To The Teens

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!

Don’t 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.

Peace,

Allan

11 Comments

  1. Mel

    Allan as long as there are men with humble hearts like yours not only will they not leave….they will come.

  2. Andie

    Thank you Allen for the candid thoughts the past 2 days and for sparking our thoughts on this subject.

    At this point, I am incredibly grateful for adults who take the time to become involved in the lives of my children – who actually care enough to know more about them than just their names. As with most adults, what your beliefs are don’t matter much to me if i don’t think you care about me and my feelings in the first place. i think teens are much the same. They know if we merely talk the talk…they hear us when all we do is gripe or complain and they get weary of it and start looking for something more…so do I. Fortunately I am old enough to make some choices or change my circumstances or change where I sit and listen. Kids may not always be able to do this or have the maturity or confidence to walk away from negative talk. All the more reason for us as adults to be careful what we say to everyone around us but especially “our children”.

    God help us through him to be/provide that something more to our teens as well as other adults. We all have periods of frustration, doubt and discouragement even disillusionment with church and all that it it entails. I find myself there often but I plan to “stick with us” for the duration. Whether we are 15 or 55 don’t we all want basically the same things?? to be loved, accepted, cared for, to be able to worship as our hearts direct, to feel close to our God?

    I believe without any doubt this where I ought to be and where God intended us to find the closest thing to heaven on earth…where we will find Him daily working through His people, His church….flawed as we are…hopefully serving and being considersate of each other in all places and stages of life.

    Thank you Allen for loving our Legacy teens and taking the time to let them know the special place they have with you. I don’t think you are so far from where the teens are…more in common than you think, except for the tube sox…those haaave to go….van halen, aerosmith – classics for any “normal” person 🙂

  3. Rob's Dad

    Jorts? You wear jorts? Rhyner would be so proud…

  4. Allan

    I hate you, Chris. No, wait. I love you.

  5. Rob's Dad

    careful – one of those overly sensitive types is going to get the wrong – what am I saying? I’ve got my tactical black Zippo ready – throw me the gas can.

    By the way, I do love you as well.

  6. One of the Teens

    Allan, I’ll be completely honest with you. I was disheartened by your blog a couple days ago. I didn’t know what to think or how to take what you were saying. I understood most of it, but I thought that maybe you we addressing us.

    I thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing to us today. I now completely understand your intentions and I am appreciative that you care so much. It is obvious that you have a great heart, and hearing your encouragements gives me hope.

  7. Creator of "Quote of the Week"

    You’re not as old are you tried to paint yourself in that post. But hopefully you do’nt wear jean shorts, “Jorts”

  8. Charlie

    I would like to think that if one of the great prophets lived today, they would wear jorts. It may be the counter-cultural attire needed to make bold statements concerning the relationship between the church and the culture. Great blog Allan. I read it everyday. As someone who worked with teenagers at church recently, I appreciate your assessment of the current situation as well as your challenge to both adults and teenagers to wrestle and grow with each other. I would like to throw in a wrinkle to why I think our kids are leaving the church today in record numbers. This comes from my limited experience as a youth minister and a teacher in public education, but there seems to be a correlation between those teens who leave the church and those teens who have fathers with weak faith. I have seen it over and over again. I am convinced more than ever that the lack of spiritual leadership from our dads is greatly affecting our children’s faith. This is in no way a critique of women’s roles in the church (please do not take it there), but more of a challenge to the fathers in churches to step up to the plate and let your sons and daughters see how much you love your creator and the church He established. I realize that this is a gross overgeneralization of the problem because I know some teens who have left the church whose fathers were there at church every time the door was opened. But the breakdown of the family certainly should enter the conversation when discussing how we are losing our teenagers.

  9. Allan

    You’re so right. I think our kids get the wrong message, or not enough of the right message, when they see their parents and families talk about their faith at church, but not at home. Studying and talking and praying with your children at home, maybe even in groups, maybe even on Sunday nights — I can’t think of a much better way to pass on the Christian faith to our kids.

  10. Kenzie

    hey Allan, I like you. And I think you’re doing good. I showed this to our old intern (Derek Wilson) from two years ago and he passes on the same message (he likes you too). Not necessarily for what you said because I’m not so sure if right at this moment I care if it’s true or not (I do deep down), but just because you said it. And that my friend, is awesome.

  11. Cori

    WOW!!! I’ve just now sat down and read all of your blogs from this week. (I had to after our class this morning kept referring to it.) I come writing from several perspectives.

    I come from the “youth minister era” although my particular church did not have a youth minister. Our youth group still had a mission to “change the church”. We didn’t understand why the “old” people didn’t like our songs, worship with everyone was so boring, etc. To my embarrassment I even remember going to one of the elders after my first year of college and complaining about our youth program very harshly. Telling this wise man, so much wiser than I, everything he was doing wrong. Of course, a lot of my basis of complaint was based on things I had heard my parents complain about and I had only bits and pieces of facts. (They tried not to complain or talk bad about church in front of us, but teens pick up on things…) As a teenager, I felt that it was my responsibility to straighten this man out. I still have trouble looking him in the eye when I go home to Ohio out of shame from my behavior over 10 years ago. I was living in a world that was very much self-centered as most teenagers do. I’m not putting down teenagers, it’s just a fact. Unfortunately, most of us don’t outgrow the self-centered phase so we become self-centered adults. Isn’t that why our kids are leaving? This isn’t working for me…It doesn’t fit into the lifestyle I want to have instead of us fitting into the lifestyle God wants us to have.

    I also come from the perspective of “youth minister’s wife”. I am so thankful God has put me in this position in terms of reflection on my own life and to help me to be a better parent. I have learned so much about parenting watching the interaction between our teens and their parents. I get to relive hearing the grunts of not wanting to be with the “old” people or “our parents”. But I see things so differently. I see the value in those relationships that teenagers have trouble seeing. It is our responsibility as older people to still encourage those relationships even if our kids can’t see the positive side of it now. They will later. We do not have to give in everytime our kids don’t like something. It doesn’t mean we neglect our teens either. There can be a balance. But if our kids hear their parents knocking “church stuff” all the time then that becomes their attitude. Our attitudes are so reflected in our kids. And that’s hard. I see that more and more as Rylee gets older. I can’t tell you how many times we see that with our youth in the youth program and it saddens me. We can tell when parents have positive and negative attitudes about church just by being around their kids. Parents shape their teen’s attitudes far more than Jason and I ever possibly could.

    Finally I come as a parent. Yes, I know not a parent of a teenager. But I come as a parent of a young lady who will one day be a teenager. I believe my attitude around Rylee will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest influence in her spiritual growth. I say this from my experience with the youth group as well as teaching. Rylee will probably complain when she becomes a teenager and she will probably have to learn that things aren’t always going to go her way. She is starting to learn that now. My hope is that she will also be in a church home where the youth group and the youth minister are a great support during difficult years. Note I said support not primary source of spiritual growth…that is the responsibility of Jason and I as her parents.

    Thank you Allan for voicing things I have felt for so long. I appreciate your courage in speaking so candidly.

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