“Can I ask you a theological question?”
That’s the kind of text message most pastors or youth workers love to get.
“Sure thing,” I replied, glad to reconnect with Jason after not hearing from him for several years after high school.
“Why does God hate me so much?”
Not the kind of text pastors and youth workers love to get.
“Why do you think God hates you so much?” I asked, dodging the question.
What followed was one of the longest text message diatribes I have ever received about how his dad abandoned him in a house that would soon foreclose, how he had no car or driver’s license, how he had to drop out of high school because he couldn’t get there often enough, how he was about to be homeless and had no money, job or food.
“So why does God hate me so much?”
Jason and I made plans to meet the next day at a local coffee shop. After buying him some lunch, we sat down to talk. The first thing I asked him was if we could put the theological question of God’s hatred of him on hold. Instead, we began working on the challenges he was facing and tried to get him to a place of stability.
Over the next few months, he made great progress as he got his GED, found a family that would take him in for a while, got a job and his driver’s license. He also started attending our weekly Launch Bible study and got involved in some of the other things we were doing with young adults on the fringes of our community.
Though previously unchurched, Jason eagerly explored the opportunities for developing his faith as the rest of his life began to come together.
Six months later, after seeing dramatic changes in Jason’s life, we sat down again for coffee. I asked him if he remembered his theological question that brought us together that first day. He had completely forgotten.
I asked him, “So, why do you think God hates you so much?”
He smiled as he remembered the question, and he visibly reflected on where God had taken him over the previous six months.
“No, God doesn’t hate me. I can’t believe how much He loves me.”
Jason’s story is a microcosm of the many unchurched young adults that we work with. They aren’t opposed to the church. They aren’t angry with the church. The church is simply so irrelevant to their lives that it doesn’t even register as meaningful.
When Jason’s life became desperate, he didn’t reach out to the church. He reached out to the pastor who had invested in his life years earlier in hopes that maybe that pastor might still care enough to help him out somehow.
What would have happened if I had focused on the theology and insisted from the beginning that God actually loves Jason? I would have driven him away and missed the opportunity to show Jason just how desperately in need of God’s love he truly was.
So often we read articles that set Millennials up as enemies who are hostile to the church. Or we may see articles about how the church has driven Millennials away because of its refusal to change and its judgmental nature toward outsiders.
Why does God hate me so much?
Why does God hate me so much?
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we dialed back the rhetoric and became engaging, loving people practicing radical hospitality and grace toward young people who really do need and want older mentors in their lives.
As pastors, there are so many times that we allow our “rightness” to get in the way of our relationships. Though we would never say it, we often act as if winning a debate is more important than winning a heart. For Millennials, the way to Christ is through relationships with trustworthy people who care enough about them to set aside the arguments and just get to know them.
What does that look like on a practical level? It means restraining our impulse to insist that we have every answer to every question figured out. It means giving young people room to explore the questions on their own. It means realizing that if we engage in a young person’s life over the long haul, we’ll have lots of opportunities to have those conversations and perhaps even earn the right to have them.
Corey Magstadt is the founder and executive director of Launch Ministry, a nonprofit organization that helps emerging adults launch into their God-given potential. Through its mentoring program, transitional housing, homeless youth drop-in center and jail mentoring program, young adults on the fringes of the suburbs are finding renewed hope and direction. Connect with Corey or Launch through their website at www.launchministry.org.
[message type=”custom” width=”100%” align=”left” start_color=”#dadbdc” end_color=”#ffffff” border=”#9ead39″ color=”#9c1b33″]Millennials & the Church: Related Articles
Why does God hate me so much? by Corey Magstadt
Strategies for engagement by Stephanie Williams
Invite Millennials into your life? by Laurel Bunker
Millenials and the Church introduction by Carl Nelson[/message]