Disclaimer: I'm a Baby Boomer. Most members of my generation haven't yet figured out that we're NOT young adults anymore. But that's another blog post.
I'm at the regular spring meeting of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops. The focus of today's sessions was on the church's ministry to and with young adults. "Young adult" seems to be defined as between 18 and 35, so it's actually been a quarter century or so since I've been one, as young and hip as I may feel.
God knows, the Episcopal Church (all churches, for that matter) needs to be concerning itself with this topic, as this demographic is hugely conspicuous by its absence from our worship and communal life. It has ever been this, for a host of understandable life-cycle reasons, but the gap is much more pronounced now than it was when I was ... well ... a young adult (and I was always part of the church community when I was that age).
One of our presenters is a 40-something seminary professor with a background (and a PhD) in the social sciences. The other two (one ordained, one lay) live and work in the Diocese of Massachusetts, and are involved in a pilot project aimed at finding new ways to "do church" that connect more organically with their chronological (and, it probably needs to be said, cultural) peers.
Here's what I like about what they're doing: They are ambitious about forming intentional community--people who covenant to spend significant amounts of time with one another, sharing several meals a week, even sharing living quarters when feasible. They are serious about disciplined spiritual formation, and doing so be drilling down into their own Christian tradition, rather than indulging in an eclectic smorgasbord of spiritual practice. And they're not shy about saying that it's a relationship with Jesus that is at the root of what they do, that such a relationship has changed their lives and calling others into such a relationship is a critical part of their mission.
Here are my concerns about what I heard: Their articulation of the gospel seems not to be clearly connected to the Paschal Mystery. There was even a PowerPoint slide labeled "The Good News", and its content was simply "Community, Compassion, Co-creation." No Jesus. No dying and rising. No mystical participation in the eschaton. In all fairness, I would wager this was an oversight, and that they would be horrified to have it pointed out that Jesus was absent from their definition of the gospel. At least I hope so.
And then there is what for me is that bugaboo that just doesn't want to ever go away. Previous generations would have called it the Social Gospel. Nowadays the language is something about "God's mission" or "God's dream." Either way, the task before the Christian community is to participate in the implementation of this mission and the realization of this dream. And the metric for determining faithfulness to this task is the diminution of the total amount of human suffering. This is considered an end in itself, and it it is accomplished without people coming into an explicit relationship with Jesus in the communion of the church, then that's really no big deal; the end is still accomplished.
This isn't that occasion for a treatise on that subject. Suffice it to say that I find it an impoverished account of the Christian narrative, and I am saddened when the notion is purveyed and accepted as self-evident.
These young people are inspiring. I wish them well. They are doing many things that I would hope to adapt and implement in my ministry. But we need to keep the main thing the main thing.