A few years ago, I stood in my church’s kitchen combing through massive chunks of steaming pulled pork. It was to be sold heaped between hamburger buns as part of a mission fundraiser.
As I coaxed the juicy meat into smaller chunks, I was disappointed.
I’d recently been pulled out of a couple ministry opportunities at my church. I’d been assured that it wasn’t about my heart or competence – just other things going on.
The struggle in my heart was real. Sin kept whispering at me, You wanted to do X and Y and here you are in the kitchen, holding a fork. The Spirit in me wasn’t that stupid. I knew it’s not about me. I knew ambition is unholy. But sometimes lies can feel overwhelming, especially in my already-formidable climate of fear and self-criticism. A gale against a fragile sapling of holiness, trying to stay upright.
Unlooked for, as I stared down into the pan of shredded pork, God spoke into the gale.
I am shredding you.
Whenever God means to make a man great, he always breaks him in pieces first. – Charles Spurgeon
I am constantly on guard against the desire to be “great”. I know it’s empty. I’ve also seen what happens to the great in today’s social media environment. The pressure, the misunderstanding, the flippant and merciless shredding of any wrong word or idea – it’s a nightmare. As John Eldredge said, “We should fear becoming a large church, corporation, kingdom. We should be forced into it, by God.”
But I do want to do great things for God.
I want to see the lost saved (or restored) by the truckload. I want to minister to my fellow singles. I want to see abortion pushed back, not just at the legal level but at the heart level. I want to see things only God could do.
And…I do want to feel useful to God in all of this.
Many millennials will relate to me here. In most of those “X Reasons Millennials Are Leaving the Church” blog posts, one chief reasons for said ditching is that we aren’t used. It’s an unmistakable issue in the generational collision: that too many churches (not mine) soldier on in easy autopilot thinking while millennials’ voices aren’t heard. It’s also a thread amongst Christian singles who feel that married people are more likely to be seen as mature and put to work, while singles’ input isn’t sought, their gifts aren’t utilized, their passions aren’t shared.
Many church leaders dismiss this as self-focus on millennials’ part. Maybe. Our desire to be used could certainly be twisted into a primitive “need to feel needed”, a move to fulfill the God-shaped holes in our heart with the affirmation of being seen by men as talented and necessary.
But it could also simply be a reflection of our design. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). A fire exists in the souls of many, and especially in millennials, to see God’s work done. It’s confusing and frustrating to see the work delayed.
But we millennials err when we assume that man is the only obstacle. As I’ve found, it could be God.
We will be tested and refined.
That’s another concept to which I know millennials actually react well. We welcome tests, or at least more readily accept them as part of the Christian life.
But sometimes we get more than we bargained for. Sometimes the test more resembles a crucible, going straight to our deepest desires and motivations, like Aslan’s claws taking no prisoners with Eustace’s dragon skin but plunging straight to his heart. God will refine our motives. That’s a Scriptural promise. Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And sometimes, as Spurgeon said, it’s because God does plan to springboard us upwards and needs to develop our character first. How we respond to being shredded says everything about us.
There’s a saying: “Success can take you where your character cannot sustain you.” That’s why all these prosperity gospel churches are off the mark when they say God wants to give you success. He doesn’t. He’s more interested in your character. He knows pride goes before a fall. A woman who becomes CEO will fail without good business practices; a man who leads a ministry does great damage when he falls to sexual immorality. If we aren’t diligent and honest in small things, we won’t be in larger things.
Besides, if I’m reading Scripture right, God will one day honor a lot of people who toil in obscurity and ordinary work. “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30). Being sent to the kitchen is not dismissal. It’s glory.
I’m not saying every millennial who longs for a bigger role is only into his own profile. Some churches deserve to be left.
But be on guard, oh be on guard against mixed motives. The flesh is constantly fighting the Spirit. Don’t let the presence of a good motive convince you that no bad motive is present. We never see the bad motives until we are shredded. And we aren’t in a position to tell God when the refinement should be over. Only he knows.
When our church goes in a different direction, utilizes others, or politely sidelines our operations, we can be okay. It was never about us to begin with. The priorities of an all-seeing God might not always match up with ours. There is always service to be done.
Let us accept our shredding with joy. May our offerings be refined into strands digestible by the Lord to whom it’s offered and the people he loves.