The Zacchaeus Generation: Identity, Community, and Seeing, by Mike Friesen

Part 9 in series How Millennials Who Gave up  on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community.

by Mike Friesen

Jesus summoning Zacchaeus the publican to entertain him at his house By William Brassey Hole (1846-1917 ) © Bridgeman Art Library / Private Collection

Our identities are ultimately dictated by our relationships. We are the byproduct of whom we commune with. When we look at what people become, they often have a worldview that kind of looks like their parents‘, kind of looks like their peers‘, kind of looks like the country they grew up in, and, hopefully, in its greatest fulfillment, it looks like an identity rooted in being a child of God, you are the image that you were created in.

We begin to develop an identity around these two things:

1. How others recognize us.

2. How we recognize others’ recognition of us.

When Rachel Held Evans says, “I left the church because I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers…but they only wanted me to plan baby showers” (See, 15 Reasons Why I Left the Church), the recognition she receives from her church is ultimately a dismissal of who she really is. Or, when she says, “I left the church because my questions were seen as liabilities,” she recognizes, their recognition of her as a burden to their congregation. When you read these statements by her (and ultimately a worldview assumed by many in this generation), how can one go back to a church when it is filled with the existential despair of the rejection of our selfhood?

The Zacchaeus Generation

In Luke 19, Jesus was traveling through when he saw a tiny man up in a tree named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was not a popular man in his community because he was a tax collector (I imagine he was treated like Bernie Madoff). When Jesus saw him up in a tree, it opened a new desire for Zacchaeus. He then offered to give back half his money and four times the money of all the people he had cheated.

I often feel like my generation is a generation of Zacchaeuses. We feel closed off from our ultimate desire of community because of this rejection of our selfhood. We have done things wrong, and will do things wrong, but it was the recognition of Jesus that served not only as the gift to be changed, but also to change. If no one recognizes Rachel’s gifts as a teacher, then she will never be able to change not only the church she is a part of, but she will never be changed by the church she is a part of. (Luckily, she has an audience that recognizes her and she has an outlet that way.)

If my generation is going to be a part of the future Church or at least part of local churches, then it will have to happen because there were people who recognized something in us. If our identity is rejected, then it will continue to close us off from community. But, if there are a few brave people who are able to say, “I see you. I like you. Come spend time with me,”, then we will see the millennial church flourish. But, if the previous generation treats us like the crowds that were mad at Jesus for recognizing Zacchaeus, then we will continue to be isolated, cynical, and further polarized.

Next post in the series:  Are Millennials Creating a New Religion? by Mike Friesen


Read More on Mike’s Blog ‘Christianity for the Rest of Us.’

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