The story of Eutychus provides a platform to urge church leadership to help young adults feel at home in our congregations as we get to know their hopes, dreams, concerns, and struggles.
"A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead" (Acts 20:9).
This story is not found in the lectionary, but I know it probably takes place far too often in churches throughout the world. We must ask ourselves, why are so many young adults not interested in church? But more disheartening, why are a growing number even defining themselves as unChristian?
Welcome to Spirit Garage, the church with the Really Big Door (and no third story windows). These questions we continually ask; in fact it is our mission. Spirit Garage began because of a statistic Roland Martinson, professor of children, youth, and family ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, shared with the leadership of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis. "There are 20,000 young adults living in Uptown, with about 95 percent of them believing in God, but only 15 percent attending a faith community." At that moment Bethlehem recognized all the Eutychuses sitting in the window just a mile away from Bethlehem.
Who are the young adults who are close to you? Before finishing this article, take some time to write down the names of the young adults you know. What is their current reality? What are their hopes and dreams, concerns and struggles, joys and purposes in life? Pray for each one. Schedule a time to make contact with each one in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
How long was your list? How well do you know each one? How interested are you in following up with each one? Before you answer this, let me tell you about two young adults that are on my prayer list.
I began this article talking about Eutychus, but now I want to introduce you to Emily and Ed.
Emily knew about Christianity and she had friends who attended church, but she was indifferent. She felt like she had a personal relationship with Jesus and didn't need church. She would describe herself as spiritual, but not religious. It wasn't until she fell in love that she was confronted with the decision to attend church. Her boyfriend told her he wanted to attend church with his wife and family. Push came to shove and Emily fell through a window into church.
A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.
- Acts 20:9
Emily said that most churches confirmed her misgivings. The churches were not welcoming or too welcoming in a creepy sort of way. Some churches were too political, boring, or judgmental. Listening to Emily, I heard her rattle off many of the statements found in Barna Group research regarding "Words or phrases that people outside of church (ages 16-29) used to describe a religious faith: "1
|66% - anti-homosexual
57% - judgmental
54% - hypocritical, saying one thing, doing another
46% - too involved in politics
37% - out of touch with reality
||28% - old-fashioned|
27% - insensitive to others
27% - boring
22% - not accepting of other faiths
19% - confusing
Emily eventually found a home at Spirit Garage, but then, as luck would have it, her new husband was transferred to a job out of town. Upon her departure she wrote a note she titled "Appreciation."
Hey Rob! As you know, we moved. It has been a good move, except finding a church has been difficult. Actually, FINDING a church hasn't been a problem, finding a church we LIKE has been difficult. [When we are] visiting churches it has been easy to spot what we don't like about them and what we love so much about Spirit Garage.
My husband grew up going to church and I didn't, so he is less judgmental about things. I, on the other hand, have only known Spirit Garage. I love that we use everyday music for worship. I like the philosophy of "take it at your own pace."
Needless to say, I wanted to let you know that I have really come to appreciate Spirit Garage and all it has done for me personally over the last few years. I feel as though I know Jeremy better, our families better, my friends better, and I feel Spirit Garage is where I found Jesus. I always thought I knew him and had a personal relationship, but I didn't. Not until I found Spirit Garage. Spirit Garage let me be the person I am and let me know that I can be eclectic and it is okay with Jesus.
I just want you to know that I really appreciate what Spirit Garage did for me and what it does for others. We are still searching for a church that fits us and won't stop until we do. Thank You. — Emily
Emily was amazed to be accepted both as she was, and where she was at on her spiritual journey. She didn't have to hide or pretend to be accepted. She was welcomed with all of her fears, misgivings, and judgments. Emily felt the acceptance, forgiveness, and love of Jesus Christ.
One of the most damaging behaviors for churches is their intent to influence another person instead of what Andrew Root, professor at Luther Seminary calls "place sharing." Root says it this way, "How many realize, before we do, a relationship built on influencing another is not a relationship at all, and is therefore unworthy of being a reflection of God's own ministry in the world through Jesus Christ."2
Although Root's research is centered on adolescents, I believe his findings are applicable to young adults due to prolonged adolescence in America. Too many people try to convince, scare, or push people into belief. I like to remind people that Jesus was the Good Shepherd, not the Bad Rancher.
Jesus said two simple words to those he called to be his disciples, "Follow me." There was no poking, prodding, or branding. And he added, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
This brings us to Ed. He is a young man raised by a father who was not an atheist — someone who rejects a belief of God. Instead, Ed describes himself as an anti-theist — someone who is against anyone who believes in God. Ed was on the outside throwing stones at Eutychus' back sitting in that third floor window.
Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, 'Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.'
- Acts 20:10
Ed was perfectly fine with life and felt superior over all of those weak-minded people who believed in fairy tales. That was until reality didn't make sense anymore. He came to view his father as an angry and selfish man, who eventually left Ed and his family. Ed carried on doing the best he could, but found himself numbing his pain through addictive behaviors.
Eventually, Ed ended up in Alcoholics Anonymous reading the Big Book
. At least half, and arguably all of the steps speak of a High Power — the one that can restore our sanity. This completely contradicted what his father had taught him saying that a person would have to be insane to believe in God. Ed said, "If my father knew I was even trying to understand God, let alone attend a church, he would tell me that I was being brainwashed." But then he paused, shook his head and continued, "But now I think he was the one brainwashing me." Currently Ed is considering baptism, while already helping to lead worship.
Sadly, unlike Eutychus, too many young adults fall from the window unnoticed, because no one took the time to know them. But the story of Eutychus doesn't end with his death, "Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.' Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted." (Acts 20:10-12)
From a different translation, the last verse in this story is the one worth repeating, "The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted." It would comfort me if every young adult who stepped into a church felt at home. This won't happen unless we take the first step to know them.
Go back to your list that you wrote earlier. Put it where you will see it daily. Pray for the young adults that you have had the opportunity to know and be a worthy reflection of God's own ministry in the world through Jesus Christ.Endnotes
- David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity ... and Why It Matters (Baker Books, 2007), p. 28. Kinnaman, president of the Barna Institute, was inspired to write this book when Lyons (of the Fermi Project) commissioned him to do research on what young Americans think about Christianity and the church.
- Andrew Root, Relationships Unfiltered: Help for Youth Workers, Volunteers, and Parents on Creating Authentic Relationships (Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2009), p. 26.
Rob Norris-Weber is associate pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church and lead pastor for Spirit Garage, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
This article appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Lutheran Partners (vol. 26, no. 2) and Lutheran Partners Online.