[serialposts]“I’ve got good news and bad news,” I announced to the fifteen or so members of my church’s high school youth group. “The good news is I brought cookies. The bad news is I need help with my homework. I’ve been asked to write a blog post about this reason that young people leave the church, and I want to know what you guys think about it.” I read them the passage:
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).
This topic is of personal interest to me as my 23-year-old bonus son has left the Christian faith. He recently told his father, “I simply don’t want anyone telling my children that they are corrupt sinners without god [sic]. To me that is child abuse.” He rejects the idea of a single path to salvation. I was eager to hear what our church’s young people had to say on the subject of exclusivity.
Peer pressure emerged as a major theme. Teens want to be liked—don’t we all? These young people focused not on how the label “Christian” might mark them as different, but on how living a Godly life differentiates them from their friends. They also spoke of the tension between embracing diversity and accepting the teachings of our faith. Finally, they talked about the challenges of walking with Christ.
Here, in their own words (as closely as I could jot them down, anyway) is what they told me.
On Peer Pressure:
Kayley: “We’re seen as close-minded for waiting for marriage [for sex]. Those who don’t wait feel judged.”
Joelle: “We want to be like our friends and they do things we don’t want to do.”
Lauren: “At school dances, all the kids are freaking. It’s gross.”
Embracing diversity as a Christian:
Jason: “Isn’t it okay to be tolerant [of other faiths] but not accepting [by adopting their beliefs]? How can a rabbi also believe with all his heart [and not go to heaven]? It’s not fair for people who grew up in countries that aren’t Christian because they never got a chance to hear the Gospel.”
Another high schooler, Luke, read Romans 1:20 in response to Jason’s question.
Lauren: “I had a friend who decided she was a lesbian. She felt cast out, hated, and rejected, so she left church.”
The challenges of walking with Christ:
Donny: “If you want to do sinful stuff, you’ll feel guilty. It’s like you want to be a chocolate cake but in Christ you’re a brussel sprout.”
Lauren: “People won’t change until the pain of staying the same is worse than changing.”
Kayley: “In line at the DMV, someone sneezed and I said ‘God bless you.’ He got mad because he’s an atheist.”
These young people’s comments gave me hope. I heard them sharing their struggles, They were focused on living a Christian life, not merely calling themselves Christians. One of them brought scripture into the discussion to explain a position to another. These kids are walking the walk—at least for now.
According to the Barna Group’s research, statistically, nine of these fifteen young people will make the choice my husband’s son made—they’ll leave their faith before they’re thirty. Looking around the room, I imagined them getting up and walking away.
It broke my heart. I’ll be praying for them, along with all the other young people working to grow up as people of faith.
I hope you will, too.
What I hear in the underlying “theme” is that, “the church (nor individual “believers”) does not value me or others if we are different”…..only if we conform. I say, we the church and fellow faith believers have presented an “exclusive” message….without much concern or care for the thought or feelings of another…..we do not validate them as a child of our Father’s creation….our primary interest is: their salvation, their conformity to what we perceive and the “right” “faith walk”. (further confusing all of that we openly wrangle or denigrate other faith walks…the Catholics from the Protestants, the Presbyterians (USA or PCA) Vs the Lutherans – the “traditionalist from the Non Denominational s”….we can’t even have a common set of values..or even open respect for one another…raising hands or “speaking in toungs Vs that is BAD……one has to be “better” than another or they are just just plain wrong). We take precious little time to know another….we judge quickly….and often mercilessly. When we as adults can not have these open conversations…how on earth can we expect a youth with a growing mind surrounded in a multicultural society to internalize and make real in their own lives what we hold dear? How can they have Rhema moments when we try to place them in a box. I congratulate you on your open discussion with your youth….please continue to do so…..I plead with you to do so….At some point we need to convey the difference between the words: tolerant, agree, accept, disagree and the perception of “truth” from various points of view….(and the like)..there are points at which we can be tolerant, but not in agreement nor acceptance…..It is precisely those differences we need to convey….with love, care and clarity……I so hope to have and maintain relationships with those whom i may disagree, where we each know our differences, yet inspite of those we can be friends in a rapidly changing society, even serving each other in care and concern…Love the Lord thy God with all they heart, soul and mind…and love they neighbor as thy self…..are we good Samaritans or judge and jailers?….Let you light so shine among men that they may see……To which I ask…what do they see in you and hear from your mouth…? A phrase I like: “until my truth becomes your truth, my truth to you is just a lie”..
That’s an interesting point, Andy. I heard that theme in some (but not all, by any means) of their comments.
I think what they need to see most is adult Christians continuing to love one who has stumbled.
To simple an answer……I can love and show care to the hurting and lost….do I not, at some point communicate my disagreement with their path of choice……I think we are to be relevant to their lives……is to love without r sharing our concern or our perspectives really love? or can it be capitulation?….is love without boundaries really love?
I didn’t mean to imply that it’s sufficient, merely that it’s necessary, precisely for the reason you give: it’s NOT love if we don’t bother to share our concerns.
Thanks Sheila. I think the main focus (at least for me as i see it) of this series of posts (the 6 reasons) encompasses the consideration for the conversations necessary to share our concerns. It this it is a lot easier to express the compassion of Love….much more difficult to share the clarity (in love and civility), of our differences and concerns. For me, that is what I am trying to learn and discern..so that I can put words and life to my concerns…rather than keeping them to myself…the overall difficulty is that “we don’t bother to share our concerns”…kind of begging the point of our “relevancy” to the youth and 20 somethings.
And I think a lot of us are scared to death of getting into deep topics with young people.
100% agreement….and think that is 100% of the problem…the results….? their minds have no content from us..but a sponges….so they are ripe for filling their minds with what others say…because they are willing to say so….and we are scared so we say nothing….results..we get nothing…we loose, the enemy wins.
Straight from the horse’s mouth. An excellent approach, Sheila. And yes, prayer-worthy.
Thanks, Charity. I was encouraged by them. Great young people!
I just prayed for them now. It’s easy to be seduced by this culture.
Yes, Nikole, it is….but is today’s culture more seductive than the culture of 35 years ago? 50 years ago? I’m pondering that.
I am not so sure it is any more seductive…. in Biblical time folks seduced as well…and for similar things…today it is simply more blatant….so says I..
In reading the opening post again…I am sadly – irritably – disappointed for the youth (and adults) who choose to leave because of the choice they feel forced to make at the moment of their inner conflict and decision. I am frustrated and heavily conflicted in my consideration of the “insiders'” choices of responses that leads to their (the youth’s) choice. Kind of the old phrase that the church, rather that being a hospital for the wounded we have become a place of judgement and intollarance and exclusivity- rejecting those most in need….shame on us.
This phrase: They also spoke of the tension between embracing diversity and accepting the teachings of our faith. Finally, they talked about the challenges of walking with Christ.
Why does the church and “Christian’s on the inside” fail to be bridge builders….fail to bring rivers of living water into the discussion….when we actually build dams and fortresses that keeps “them” out…
Lord, help me to see the clearer choice of words and questions that bring into the light of day the opportunity to open conversations….that I might be a bridge builder”.
Surely someone would provide us with a list of 25 questions to open conversations……are they out there somewhere? Not a program, not a lesson plan, not a teaching series….but just some simple open ended questions….