What a fantastic response — overwhelming — to yesterday’s post. Ministers from Fresno, California and Marble Falls, Texas and Manhatten, New York have posted the entire article on their websites. Our youth group here at Legacy discussed the article and the comments at last night’s Bible study. Your comments and emails in response to the post are heart-felt, sincere, and provocative. And they reveal an intense desire to prayerfully consider the issue and act in ways that are best for our kids and best for the body of Christ as a whole.
Today, I’d like to clarify a few points from yesterday, especially as they relate to your comments, and then narrow the focus down to one particular part of the discussion that I think impacts all of us.
First, it is a very complex issue. There are no easy answers. The solution isn’t going to be some simple fix or four-step plan or better program. It goes much, much deeper than that. Jason and Lance, our youth ministers here at Legacy, and I will visit with each other over these very issues at least once or twice every week, sometimes for a couple of hours at a time, and come away frustrated. It’s so deep and so complex. And we wrestle with it together. And we don’t know what to do.
You’ll notice I don’t blame the teenagers. I don’t blame them at all. It’s not their fault. Look at the way we treat them and the way we model “church” in front of them. I don’t blame them a bit. And I don’t blame youth ministers. Not a one. At least, not any more than I blame all the rest of us. This is a parenting and a church issue. It’s not a youth minister issue. It’s not a teenager problem. I applaud Jason for his desire to move Youth Ministry here at Legacy into more of a Family Ministry model, much like the one Paul oversees at Woodwark Park in Fresno. I appreciate his attitude about all of this. He recognizes all the same things we all do.
But youth ministers are caught in the middle. They’re in a no-win situation here. They’re obligated to the teens. They care for the teens. By virtue of their job descriptions and the relationships they’ve nurtured, the teens are the main priority of the youth ministers. And rightfully so. But when they’re moved to take their programs in a different direction or to stress more church-wide or even inter-generational emphasis in an effort to show our kids a more big-picture view of God’s church, they’re re-buffed by the parents and the church leaders. It seems that if the teenagers buck some kind of a change or directive, regardless of the stated intention or anticipated goal of the change or directive, parents and church leaders slam on the brakes and tell the youth minister to do what the kids want to do.
It’s not that teens shouldn’t be able to voice their opinions or concerns and have them taken seriously. It’s not that at all. I pray that a young person would feel comfortable enough, and loved enough, to speak openly with any elder or church leader about anything. But teenagers don’t have the maturity or the big-picture view they need to make all of these kinds of decisions for themselves. Seriously. No offense, but they’re teenagers! It’s impossible for them to have the experience and the judgment necessary for a lot of these things simply by virtue of their age. They’ve only been around for 13 or 14 years! It’s not their fault. That’s where parenting and the church comes in. And I would hope parents and youth ministers could work together on these things with the spiritual health of the teenager in mind — his spiritual health for the long-run, not necessarily his social or relational health in the here and now.
As for the issue of entitlement, yes, we are all entitled by the grace of God to share in the glory of Jesus. We are heirs of the Father and joint-heirs with the Son. But only by God’s grace. It’s a gift. The very definition of the word “entitled” conveys the meaning of “gift.” It’s not earned. I’m not entitled by my age or my income bracket or my diplomas or my behavior. I’m entitled as a son of my Father because he chose to give that entitlement to me. Teenagers are just as entitled to the joy of our salvation as any of us. And they’re just as entitled to be a part of the Lord’s body. But not more so than anybody else. We shouldn’t raise them above the others. Their opinions shouldn’t matter more than others’. And, again, I don’t think the teens take that entitlement from anyone else. I think we give it to them. To their detriment and the detriment of the church.
And I cannot agree with any concept of adapting to our culture. The posts today and yesterday are purely insider issues. We’re talking about Christians and the church, not outsiders. So I’m not really sure how adapting to the culture fits in this conversation. But I do hold to the imperialistic claims of Scripture. The Gospel doesn’t want to speak to the modern world; the Gospel wants to convert the modern world.
OK. It’s not a teenager issue. It’s a parenting and church issue.
Let’s narrow the focus to concentrate today on what I see as the number one problem: bad-mouthing the church in front of our kids.
You want solutions? There are no easy ones. But I think everything, all of this, changes in very positive ways if we’ll just all stop talking negatively about the church in front of our teens.
When the only time our kids ever hear us talking about church is when we’re bashing it, why would we not expect our teens to leave the church and start looking for something else? Our kids aren’t stupid! They can connect the dots. We teach and preach one thing, but they see and experience something different. They read in the Scriptures one thing. But they hear something different. They know we’re called to something more. They’re convinced that God’s church is a loving, united, nurturing community of faith that puts others’ needs ahead of our own. But when they see their parents gripe and complain and threaten to leave if things don’t start going their way; when they hear their parents slam song leaders and song selection and elders’ decisions and Bible class teachers; when they experience the tension in the arguments and the gossip and the backstabbing; how can we blame them for wanting something else? Don’t you think this has a huge impact?
I’ve been very, very disappointed in some of the magazines and websites and blogs out there that angrily tear apart our brothers and sisters in the Lord’s body who don’t believe or practice every single thing the exact same way we do. Labeling preachers as wolves and denouncing entire congregations as heretical based on personal opinions or personal comfort levels is wrong in every way. And damaging. So very damaging. Some friends of mine made a vow almost two years ago to stop reading that stuff. Even if it’s just for information’s sake, for the sake of amusement or entertainment or even curiosity, stop reading it. It’s damaging.
And now I see preachers and teachers on the other side, the ones who’ve been labeled as wolves and heretics, the ones who preach and teach unity and love and fellowship, engaging in the exact same practices. There’s just as much, if not more, hate and anger and selfish enmity and hostility than was in the old school stuff. It’s repulsive. One brother commented on one of these preacher’s blogs recently, in response to a criticism of a Church of Christ program that espoused some fairly rigid views, that “pretty soon they’ll all be dead, including ________, and the problem of traditional Church of Christ’ers will snuff itself out.”
And he mentioned the older preacher by name.
It was as if this brother would personally delight in slashing the throats of all his brothers and sisters who disagreed with him if he thought he could get away with it.
And we don’t see that this kind of thing has a tremendous impact on our kids? That man’s blog is no longer on my list of things to read every week. No way. There’s no place anywhere in our Christian faith for that kind of attitude to be thought, much less articulated in a public forum. I’m embarrassed and ashamed and saddened by the way we treat each other. God, forgive us. Have mercy on us.
It’s not ACU. It’s not youth ministers. It’s not the kids. It’s us. It’s the church. It’s the parents.
Is complaining and griping and ridiculing the church in front of our children the biggest part of the problem? Can it be stopped? Would it matter?