I’m 40 years old, I have a green mini-van (Carrie-Anne drives it, not me), and, not only have I never played with a Wii, up until two days ago I didn’t even know how to spell it. I own, and sometimes wear, a pair of blue jean shorts. And with the exceptions of Van Halen, Aerosmith, and Audio Adrenaline, if it was recorded after 1985, I don’t listen to it. I have tube socks older than you. If I had my way, every room or office would have a Lava Lamp, the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA basketball tournament would be declared national holidays, and we would sing “How Great Thou Art,” “It Is Well With My Soul,” and “A Mighty Fortress” during every single worship assembly. In my mind, Tom Landry is still the only coach the Cowboys have ever had.
Maybe we don’t have a ton of things in common. But let me tell you this: I love you.
I love you. Your youth minister loves you. The elders in your church love you. Your preacher loves you. The older lady that you think frowns at you all the time loves you. The man in the back who refuses to sing a “new song” loves you. Your friends’ families love you. And your parents love you more than you can possibly begin to imagine.
If you were beginning to learn how to drive a car and your dad took you to the Driver’s Ed place and the teacher told your dad, “We offer two different education packages. For $39 I can teach your child everything he needs to know to pass the test. It’s only the basic stuff. It’s not too difficult, he should breeze right through it, and we can get him his license in just a couple of weeks.”
“But for $79 I can give your child the extended course. We’ll teach him the basics, naturally. But we’ll also give him tons of practical experience behind the wheel in both urban and rural settings. We’ll take him out on the highways and through the school zones. We’ll teach him safety. We’ll show him how to react in emergency situations. How to avoid dangerous circumstances. How to react when faced with difficult conditions. It takes two months instead of two weeks. And it’s not nearly as easy. It’ll require some dedication and study and lots of field work. But I think it’s worth it in the long run.”
One course gets you your license. The other course provides you with the teaching and the tools necessary to greatly increase your odds of being safe and staying alive. Which one will your dad choose?
Don’t carry the metaphor too far out. It may break down.
Why would the person who loves you the most give you just the basics? He wouldn’t! He would want you to be fully equipped to face whatever challenges or crises come your way.
And that’s what everybody in your church wants for you. We love you.
I want, more than I can explain, to provide you with the teachings and the tools you need to live exactly like our Savior. I want you to be just like him. I want you to think about and talk about sacrificing and serving and thinking more highly of others than you do yourselves. Submitting to each other in love. Seeing your place in the body of Christ, both now and in the future, as vital and critical and paramount to the growth and spread of the Kingdom.
Trust me (and you know this already), we concentrate on you because we see how we’ve messed things up for ourselves. We want things to be better for you than they are for us. We know very well how we’re supposed to act. And we know very well that we don’t. And we know that if the Church of Jesus is going to make a difference in reclaiming the world for its Creator, we’ve got to change. And we see you as the ones who can more than likely do what we’re unable to do.
I believe Jesus’ apostles were teenagers when he called them. Going through both Scripture and ancient Jewish education history, I think it’s clear that the apostles were likely between the ages of 12 and 19 when they decided to follow Jesus. Peter is the only one that Scripture points to as maybe possibly being in his 20s. I think they were teens.
And I think Jesus chose teenagers, not just because that was the way the rabbinical system had been working for a couple of centuries, but because he knew the passion and the energy and the desires of teens to identify with a cause and dedicate themselves entirely to it. I know that fire, too. I see that fire in you all the time — at youth rallies, on retreats, at WinterFest, and around campsite campfires at 2:00 am. You’ve got it. You want, most of you, more than anything else in the whole world to be exactly like Jesus. And you look to church and church leaders and church culture to find out exactly what Jesus was like and what he taught so you can be exactly like him.
And I’m afraid we let you down.
The last two posts on this blog have not been about you. They’ve been about us. They’ve been about me.
And here’s my plea, to you from me: don’t leave us.
Statistics show you’re leaving the churches of Christ in record numbers. It happens as soon as you get out of high school. Some of you come back eventually. Most of you don’t. And we’re all scrambling, every one of us, trying to figure out why and what we can do about it.
Don’t leave us.
A young man named Brian, a college student at ACU, asked that panel why it was such a big deal when teens born and raised in the churches of Christ left for other faith traditions. If we’re still claiming Jesus as Lord and still serving Christ in love, he said, why does it hurt you when we leave this particular heritage?
I waited until the session was over and grabbed him in the hallway. (Not literally. I said his name.) Yes, it hurts us when you leave, I told him. It kills us. Because it means we’ve let you down. It means we were not successful in passing on the baton of faith and tradition and heritage in our own fellowship to our own kids. We take it as a sign that we’ve failed. And it kills us. It means to us that you didn’t really see us, the churches of Christ, as a family. And that’s what all of us long for it to be.
Don’t leave us.
I know we’ve horribly distorted the Church that Jesus died for. You’re not stupid. You know it, too. You know how inconsistent we are. You know how we preach and teach one thing and then act totally the oppposite. You see right through our feeble attempts to justify our own wants and desires and comfort zones by misapplying this passage or pulling that verse completely out of context. It’s crazy sometimes! Sometimes it makes me want to leave!
As I told Brian that day at ACU, stay and help us. Wrestle with us. Grow with us. Teach us. Show us how to worship with passion and joy and with the freedom we have in Christ. Point out the inconsistencies. We know how crazy it is to say you can clap and raise your hands in the Youth House but not in the auditorium. We know that makes absolutely no sense. But we keep doing it anyway. We’ve been so inconsistent for so long, we’re blind to a lot of it. Show it to us. Challenge us. You know how God works best when we’re getting our hands dirty in the low income apartment complexes and the homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Most of the people in your churches know it, too. But there’s nobody challenging them to act on it. We know it’s nuts to expect you to submit and sacrifice for us when you see us slamming each other and gossiping all the time. Tell us about it.
Find somebody in your congregation, maybe somebody other than a youth minister or an elder or a parent, someone with a big picture view of things who’s not going to be caught in the middle because of job descriptions or expectations, and talk to them. Make that contact. Make that friend. And then when somebody or something in the church is beating you down, go to that person. I think you’ll find that, if you haven’t already, when you engage an adult in serious reflection and discussion and give him your trust, he becomes your biggest fan.
To the youth group here at Legacy, specifically: I’m your biggest fan. Getting to know you at the Discipleship Retreat last Spring was such a wonderful experience for Carrie-Anne and me. Listening to you, sharing with you, especially those of you in Group Five (“common name, uncommon game”), gave me such optimism and joy. It made me so excited to be coming to a church family with such a thoughtful and passionate group of young people. If anybody or anything in our church family is beating you down, if you’re confronted with a teaching or a directive that’s contrary to Jesus’ example or teachings, you let me know. Come see me. And I’ll be at the very front of your parade with flags and trumpets and whistles and bells. Driving a green mini-van. Wearing blue jean shorts.
Don’t leave us. Stay with us and help us grow together in our Lord.
My sympathies are certainly with Pat Cox and Dale and Kimberly and the whole Cox family after the passing of Billy Ray. What a great man. What a great family. Billy Ray is the one who, while I was in high school, brought Roger Staubach to speak at chapel at Dallas Christian. It was a big secret. But he let me in on it early, the day before, so I could bring my Staubach poster to school and get it autographed. Their son, Dale, was a football hero to me. Their daughter, Kimberly, was a great friend to me who wound up marrying one of my best friends, David Grogan. Billy Ray and Pat had the biggest house. And the very best of my high school parties and gatherings were held there. Billy Ray is the one who helped us get Whitney into Dallas Christian when we moved back to Mesquite from Wichita Falls. And he’s the one who helped me secure funding from the Saturn Road Church of Christ when we moved to Marble Falls and Austin Grad.
I preached at Saturn Road on a Sunday night last October, almost a year ago now, and Billy Ray spoke after I was finished. And, as always, his words were full of praise and encouragment and kindness and warmth and love. He’s one of those guys with a long, long reach. The impact he’s had on the Church and on Christian education is impossible to measure and will continue far into the future. Billy Ray Cox was a great man. And I’m a better man for having known him and his sweet family. I count him among the many who encouraged me in my efforts to ditch radio for the ministry. And I’m eternally grateful.
I’ll be attending the funeral this afternoon at Saturn Road. And I’m looking forward to seeing tons of old friends and praising our God for the wonderul life of Billy Ray Cox.