In a perfect world, I would be writing about the joys and challenges of Thanksgiving, since that is the holiday of the week. But this is not a perfect world, and I ran across an article this week that describes something quite significant for us. Are you concerned by the absence of young people from churches? Have you ever wondered why “Young Doubters Exit the Church” in great numbers today? The magazine “Christianity Today” recently published an article by Drew Dyck asking that very question.
If you have a few extra minutes, please read that article by clicking the link above. It is quite thought-provoking as we as a local congregation consider how to reach out to that specific age group. What I’d like to focus on here is a paragraph that comes near the end of the article:
What pushed them out? Again, the reasons for departing in each case were unique, but I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith. When sociologist Christian Smith and his fellow researchers examined the spiritual lives of American teenagers, they found most teens practicing a religion best called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” which casts God as a distant Creator who blesses people who are “good, nice, and fair.” Its central goal is to help believers “be happy and feel good about oneself.”
The author describes “Christian inoculation,” a process by which young people get a little dose of Jesus that is just enough to prevent them from getting the real “disease.” It’s the same idea as giving a child a small dose of the tetanus bacteria so that he or she builds up a resistance to the full disease. When done properly, the process is very effective!
As we minister to children and youth, how do we present the message of Jesus Christ? Do we show these young people a form of Christianity that is pleasant, happy, cheerful, and capable of raising one’s self-esteem? We most certainly should, because those emotional benefits are indeed part of the Christian experience. But our training of young people must be deeper than simply teaching them to be good, to be nice, and to behave.
We serve a God who has conquered evil, who has freed the oppressed, who has healed the sick, who has forgiven sin. We follow a God who is involved in the world, who is concerned about ethical problems, who is extremely relevant. We worship a Lord who calls us to give ourselves in service to those in need; we worship a Lord who is praised by our perseverance through difficult situations. Our God is very close to us, and our faith, rightly understood, is very dynamic and active.
So how should we go about reaching children, youth, and young adults? This is not a question only for youth pastors and Sunday school teachers. It is a question for every Christian in the congregation, because we all play important roles in modeling Christian faith to those who are new to the faith. Will we show them a faith that they will want to move toward, rather than move away from?