Young and Without a Voice in Church

When Lisa and I were newly married we became a part of an adult group at church dedicated to our demographic. Each Sunday we gathered together with other couples under the age of thirty for conversation and fellowship. It was a remarkable group. It seemed almost everyone there had a passion for the Bible and knew it well. Several had degrees from Bible colleges and many had attended seminary. In this group my knowledge was unimpressive. I did not stand out at all.

In spite of the wealth of Bible knowledge and spiritual commitment there was something we lacked compared to young people today. None of us felt entitled to a voice in church leadership. No one talked about being an elder or leading a ministry and all of us accepted the fact that it was not yet our time. We knew we needed to grow and learn, that leadership positions were in our future, not our present. We were willingly taught each week by older men in their fifties and sixties, confident that they possessed wisdom and experience we lacked.

This is in stark contrast to the current young generation, many of whose members are quite antagonistic to mature church leadership. A friend of mine recently shared a post on why it is that Millenials are not going to church. Written by a Millenial, it unintentionally clarifies the arrogance of the current generation.

Here are some of the reasons given for young people turning away from the church-

-  Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else. When a church forges ahead without ever asking for our input we get the message loud and clear: Nobody cares what we think.

-  Millennials are told by this world from the second we wake up to the second we take a sleeping pill that we aren’t good enough. We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. No conditions or expectations.

Throughout the post runs the theme that the current millennial generation has something special to offer, a special insight into the church and the culture that is being missed by the older generations. The author is confident in his assertions that older believers are driving younger believers away and believes himself to be offering effective solutions. He appears to be sadly blinded to the arrogance of his assertions.

When I was 24 the church didn’t care what I thought either. No one sought my input on anything. I didn’t mind because I recognized the truth- At the age of 24 my opinion wasn’t worth much. I lacked the experience and wisdom that comes with age. I understood that as a young person in church it was a time for me to hear and learn. The time for being heard and teaching would come later, if I was faithful. If I wanted a voice I could earn it through a life of service and godliness. Even though I was a bright young man at the time 30 years later I look back and see the foolishness of many of my young thoughts and opinions. Passion and commitment were not substitutes for wisdom and experience.

Millennials have grown up being taught that they are important and deserving of attention and praise. Parents and teachers have celebrated modest accomplishments. Christian youth have grown up in an "everyone gets a trophy" world that teaches them their youthful opinions matter, that they have something to say and deserve to be heard, and that they are enough "just the way they are." They have embraced this worldview without realizing that these are the teachings of the world and not the teachings of Scripture. Passages such as 1 Peter 5:5-6, “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time", are a clear reminder of how God moves within the church.

Just as Millennials are struggling with where they fit into the church so is the church at large struggling with how to respond to them. To the church at large I offer this warning- Do not try to appeal to or appease wrong thinking. The brilliant Christian author Michael Horton, in his book Ordinary, says it well-

“It is nothing new when young people want churches to pander to them. What is new is the extent to which churches have obliged. In previous generations elders- both officers and simply older and wiser members- wouldn’t let that happen. They took young people under their wing and taught them by word and example what it meant to begin to accept the privileges and responsibilities of membership in Christ’s body.”

Horton then identifies the core reason young people are abandoning church-

“For the first time in the history of the church it is now possible to go from the nursery to children’s church to Sunday school to the youth group and college ministry without ever actually having experienced church membership. Shocking surveys abound reporting that many of our children are dropping out of church by their college years. But maybe it shouldn’t be so shocking if they were never actually involved in church to begin with.”

The generation that has been taught it is all about them desperately needs to be confronted with that lie. It is not about them. It is about God. It is about what God says, what God proclaims and what God commands. God’s commands, while never burdensome, challenge our comfort and disrupt our lives. 


Thanks for reading and sharing. I can be followed on Twitter @bartbarrettmd, and many of my sermons can be watched on my vimeo page, In addition I am available as a guest speaker and can be reached through this website via the contact page.

A Pastor's Shocking Behavior

In my 21 years of medical practice and 40 years of church attendance I have seen a lot of unexpected behavior from men in ministry. From adultery and arrests to dishonesty and gossip, I have seen almost all there is to see, or so I thought. In the last week I encountered a pastor who treated me in a way that caught me totally off guard.

Two weeks ago I visited a local church for the very first time. The people seemed friendly and the sermon was excellent so I thought I might return for a prayer service later in the week. The next day I discovered that the prayer meeting conflicted with a medical staff meeting I was required to attend.  I sent the pastor an email asking how long the prayer meeting would last as I was wondering if I would  be able to make it for the latter half. Although we had never met he answered me within a few hours, saying he hoped I could make it to the meeting and that he would love to meet me, perhaps over lunch.

I was impressed by his timely and courteous response. Two days later my medical meeting was cancelled so I was able to make it to the prayer meeting on time. That is when things took an unexpected turn. Before the meeting of about 80 people began he walked up to me and shook my hand saying, “So glad you could make it!” My email to him had included my website in my signature line. I realized he had taken the time to look at the site and thus recognized me from my photo. He had gone out of his way to identify me and make me feel welcome!

Things got weirder after the meeting concluded. I went up to him and thanked him for replying to my message and he repeated his lunch invitation! His initial invite was not the shallow and empty courtesy invite that so many others make in our society. He actually meant it! He even suggested a day to meet. We exchanged emails again the next day and agreed to meet this last Tuesday.

He surprised me again the morning of the meeting with an email confirmation, then continued his ridiculous behavior by showing up on time for lunch. His unanticipated niceness continued for the next 75 minutes as he openly and graciously shared about the church and his heart for the community. I asked direct questions about doctrine, church government and his philosophy for ministry and he answered all of them without a trace of defensiveness. I am a man who is hard to impress but I walked away truly impressed with his kindness and professionalism.

As I reflect back on our interactions and conversations I am reminded how important simple things can be. Kindness, promptness, courtesy and respect are all too often lacking in our culture. These attributes are seemingly small and insignificant but their presence or absence reveal much about a person’s heart and character. When we are kind, prompt, courteous and respectful, we tell others that we value them in a powerful way, a way that may be shocking!

When I consider the manner in which Jesus dealt with others I am reminded that He was the perfect role model for interpersonal interaction. The gospel writers describe His encounters with shamed prostitutes, tax collectors, social outcasts, soldiers, religious zealots, rich nobles, blind beggars, grieving mourners, adulterous women and little children. In every circumstance He loved and served. If we are to truly bear His name we can do no less.

-          Bart

I purposely did not name the church or the pastor. Based on our brief interaction I do not believe he would want to be identified or praised. If you live in the Huntington Beach area and are looking for a church, send me a private message through the site and I will tell you more about the church he pastors. Remember I can be followed on twitter @bartbarrettmd and that you can subscribe to the blog to have posts delivered directly to your inbox.

A Lesson I Learned in Prison

"You're a doctor?” The prisoner’s smile was large and his laughter was deep. “You ain’t no doctor!” He had met doctors before and in his judgment my personality and demeanor were totally inconsistent with the medical profession. He didn't know  me well as our interactions were limited to softball games twice a month. I was part of a church team that had been playing games against the prison team for several years so we didn't see each other often.

Our teams were polar opposites. The prison players were large and muscular men, most of whom were of Hispanic or Black descent, almost all of who were significantly tattooed. We were on the pale, scrawny and inkless end of the athletic spectrum. We had very little in common in our daily lives but found common ground on the softball field.

I was the youngest player on the team. When we first started going to the prison I was just 22 years-old. I was not comfortable back then with starting deep conversations with older men I hardly knew so I related to the prison players the only way I could. Like any self-respecting athlete, I starting talking trash. I soon realized I had unwittingly opened a door to better conversation. My joking insults showed that I viewed them as people, not as targets for conversion. Laughter became a bridge.

For the following 7 years of play I continued to joke and have fun with the inmates. I didn’t talk much about myself so they were not aware that I was attending medical school. The last game I played was the Saturday after I graduated, just before I moved away to start my residency training. Realizing I would never see these men again I intentionally said my good-byes to the prison players between innings. Many shared the one inmate's assessment, I was not like any doctor they had known. To them I was too young and too much of a jokester.

Looking back I see the inmates' amazement as a compliment. The response was not due to a perceived lack of  intelligence or ability, it was because they knew me to be genuine, fun-loving and approachable. As I consider it, I think their perception is something to strive for. It was and is a good thing to be viewed by others first  for who we are and how we treat others, not by our education and profession. A valuable lesson I learned in prison!

 - Bart

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4 Lessons on Failure, Courtesy of a Dying Church

What happened? How did I end up in this mess? I had such great plans, how did they all fall apart? Many of us have asked these questions when confronted with failure. Failure is a part of every life, even successful ones. While dealing with failure is never easy, those times we do not succeed are usually opportunities for learning and growth. If we do not learn the lessons then simple failure becomes a tragedy.

Failure in all forms is difficult but dealing with the failure of a church is especially hard. I saw this first hand 7 years ago when I was asked to preach to a church that was in its final days. The church had at one time been a thriving congregation of over a thousand. On the Sunday I was invited to speak the congregation had dwindled to fewer than 100 and had just made the decision to hand all of their property and facilities over to another church in town. It was a sad day. It was my goal that morning to find some positive lessons in the midst of the sadness.

 I turned to a biblical story from the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, a tale of a time when the nation of Israel faced a disastrous failure. There I found lessons on why people fail that were applicable then and are still applicable today.

In 1 Samuel 4 the story is told that the people of Israel were defeated in battle by their enemies the Philistines. The leaders of Israel came up with a solution to this defeat and prepared to reengage the enemy. They sent someone home to fetch the Ark of the Covenant (a gold plated box that symbolized the presence of God) and bring it to the battlefield. Their logic seemed to be, "God is in the Ark, so if we bring the Ark,we bring God. If we bring God, we will win!"

Their lack of true spirituality revealed when the ark was brought to the battlefield by two priests who should have been removed from office years earlier. They were incredibly dishonest and immoral men, thieves and adulteres who clearly did not honor God or His law. Nevertheless, they were deemed worthy of escorting the ark to the battlefield. Believing that the ark guaranteed God’s blessing and ensured victory, the people let out a mighty cheer when the ark arrived, a cheer so loud that it caused fear in the Philistine ranks. The Israelite joy was short lived. Their plans and thinking were revealed as foolish shortly after the battle started. They were routed by the Philistines, their priests were killed and the ark was stolen. Over 30,000 Israelite soldiers were slaughtered. 

When news of the defeat reached the Israelites back home despair resulted. The father of the priests fell over backwards at the news and broke his neck. His daughter-in-law, wife of one of the priests, was in labor, giving birth to a son when the news came. There were serious complications during the delivery and she knew she was about to die. Overcome with despair at the loss of her husband and Israel's crushing defeat she named her son Ichabod, which means, “The Glory has departed.” She died convinced that the blessings of God were gone, that the nation of Israel was crushed and abandoned. It was a dark time of great failure for the Jewish people.

A close look at the story reveals common causes of failure in communities of faith, lessons for all of us today.

1- The people tried to do it their way. They thought they could do whatever they wanted and expected God to go along with their plans. They had an idea, going to war, and tried to get God to go along with it by bringing the ark. When people and churches fail it is often because they have gone their own way and expected God to follow. Many of my greatest mistakes have come in times when I was supremely confident that I knew what I was doing.

2- The people of Israel had leaders who made bad decisions and used flawed reasoning. Following bad leaders almost always leads to failure. In the Biblical example the leaders were mistaken in their understanding of the workings of God. It was the elders of Israel who had the idea of bringing the ark to the battlefield thinking that it would guarantee victory. So often leaders are wrongly convinced that they know exactly how things will play out. They get overconfident, place too much faith in themselves and everyone fails. We see this in organizations and even Churches today which often undone by leaders who mistakenly think they know how things should work or how God moves. Incompetent leaders don't make good choices!

3- The Israelites refused to deal with bad leadership. The immorality of the priests was widely known but was allowed to continue unchallenged for many years. I have seen this in business and even in small offices. When bad leadership is not addressed, failure results. Too often organizations and faith communities will sweep dysfunction under the carpet instead of dealing with it.

4-  The true cause of their failure eluded them. They did not see that they were at fault and instead blamed God. The dying woman expressed this, saying"The Glory has departed," implying God had abandoned them. Our failures are typically our fault! Blaming others causes us to not learn valuable lessons.

My concluding points  to the sermon I preached years ago still have relevance to people and churches now.

- We need to put less confidence in our own decisions. We need to be willing to question ourselves and seek wise counsel.  For Christians, this means making sure we are following God's plans and not our own.

- We need to be careful who we follow. Organizations (including churches) cannot function if every decision is analyzed and questioned, but they can't survive if there is only blind obedience. When it comes time to choose leaders we need to be diligent and cautious.

- We need to hold our leaders accountable and not ignore their sins and repeated mistakes. Dealing with failed leadership is difficult, but it is essential.

- We need to resist the trap of thinking that failure is the end. The dying woman declared that "the Glory had departed from Israel." As we read through the Old Testament we learn that Israel's greatest days and triumphs still lay ahead of her. It is easy to get caught up in our failure and want to give up. If we do we may miss out on what God has in store. 

Powerful lessons from failures thousands of years ago!


As indicated by the subtitle of the blog, my musings range from medicine to ministry to the meaning of life. I pray those post has stimulated reflection. If you found it helpful, please share it with your friends. For those new to the blog you can subscribe to future posts by clicking the subscribe button on the page. Posts on Medicine and marriage are coming soon! You can follow me on Twitter @bartbarrettmd. Comments are welcome! For those in Southern California, you are invited to join me this Sunday morning. 10:30 at Valley Baptist Church, 2201 West Alameda in Burbank. I will be speaking on dealing with criticism and tough times.