I wrote a recent blog (read it here) and made the statement, "Messianic Judaism is not working in my generation". This generated a lot of comments mostly on Facebook. I want to flesh that out a bit...Pastor Andy Stanley wrote, "The...leaders who are seemingly most concerned about the dropout rate of that demographic [18-25 years old] are the very ones who create the weekend experiences that this demographic finds entirely unengaging."
I go to a lot of conferences. I can't even count how many time Messianic leaders say, "We are losing the next generation." or "We have lost the next generation." or "We need to do a better job reaching the next generation." In recent years, I have made similar statements based on a large number of friends that I grew up with in Messianic Judaism who have left Messianic Judaism for a variety of reasons.
As a Messianic Rabbi's son I have fought many times for certain methods that I was taught. I have fought for things I considered to be non-negotiable of Jewish ministry. For instance I have preached on the Torah portions for the last 7 years. Recently, I realized that I had become tired with my own sermons. The text lost some life for me because I boxed myself into a system. Understand me, I am not opposed to the Torah and Haftarah cylce. But I am opposed to not being inspired. I have preached my best sermons in the last six months because I made a change in something that I would never have done previously.
My overwhelming desire is to share Yeshua my Messiah with my generation, specifically with young, typically secular, Jewish people. I have come to openly wonder if some of the things I have been doing, convinced of their importance, actually had become roadblocks to me sharing Yeshua effectively.
What matters most in my generation is authenticity. I want to be authentically me. This idea led me on a path of discovery that I would of never imagined. I'm not by any means perfect; simply ask my wife she will confirm that! But I noticed in my preaching and in the way that I dressed for Shabbat and for rabbinical duties that I didn't feel quite like myself. I am an open book, a New Yorker. If you ask me what I think, I will tell you. And I found getting dressed up for Shabbat was, for me (not for everyone), not being true to who I am. Of course there are many convinced that dressing up is essential for Jewish people hearing the Gospel. There are expectations of what a rabbi is and what a rabbi looks like that should not be messed with. My nature has always been to mess with such things. (I wrote about this a few years ago. read it here!) Nothing gives me more satisfaction than hearing "I've never met a rabbi like you." After all, if I am following after Yeshua's example, that is exactly what I am going for!
My latest experiment is not wearing a tallit when I preach. A tallit is a traditional prayer shawl and there would be an expectation that a rabbi would wear one in synagogue. As I do. I wear it from the start of the service through the end of the Torah service and then take it off to preach. I wonder if removing some of the religious elements from my method will open some
people to the message. Because of some of my favorite preachers, I sit in a chair, use a teaching table, have a cup of tea and use an iPad. The message has not changed but methods are transitioning into something more comfortable for me and for my listeners. Listen, the message is not comfortable. The message is the truth of the Word of God. The message is that Yeshua is the God of our fathers. That is not comfortable for many listeners. I want people to have an opportunity to be offended by what I am saying and not by anything else in the presentation. It won't work for everyone. Some young people won't like my presentation. Some in the generations ahead of me won't like it either. I am not in this for everyone to like my presentation. I am going for people that Messianic Judaism has yet to reach. I am attempting to reach people who will respond to a particular way that God has gifted me to share about Him. It's cool with me if you don't dig my presentation. But, if some young Jewish people come and hear what I have to say, it is all worth it. Because they are what I am in this for!
While connection to our Jewish past is important to me, I think we, Messianic Jews, have an obligation to mess with and change things. Pastor Craig Groeshel says, "if you want to reach people no one is reaching, you have to do things no one else is doing." I'm not talking about changing the message or even watering it down. The Shema is still the Shema (although I wouldn't mind changing the tune). The Word of God is still the Word of God. But traditions that come from men can and should be changed for new generations. No one can claim that they are reaching young Jewish people in such large numbers that nothing should change. Many of the current leaders of Messianic congregations and organizations came to Yeshua through the Jesus movement in the 60's and 70's. It was a counter-cultural movement that intentionally chose new methods of reaching people with a never-changing message. There has to be new methods for this generation and I am on a journey of discovering some of those methods.
It is often said "imitation is the highest form of flattery"...but...maybe not. What if the highest form of honor to the generations before us is to become the best of our own generation? After all, this is not anything unique to Messianic Judaism. It is the struggle of l'dor v'dor (generation to generation). Are we supposed to look, act and talk exactly like those who came before us? Or, did they raise us to be the best version of ourselves who walk after the God of our fathers with all of our heart, soul & strength? I think the highest form of honor to my parents is being everything that God has called me to be in my generation; not carbon copies of them, but walking in the dual identity they raised me in for I am entirely Messianic and entirely Jewish at the same time. I am confident that a Messianic Judaism that honors our past and makes changes for the present and future is a Messianic Judaism that will work in my generation. Not changing for change sake but making changes in our methods to be more effective in sharing the message of Yeshua in this generation.
What changes would you make to services, events and conferences to be more effective in reaching young secular Jewish people?