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Dear Church: There’s something I need you to understand – Pastor Jennifer Chrien

Dear Church is a semi-regular blog featuring pastors and other church leaders. Views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA.


Dear Church:

Especially the part of church that’s mostly white, mostly middle-class, and Protestant (and not just the bit of church where I happen to work) –

There’s something I need you to understand. See, I’m a young adult, I’m a millennial, and I’m a pastor. I’m supposed to “save the church,” right? Me and my young, hip colleagues are supposed to make the church grow again, bring in the young folks, and fill up the Sunday school classrooms, just like it was in the good old days…right?

I also want to save the church – or at least, help it (this church already has a Savior). I want the church to be a healthy, thriving place where people’s faith is nourished and we help each other to be better disciples.

So I, a wide-eyed seminarian, was on board with your plan. Only it turns out this deal comes with several caveats.

  • Save the church – but don’t change anything.
  • Bring in the young folks – but keep everything the way the Boomers like it.
  • Fill up the Sunday school classrooms – but only with the kids that never make noise or bother us or disrupt worship.

See, the thing is, you’re asking me and my colleagues to do something impossible. And you’re killing us. You want us to change things without changing things. You say you want our ideas and our perspective, but then you ignore our suggestions. You expect us to grow the church, but you take up all of our time and energy with petty and pointless conflicts.

You say you want the church to grow, you want to see more young people in church, you want families to bring their kids. But then you tell those families they’re not welcome. You tell your own pastors, sometimes literally, that their children are not welcome in worship. How can you expect us to bring in families when we know those families will be subjected to the same behavior? How can you expect us, the pastors you have called, to stay in the church?

Some days I feel more hopeful about this whole enterprise we’re engaged in – this absurd notion that we, together, are the Body of Christ. But then there are other days where I feel too worn down, too tired of hearing the latest horror story from my friends, too discouraged by how many of us already feel burnt out on ministry. Some days I wonder why I bother with the church, even why God bothers.

Church, if you want to survive, maybe you need to take a long, hard look at yourself and make sure you aren’t pushing in the opposite direction – because your pastors are getting very tired of pushing against you.


Jennifer Chrien is pastor at Shepherd of the Valley, Simi Valley. Her undergraduate education was at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and she earned her Master of Divinity at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Her husband, Steve Simpson, is also an ordained Lutheran pastor.


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