associated with.
18. We are not as particular with musical style.
We believe that musical style has been debated on primarily preferential grounds, despite some attempts to make style a biblical issue. We know this is a difficult topic and we want to be very respectful to differing opinions, but we have searched and searched and cannot find biblical, musical, or logical support for preferring one musical style over another.
Music carries and communicates emotional meaning in a variety of ways, all of which should be evaluated in our worship, but we cannot label any element of music (rhythm or drums, for example) as intrinsically good or evil. This doesn’t mean we are anxious to incorporate every style of pop music into Baptist churches across America, but we are eager to use those songs and those musical elements that best support and express our faith.
Concerning the Previous Generation
19. We desire meaningful dialogue.
We know the older generation of Christian leaders isn’t used to this as much, but we need them to sit down with us, hear our questions, and be our mentors. Even if we articulate our thoughts in a way that doesn’t seem “fundamental” or is a little too “outside the box,” please be patient with us.
This helps us process our beliefs far more deeply than just being told what to believe. Your experience here is invaluable to us. We desire your input in these conversations, but we admit, they take time. They also take transparency and authenticity—the willingness to be vulnerable about your struggles and failures.
20. We desire that you would listen to understand.
As we dialogue, please listen to understand, not just to rebut or refute. Our intensions and motives are sincere. We ask a lot of questions because we want to strip away all the excess in order to understand core Truth. We desire to be heard without immediately being labeled or stereotyped.We ask a lot of questions because we want to strip away all the excess in order to understand core Truth. Click To Tweet
21. We desire that you would dream with us.
We want to dream big dreams for God. We want to talk about these dreams, pray about these dreams, and expect that God will use us to fill these dreams. We want to take risks for the sake of the Gospel. We hear things like “don’t dream outside of the revealed will of God,” but what that seems to mean is “don’t dream out loud—that’s disloyalty.” Really what we desire more than anything is for you to dream with us.What we desire more than anything is for you to dream with us. Click To Tweet
22. We don’t want to be paralyzed by the fear of man.
“We ought to obey God rather than man.” This doesn’t just apply to the liberal politicians and movie stars. If we are truly “Independent” Baptists, then we do not answer to any other pastor or denomination. It’s okay if people criticize us if we sincerely believe we are doing what God has called us to do.It’s okay if people criticize us if we sincerely believe we are doing what God has called us to do. Click To Tweet
Every decision, position, and action does not need to be defended publicly. We don’t feel most of our church members would understand anyway. We need not the praise of men, but we desperately need to be doing what the Holy Spirit is leading us to do.
We don’t like the fact that young men are leaving our ranks. We also desire to be a part of the solution. The intention of this list is to try to articulate what many of us are feeling.
Please know that we are forever indebted to you. We look forward to serving Jesus along side you for many years to come. Please also know that we desire your blessing and support as we dedicate our live to one cause—Jesus Christ and His gospel!