What Brexit Can Teach The Church
This past week Great Britain made a bold decision to it’s future. By a very narrow margin they voted to leave the European Union, leaving behind a legacy as one of the founding nations to push for the union. While there are both benefits and disadvantages to being part of the European Union (none of which I am going to write about), I think there is something significant about the outcome that church members and leaders should take note of. Something that speaks a great deal to the practice of the local church.
The decision to leave the European Union has already demonstrated some of the negative repercussion for Great Britain, and time will show what benefits there may be. But who will be there to see the benefits or repercussions in years to come is what I find most interesting.
Now a bit of a disclaimer: I am not an expert in the European Union or an economist. I do not pretend to understand all the the issues that Great Britain has, nor do I believe one side is more right than the other in this. But as a casual observer who pays attention to the news, there is a reality to the Brexit vote that I believe has particular relevance to the church in North america. Which is where my interest and passion lies.
On June 23rd, 2016 when the vote was finalized, Great Britain voted 52% in favour of leaving. That leaves almost half of the residents who voted wanting to stay. A very narrow margin. Even more interesting to me is that 2 of the four countries that make up Great Britain wanted to stay in the European Union. To say the decision to leave the European Union was narrow, to me is an understatement.
What is most significant to me, and what I think the church should take note of, is the difference in the demographics. Overwhelmingly, those under the age of 50, wanted to remain in the European Union. Now those over 65 voted with the largest margin to leave the European Union. This is significant. I believe that those who voted to leave, or to stay, felt strongly that they were voting for what is best for Great Britain. But, those who voted to leave won’t have to live with the consequences (good or bad) for as long as those who voted stay. Those who are retired, made a decision that will affect people just trying to find work, for years to come.
As well, the demographics surrounding education are striking. The majority of people with only a High School education voted to leave, while for those who have gone past High School the majority voted to stay. Now this is making an unfair assumption on my part, but chances are if someone’s education is High School or below, they may not have the same grasp of the issues as someone with higher level of education. That may be an unfair of me to say, I know, and definitely does not mean there are not those who voted to leave and have only gone to High School who understand the issues.
So if I work with the facts I know, and the assumptions I’ve made, this is what I deduce about the decision: Those who know the least about the issue, and who will be affected least by the decision, made it.
To me, that is not good.
But on a smaller scale, it is something that I think the church needs to take note of, because we often find ourselves with a similar reality. Often times those who have been there longest have the most say in what happens in a local church. Often times those who do not read scripture or pray (so I would say do not have a growing relationship with God) get to vote to make the decisions. Often times those who are nearing retirement (and in some cases, let’s be honest, death) are deciding on a future for those who are younger; and too often for those who are not there, and won’t be there because of the future that has been decided.
I have no doubt that those who voted to leave the European Union were doing what they thought was best. They did not do it thinking “Let’s mess up our kids future!” They were probably thinking this is what is best for us right now. In the same way, I believe church members are not malicious (for the most part!) in their decision making. The decision to hire a pastor of visitation over a children’s pastor is not because they hate families, but because they feel the need for community right now. The decision to insist on a dress code or music style is not out of spite, it is all they know. And I believe they are doing the best they know how to do in hopes of a better future for a younger generation. But in both the European Union vote and too often in the church, our good intentions are missing something: actually asking a younger generation what they might think is best.
If you find yourself maybe on the upper side of 50 and find that your decision making in the church is not having the positive effects on younger people as you would like it to, I’d like to challenge you to try these three things:
Talk to them
How often do you talk to people younger than you? Maybe a lot, maybe not. But what would it look like if while you were making decisions that would affect a younger generation you invited them into the conversation? You might find out the path you are on is just what they were looking for, or that maybe it is off track for them. Either way how will you know if you don’t get to know them?
Pray for them
I find nothing changes you like prayer. When you take time to really pray for people, even people you don’t know, you gain a level of compassion and empathy that only comes from God. And when you have that compassion you want their best. Sometimes they do not know what is for their best, and maybe you will, or maybe not. Ultimate God knows what is best though, so as you pray for them be ready to listen to Him.
Lay down your preferences
This is the hardest one, yes even harder than talking to a twenty something. All of us like what we like, It’s only normal to have preferences and ideas of how things would be best. But our personal best is not always what is best for everyone. Hopefully if you have spent talking to and praying for them you will see where your preferences and theirs may differ. Now comes the true sign of mature worship, let go of what you want, so that others can worship. it’s not going to be easy, sacrifice never is. But you ultimately have a choice, sacrifice your preferences, or sacrifice someone who is younger, and maybe less mature in their faith, from getting to know God, possibly forever.
I believe that the church is the hope of the world, but only when it is at it’s best. And it is at it’s best when we are it together. But that will mean someone sacrificing their wants (or maybe even their needs, because that is what the life of following Christ calls us to do), so that we can get to see what God is doing in our midst.