I often feel lonely in church.
Sometimes it has to do with my role. As a pastor, I have certain responsibilities to the people I serve, what we call the “sacred trust.” I try not to be someone other than who I really am, but there is still a sense in which I am never fully myself in church. And that can be lonely.
But what’s on my mind today isn’t the loneliness of being a pastor. I’ll save that for another post. What’s on my mind today is the loneliness of being a millennial in the mainline church.
There is a kind of grief that comes when you look around a room of hundreds of people united by a common identity for a common purpose and see hardly anyone within 10 years of your age. Mind you, I have no desire to be part of a community that is comprised solely of young adults — I deeply value the wisdom of older generations and the joy of children all mixed together in one intergenerational family.
But it’s a little like how I felt when I was at the age where, as the oldest of the cousins by several years, I had outgrown the kids’ table while not yet qualifying to sit at the grownup table — and so I was stranded in between, alone.
This grief comes and goes for me, but it’s been in sharp focus lately. There are people in their 20s and 30s who are faithful participants at my mainline church, and they are wonderfully engaged and active. But for the most part, when I look around the room, I see kids and teenagers, then Gen-Xers on up — and a gap in between.
This troubles me. I’m already plagued with a sense of not fitting in, of not being cool enough to my peers, of struggling more than I think I should with cultivating a “normal” social life. Working in a church only reinforces the distance and alienation I feel from my own generation.
To be clear, what saddens me is not that my peers don’t come. I totally get it. There are times I think I wouldn’t come to church either if I didn’t work there. I understand their qualms and aversion probably better than many of them think I do.
What saddens me is that I am pouring my heart and my life into work that seems to be wholly irrelevant to a large segment of my generation and even objectionable to some of my peers. I often feel like I am preaching to the choir, and although I love that choir and every person in it, I can’t help but think this isn’t the whole picture.
And the choir knows that. They desperately want to understand why their son, their granddaughter, their little brother would choose to play disc golf or go to brunch or sleep in on a Sunday morning. (I don’t understand the disc golf option myself, but that’s just me.) They worry about this trend because they care about the well-being of that missing generation and about the future of the church they love.