[reasons they leave #1] churches seem overprotective

Written by Leslie Rowe

Owner/writer at Greatwords.net. Penn State alum. Religious views: for. Political views: against.

October 24, 2011

[serialposts]the back story, my story, and his story (about why young Christians are leaving the church)

In Barna’s research on why young Christians are leaving the church, they identify some numbers worth repeating here: 1) the project spanned five years; 2) the research included eight national studies; and 3) nearly three out of five young Christians “disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.” The Barna Group summary explains that a variety of reasons lurk behind this disturbing trend, and the researchers have lumped the various reasons into six themes.

I’m tackling theme #1: Churches seem overprotective. Note that this theme contained several reasons within the reason, such as “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%) or “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23%). The Barna article says that, “…much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.”

OK, there’s the back story.

But I can only tell the story I know.

Let’s get something straight. When we talk about “the church,” we have to drill down. Who is the church?

I am. You are. We are.

Yikes.

So if I extrapolate, young people are leaving the church because I am overprotective or you are stifling or I am fear-based or we are risk averse.

When my youngest was about six, a new family arrived at her conservative Christian school. They were Hindu, first generation Americans, and had chosen the school for academic and protective reasons after their darker skinned children had been poorly treated in an Alabama public school. We became friends, and when summer came, my daughter went to their house for regular play-dates. When I needed daytime childcare for my part-time work, the mom welcomed her into their home.

We experienced Indian food; she shared photo albums of their traditional wedding, a marriage arranged by parents. I shared openly about my faith and she showed me how she had converted her kitchen pantry into a prayer closet for her household gods.

Wait—what?

You let your daughter play there?

That’s what I heard from some of the other school moms.

I almost bought into the fear and protectiveness, until I remembered that my God could certainly handle it. If Jesus had been an earthly dad and had little kids, I thought he’d let his kids play over there too.

But lest I judge the church’s over-protectiveness, let me tell you what my kid thinks of me.

She’s 16. She thinks church is boring. She thinks me and my friends are waaaay over-protective when it comes to  movies, music, and video games. We disagree about dating and boyfriends. She has one, and she thinks church people judge her for it. (I don’t like it but I caved.) She has friends from school who have sex, do drugs, and cut themselves, and she says she’s one of the “good girls” but that church kids look at her like she’s one of the “bad girls.” She faces a lot of pressures. And she can cop a mean-girl attitude when she wants to.

Sometimes, on edgy days, I question her on her lack of faith and she scolds me and says God knows my heart, OMG mom, WTF?

I don’t want her to be a church-abandoning statistic. I pray for her daily. But from what I can tell, she already feels that “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” and “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” and “…much of my experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.”

As a representative of the church, I never meant it to be that way. I meant to hold up higher standards. I meant to infuse holiness. I meant to show the love of God mixed with the fear of God. I meant to spare her from the agonies of a culture-gone-wild; to raise her in an atmosphere of Jesus is the only way to go, honey, I promise. I’ve tried it both ways and His way is so, so much better, trust me on this.

My opinion? We’ve got a double-edged sword. Young people are leaving the church for reasons that seem extremely valid to them. And in this crazy world, we—the church—have much to be over-protective about.

I guess it’s up to God to sort it all out, huh? After all, he’s the one who will write their story in the end. And then he’ll open the big book…

Lord, have mercy on the young people. And Lord, have mercy on the church. We both desperately need your touch. Amen.

 

32 Comments

  1. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Leslie, 
    I think you’ve really gotten to the heart of it. Every parental generation has bemoaned the degradation of values, scandalous music, revealing dress–and every generation, those qualities seem to become more extreme. 

    It’s tough. 

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      And when this parental generation (me) wasn’t RAISED Christian and already walked through the crap of the 70s culture, everything in me wants to keep them from going down that sorry road. I guess sometimes it is a lesson one has to learn on one’s own. Thanks for conversing on this. 

      Reply
  2. Andy Carlson

    When our world was small…our options were small and few, whether an adult or child.  In a world that is multi cultural (and all that implies) we in the church hae circled the wagons to keep others out…and ourselves in.  We locked ourselves away from the world.  In doing so we negated Christ’s admonition to “go”….instead, we closed the door and hid our faces….as the rest of the world moved beyond us…Unless of course we talk about mission work in 3rd world countries…again the choices there are few and small…and a relatively easy place to share the message and win the lost as there ears and minds are open…..when compared to your neighbor, your co worker or the sports activities you participate in or the school you go to.  We however are not in a 3rd world country or environment…we are in a multi cultural world. I am glad to be in a world where I can learn about others…to expand my awareness and appreciation for those that are not like me.  Personally, i think it is irresponsible to closet ourselves away. I think it is “un Christian” to keep others at arms length because they “are not like us”. I think it is hypocritical to say in effect, “you become like us (saved and fully devoted followers or Christ) and I will be your friend.  No, it is not for us to release our children (until their age of majority) into the hands of God without us being the the parents and guides and teachers. How can we help our children live and survive in this world of God’s that is multicultural…unless we too participate.  Hooray for the parent who encourages and participates with their children in learning and sharing in the lives of those not like us.  To do otherwise is to hide our light under a bushel basked.  How can we let our light shine among men…if our light is in a closet…..

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Andy, how true. Now that our world is big, our community is global, our “neighbor” has become so much more than we imagined. Who is my neighbor? I think that question was asked by the master questioner. 

      Reply
  3. Nikole Hahn

    I have another theory. It’s difficult for one parent to be the only bread winner and most parents are two-income families now. We’re competing with a bad culture and we’re not there all of the time to instill consistent values when there are so many other influences.  The comforting thing we can cling to is that we may wander, but we return again. Keep strong in prayer.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Yes, good point. It makes us have to trust even more on the God who sees, the God who knows.  Tee hee, I could tell stories of me finding out things that a teen thought to be secret, only to have me “accidentally” find out through the most “random” ways. One kid even told me (after getting caught breaking rules), “It’s not fair! God always tells you stuff!”  haha. The 21st Century Parental Prayer: “Lord, help them always to get caught early.”  

      Reply
      • Andy Carlson

        Yes, however, our “busyness” ought not to be a “cop out” for non participation…Too, the reliance on prayer without present action and responsibility can also be a “cop out”. God may be sovereign  but we have an earthly personal responsibility.  Perhaps in our busyness we ought to reconsider our time…..from less “doing” to more “being”.  Even in our Christian activities we become so “doing the church thing”…that we neglect the personal and family “thing”.  Often we unintentionally (or intentionally)  let the church be the family…thereby replacing the family……kind of like school (public or privet) – letting them foster a sense of values……again a form of “cop out”.  Whether single parent, multiple parent, stay at home (parent) or dual income….our time should be structured toward the family..towards the core….rather than those activities which ought to support you becoming the focus of our activity…..we ought not be let by the activity….we should ask ourselves…..”is life leading me or am I leading my life”.  

        Reply
        • Anonymous

          Good ideas, good conversation. But then when the parenting season is done and we look back and wonder, did we cop out? Did we chase the rabbit and lose the race? When we are found lacking, we can then beat ourselves up or we can rest in something that Frieda Welty once told me…”Jesus died for parental failure.” One of the many iniquities He died for.  

          Reply
          • Andy Carlson

            Rather than beating ourselves…if so recognized as areas which we might have done better….rather than keep our “hard earned wisdom to ourselves”….spread the lessons of our own life to others…..how is a parent to know there might be better way to do something…unless we make ourselves available and transparent…a light in its own way….equally acknowledging that my experience, my life’s surrounding, the dynamics of my own family may be totally irrelevant to those of another…yet, to keep our experience “in the closed” is to deprive others of opportunity….

          • Anonymous

            and hence Titus 2:4…

          • Andy Carlson

            And balanced by the husband loving your wife as Christ loved the church.

          • Julie

            and being in that virtual closet is exactly where the enemy wants us to stay.. closed off from friends and family because we are afraid of the un loving judging.. i say unloving because that is how it typically comes across. I agree we need to support each other.. thats what happened with us.. new friends,new church totally reached out to me and shared their own experience and gave me so much hope and support! WOW!!  Now this is true love!

          • Nikole Hahn

            Julie, do you mind writing a post about that with a link back to your church for my Friday column, The Chronicles of Church Fellowship? Not this Friday, but I do have a slot open next friday. email: [email protected]

          • Andy Carlson

            Thank you Lord for new circumstances….and the Love of Christ…

        • Nikole Hahn

          Since we are only human, we will make mistakes, but I still stand by that two income parents mean less time with the children and you are still competing with powerful influences. I don’t think any parent means for it to be a cop out, but you made a good point that we should really work extra hard to be there as parents.

          Reply
          • Andy Carlson

            Thanks you….also….the choice is what our standard of living is to be…..how may square feet of house and yard do you really need to raise a family?….our standard of living determines our need for financial resource…and who and how much we work….

          • Anonymous

            so true. America has saturated us in our culture of consumerism. I struggle with it. I like nice things. I drive an older car that works just fine, thank you, and I pass these cute pick-up trucks and my wanna-be-a-cowgirl-still wants one. I resist. I work hard–for the money. (But I like to give, too, so that’s a good balance I think.) (And cut me a break, self, I’m paying for my middle daughter’s wedding!) As parents, as Christians, we have to FIGHT to be counter-cultural. The culture sucks us in with a lullaby rhythm and next thing you know, you can’t tell us from the rest of the world. WHO WILL SAVE ME FROM THIS BODY OF DEATH???  thanks be to GOD who causes us to triumph. 

            (and now I MUST get back to work. I’m a writer by profession and my client needs her resume SOON! She’s out of work and is counting on me…and so, the cycle continues…)

  4. Julie

    interesting thread..and so many comments i could make… we did the very best we could in raising our children, teaching them values and getting them in the Presence of a Most Holy God. There is none of us.. NO not one.. who has not felt that we failed our children in some way.. when they choose to rebel against us and the church. There comes a day in every believers  heart when they must choose to follow God. and people.. that inludes our children.. but please people do not accept the rebuke of the enemy or the church- yes the enemy will try and make you feel like you have failed.. (even when you have not) for how your children have turned out, or what they have done or not done with their lives. I speak from experience in this matter and anyone that knows me well, knows what we have gone through.. though few on this thread would know.  What I do know is that we have a merciful God who brings His children to their knees quite occasionally, grasping for hope for our children. He has restored one of our daughters to her rightful place at His banqueting table and He has promised me the other one is coming too!  And thats enough for this Mama to dream and hope for…

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      and I am wiping mascara smudges out from under my eyes after reading your note. thank you. sniff sniff. 

      Reply
      • Julie

        i looked back and read what i wrote and its a wonder you could make sense of it..hahaha.. but i guess you got the gist of what i was saying. We are finally in a church of non judgmental people who love us so much that if we would miss even one service they call. and who call and love on our daughter too .. who is not so loveable right now.. but they are visionaries and they see her as God sees her and love her unconditionally.. I am on my knees alot lately it for her.. but its okay.its where we belong.. for at my weakest..God is kneeling there with me.and holding me..

        Reply
    • Andy Carlson

      I stand in agreement with you….and for all of us….

      Reply
      • Julie

        indeed for all of us that know the pain of a child separated from their Heavenly Daddy

        Reply
        • Andy Carlson

          My wife and I are there with you……all in Gods timing and will….not our own…Peace of the Lord be with you….

          Reply
  5. Ayomide Akinkugbe

    I would love to emphasize the place of young people ‘choosing’ for themselves and not forced upon a form of religion. Their hearts have to be engaged, that’s when it’s christianity (a relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord). We can’t make the choice for them.I’m actively serving in the teens ministry in my local church and asking the same question, what do we do since we can’t make the decisons for them? And here are 3 strategies i came up with
    1. We empower them to make the right decisions by making available alternative materials such as media (Novels, Books on sensitive subjects, and Music) and wise counsel
    2. We love them even in their ‘flawed’ moments (sometimes it’s as practical as cleaning up the mess they made)
    3.And we pray for them continually ( believing God is at work in them)

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      1. empowerment, 2. love, 3. prayer.  Awesome strategy. 

      Reply
      • Andy Carlson

        Yes….however, I think it is important that we have our own opinions and that we articulate those opinions…and that we reflect those opinions…that we “stand and belong”.  Otherwise we appear void, empty and without standing…..if we accept anything…then anything is what we will get.  If we set no personal, spiritual and social standard…then we are neither guides or teachers….be become shallow baby sitters…..till the baby all of a sudden “strikes out on their own”….as the song says:  “with no direction of their own”….We can not feed a child steak..but be need to feed them…and what we Feed needs to be purposeful and pointed in a particular direction…..so says I….a sojourner myself…….

        Reply
        • Andy Carlson

          After Thought: If we feed them (any new or seeking or lost individual) nothing…they will find something to fill their hunger.

          However, if we become self righteous, judgmental and lack humility in our conversation and dialog and teaching..we will create barriers to learning, even a barrier to the Holy Spirit’s ability to work in the life of another…..less (sp?)  they become performing robots – empty of knowledge and understanding but “performing for social and Christian community acceptance…..ignorant conformers….

          Reply
          • Anonymous

            So if I summarize: be Christlike. Bottom line. Love like He did. Lose the religious spirit. Embrace unconditionally while confronting when needed. 

  6. Bob Stenson

    If those who use the label, Christian, would teach their
    children to listen to Jesus Christ rather than depending on self-righteousness, then young people would learn to acknowledge Him rather than
    acknowledging that which comes from the evil one.  When they hear His
    voice, God’s faith comes to them, and faith is the door to give access to God’s free gift (grace) of righteousness.  Their part is to simply hear and
    yield to the righteousness of God as God thinks His Thoughts, says His
    Utterances, and does His Acts through them.  If parents did this
    diligently, young people would not yield to peer pressure.

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      i think the point of this while thing is to allow people to think for themselves. people tend to reject being told what they should do or think. so this gets to be a tricky one with raising kids. as a dad, i definitely teach my children truth. but at the same time i know that they have to make their own decisions… so i try to teach them to make good decisions based on that truth. i think that yielding to righteousness that you’re talking about should be a choice, not something that’s forced…

      great points! thanks for joining the discussion!

      Reply
      • Bob Stenson

        Hello @BibleDude:disqus
        You are certainly correct that true righteousness cannot be forced.  That is why God doesn’t just make us all righteous by sovereign will.  He could, but that would not fulfill anything that needs to be fulfilled.  Children need to touch Jesus and have Jesus touch them.  If they don’t find Jesus themselves, everything else is useless.  To try to modify God to fit the flesh and then call the resulting abomination, “church” or “Christian,” will not accomplish what any parent wants for their children, however.  The ungodly are actively proselyting our children, teaching them that light is darkness and darkness is light.  That is why you are right that we need to take the time to actually communicate with kids rather than lecturing.

        Reply

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[reasons they leave #1] churches seem overprotective

by Leslie Rowe time to read: 4 min
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