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What Johnny Cash can teach us about Millenials and the Church

JohnnyCashIWalkTheLine.jpg

Johnny Cash's ninetheeth album: I Walk the Line (Columbia Records)

Editor's note: Watch Robin Wolaver talk with Mike Huckabee Saturday, November 9 on Fox News' "Huckabee" at 8 pm ET.

Why are millennials leaving the “Church?” Blog posts on this topic abound, attempting to answer the question. Some bemoan the trend. Others -- detractors -- crow about it. 

Mostly, the bloggers post hopeful recipes for revival. But I believe we are overlooking pertinent cultural shifts that paint a deeper picture.

Way back in 1956, Johnny Cash sang a simple song that expresses what we’ve lost:

“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine
I walk the line.”

The reason Millennials are leaving the church is because -- unlike the character in Johnny’s song -- modern culture has an impaired ability to bond. The bonding problem isn’t new, but it has been swelling in impact. 

For four generations, American society has been trending away from personal roles that require bonding, from positions that draw demanding lines and ask people to walk them.

The Church is an amalgam and representation of some of these roles: The Church is a Bride, a Mother, a Family, and a Body.

Bride? As in weddings and vows and tying the knot?

Mother? As in apron strings and soft heart and being there?

Family? As in Mama and Papa, faithful for a lifetime, their love multiplied in the birth of their children? As in building a secure home from which to launch those children into a life of stable productivity, a life capable of giving and receiving love?

Bride. Mother. Family. That’s some serious bonding.

Let’s add the adjectives: Spotless Bride, Holy Mother, Divine Family.

Heady requirements. Not easy in a culture that spends billions on pornography.

What about the Church as a Body? Now you’re talking our language. We’re pretty savvy about our bodies: fat-skinny, fit-flabby, straight-gay, choice-child. “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” right?

But in the Church our bodies are not our own. As church-goers, we are the Body of Christ, His disciples, humbly walking the line of His will. It’s a mission that requires sacrifice, and service to others.

Bride. Mother. Family. Body. Strong bonds. Bold lines. We’ve opted out socially. And now we’re opting out spiritually.

Thus the church is shrinking.

But how is an accurate count of church members tallied? By ascertaining how many bodies are in the pews on any given Sunday?

My father preached at the same little mountain church in the Oklahoma hills for over 55 years. He was bonded to four generations of parishioners. 

He made it clear that the “Church” is comprised of people, and should be differentiated from the “Church-house” where those people meet. “Just because you’re in a church-house,” he would say, “doesn’t mean you’re in the Church.”

If Millennials reject the roles of the Church, if they aren’t willing to walk the lines of faithfulness to the Body of Christ and to meet the demands of discipleship, then maybe they’re simply being honest to forego travel to a “Church-house.” 

They’re not leaving the church; they were never in it.

Bride. Mother. Family. The Body of Christ, deeply bonded in love, walking the lines of joyful faithfulness. We must redouble our efforts to tout the goodness of it. For when we embrace again these roles and values, both the church, and a loving, structured society, will come roaring back.

“You've got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can't hide
For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide
Because you're mine,
I walk the line”

Robin Wolaver holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Oklahoma City University. Twice nominated for a Dove award for her songwriting, she lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and fellow composer, Bill Wolaver, and their six children, Annie, Alex, Benjamin, Camille, Gretchen, and Jeremiah--who, together, comprise the critically-acclaimed and award-winning Annie Moses Band.  For more information, visit http://robinwolaver.com.