|Happy, well adjusted ... |
and out of the church within 5 years
Statistics say 70% of them will have left the church. Seventy percent.
That's a very big number, and is going to include a lot of "great kids" who seem to be "on fire" during their teen years. That also means the church is badly failing to equip our kids. We've traded in disciple-making for the long term in favor of the short-term satisfaction of seeing happy kids in church.
If you haven't been there already, get over to Marc5Solas and absorb his observations on what is happening to our kids after they leave the church. It's well worth reading in full, but I'll give you the condensed version here.
In short, we're working so hard to get our kids to emote for Jesus, that we're sending them out without even a rudimentary understanding of why they should. We want so badly for them to see our Christianity as accepted and cool, that they trade in our phony hipness for the world's better product. In other words, we're not teaching them Scripture. We're targeting them with relevant-sounding messages by relevant-looking people and begging them to feel good about being Christians. This is utterly inadequate, and a very thin reed on which to build authentic faith over the long term.
Now, the job isn't easy. The American family--both inside and outside of the church--is a shattered mess. I'd venture to say that most parents aren't looking for the kids they drop off at Youth Group to receive Biblical instruction. To the extent they know what they want, they're looking for someone to entertain them in a safe, healthy, and positive environment ... or they want someone to fix them so they can survive high school without permanent damage. They get little spiritual reinforcement at home. Frankly, many of them are practically orphans ... at least spiritually. So the church has a tall order to meet the need that presents itself.
But therein lies the temptation. There are lots of safe, healthy and positive environments. Scouting, Boys & Girls Clubs, sports, after-school programs ... if the church is trying to compete with these we have already lost our way, because our mission and our message are utterly different from theirs. Let them specialize in practical life skills for this world. We preach Christ and Him crucified for eternity! Or we're supposed to ...
It's great to focus on community, but community for what purpose? Lots of organizations offer community. As Francis Chan once said, "This is why I didn't believe in 'fellowship' before, because I didn't need any more 'friends'." Yet that is precisely what many of our youth programs most specialize in delivering--happy, well-adjusted kids in church.
Read Marc's crushing conclusion. We've passed down a "faith" they simply don't need:
Our kids are smart. They picked up on the message we unwittingly taught. If church is simply a place to learn life-application principals to achieve a better life in community … you don’t need a crucified Jesus for that. Why would they get up early on a Sunday and watch a cheap knockoff of the entertainment venue they went to the night before? The middle-aged pastor trying desperately to be “relevant” to them would be a comical cliché if the effect weren’t so devastating. As we jettisoned the gospel, our students are never hit with the full impact of the law, their sin before God, and their desperate need for the atoning work of Christ. Now THAT is relevant, THAT is authentic, and THAT is something the world cannot offer."This new gospel saves no one." Well, at least 30% stick around to see what happens next.
We’ve traded a historic, objective, faithful gospel based on God’s graciousness toward us for a modern, subjective, pragmatic gospel based upon achieving our goal by following life strategies. Rather than being faithful to the foolish simplicity of the gospel of the cross we’ve set our goal on being “successful” in growing crowds with this gospel of glory. This new gospel saves no one. Our kids can check all of these boxes with any manner of self-help, life-coach, or simply self-designed spiritualism … and they can do it more pragmatically successfully, and in more relevant community. They leave because given the choice, with the very message we’ve taught them, it’s the smarter choice.
Our kids leave because we have failed to deliver to them the faith “delivered once for all” to the church. I wish it wasn’t a given, but when I present law and gospel to these kids, the response is the same every time: “I’ve never heard that.” I’m not against entertaining our youth, or even jumbotrons, or pizza parties (though I probably am against middle aged guys trying to wear skinny jeans to be “relevant).. it’s just that the one thing, the MAIN thing we’ve been tasked with? We’re failing. We’ve failed God and we’ve failed our kids. Don’t let another kid walk out the door without being confronted with the full weight of the law, and the full freedom in the gospel.