YALT stands for the Young Adult Leadership Taskforce of the Christian Reformed Church. Young adults offer all of us fresh insights and challenging perspectives by means of this blog.
Two blog posts that caught my eye earlier this year were written by Gwen Vogelzang and Marcus Roskamp. Both focused on no longer being members of the CRC.
In her blog, Gwen explains why she left the CRC. What struck me was her desire to “be surrounded by people who haven’t always known Jesus and who could offer different perspectives on God and grace and what it means to them.”
In his blog, Marcus Roskamp asks the question, Should you be loyal to the denomination you grew up in? “I am now an RCA pastor,” he writes, “and my siblings no longer attend CRC churches. My siblings and I are all active and involved with our various churches, but none of us remain in the CRC.”
I’m grateful for the honesty of Gwen and Marcus, and I believe we can learn at least two things from them.
First, it often seems that membership in a congregation is selected because of some sort of fit with the culture of the church. What do I mean by that? Ronald Keener, the editor of Church Executive, defines a church’s culture as “this is how we do things here.”
Having recently moved to Grand Rapids, my family and I needed to find a new church home. As we visited various churches we were processing our fit, seeking to evaluate how things were done there. Like Gwen, we were searching for authentic community.
Notice that, when focusing on a culture, the emphasis doesn’t seem to be on how hip or traditional the music is, how dynamic the preaching, or how spontaneous or liturgical the worship. Although these things count, they probably do not count as much as the heated debates in which we engage would suggest they do. The key, I suspect is authenticity.
Second, both authors are addressing the dimension of denomination, while also addressing church membership. I think it’s helpful to remember that the former relates more to identity and ideals and the latter to community and practice.
In contrast to past generations, for many young people today the choice of a church home is more about the congregation and much less about denominational affiliation.
There’s something refreshing about that, especially for those of us who have tended to base our choices more on denominational identity than on the health of a congregation. But Marcus offers us encouragement when he says that Reformed theology gives him “some grounding and a place to refer back to as I read Scripture and work through issues in the church.”
After reflecting on these blog posts, I end up with two thoughts.
First, in seeking a local congregation, look for fit, but don’t ignore the theological foundations. While the statement of beliefs posted on a congregation’s web page is helpful, a connection to a denomination provides a mooring that is deep and broad and is based upon the Spirit having guided generations of faithful brothers and sisters. Although a denomination can at times be as messy and contentious as some extended families, it also keeps us biblically anchored and helps us to faithfully sort through the new challenges facing each new generation.
Second, while I believe it’s possible to find both authentic community and Reformed grounding (our 1,000-plus congregations provide many splendid examples of this), a person’s Reformed identity need not be lost just because she or he no longer claims CRC membership.
Our spiritual journeys are intricately tied both to a local congregation and to a Christian identity that transcends local ties. Rather than challenging this new generation of adults to simply remain in the CRC, I suggest we challenge the generation I and many of you represent to continually improve as a family of churches that are authentic, worshiping communities rooted deeply in our Reformed confessional identity.
And may all glory be given to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.