Will Your Kid Leave the Church?

Millennial_main

It’s been a hot topic lately –“why kids are leaving the church.”  Over and over it seems church pundits want to blame old pastors wearing skinny jeans as the culprit.  Apparently, the sight of a forty year old with a goatee and paste on jeans makes our youth want to barf and disassociate from the gospel.

They say the church isn’t authentic enough… “Relevant” yes, but lacking meat and potatoes. They say it’s a McDonaldized version of the world with a happy meal Jesus.  The church entertains but fails to teach.  The atheists come at youth with science; the church comes at kids with rules.  The church is judgmental to their gay friends and we focus too much on sex and marriage and “looking good” vs. being good.

This anti-church message propagated on the radio by the rapper Macklemore, whom my kids love, claims the church paraphrases verses out of a 3500 year old book to shame and browbeat those outside the religious parameters.

And our kids are listening. They hear celebrities and artists who lift up and associate Jesus with everything BUT the church.

And it makes me sad, because this hasn’t been my experience with ministry.

(If you go to one of these terrible places that treat its youth with disdain, then leave.)

My experience with the church and youth ministry has simply been befuddlement.  Why are so many kids leaving the church and not coming back?  We try so hard and yet we are losing them?  What is the secret sauce to draw them back?

While I believe some of the millennial critiques hold credence in a sad and awkward way, I’m not buying the laundry list of nitpicky justifications young people use to reject the church as the real and underlying reason. 

All of the millennial criticism I hear boils down to one thing.  (And I don’t need a top ten list to tell you with neat little bulleted points)

So why kids are kids leaving the church?

I believe it’s a lack of love.

Remember Jesus?  He’s the guy who ate with sinners and gangsters, hookers, pimps and hoes.  Jesus is the man who loved the sexually immoral (pretty sure this includes gays too), turned over tables and healed the seriously messed up.

The church in its efforts to gain the youth and save the “lost generation” have forgotten the main thing.

Love

We focus on new buildings, more awesome bands, food trucks and large crowds.  We think we need just one more thing to get them to come back, but when we do this we get lost and caught up in the swirly whirly distraction of the world.

I know great parents who have sent their kids to the mega awesome Church to be DAZZLED and instead their kids come home with a drug addiction from dealers in the church parking lot.

Just because a church attracts a big crowd doesn’t mean Jesus is moving in the lives of our kids.  The draw at these BIG TEEN EVENTS might be good drugs, hot chicks and free food.  Last time I checked, I can send my teen to a rave for a $10 fee.  I certainly don’t need my tithe money to cover it.

What about love?  What about people who care about our kids?  What about parents engaging with their kids and serving side by side with them and using less words and more action? 

We can’t just tell our kids to be good; we need to be honest about our own brokenness and the healing power of Christ. 

We need to be let down our perfectly pinned up church hair and remember our struggles with temptation as teenagers.  We need to let them know we went down some dark roads too and that God’s love is relentless in its pursuit. 

I didn’t make it through high school with my innocence intact and quite honestly; my brokenness is what leads me to Christ. 

The kid that tries drugs or pre-marital sex or even walking away from Christ with unanswered questions may actually be closer to God than the devoted and quiet student who shows up every week to Sunday School and serves in Children’s Ministry.

Who are we to judge the state of a man’s heart?

I hold on to the verse, ”Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Why do we gloss over the “when he is old” part?  There is a gap in between the youth and old.  Maybe the gap includes living and loving, hurting, questioning, and finally returning to the arms of the father.

Why do we punish our kids for the gap years?  Why do we focus on the prodigal son and forget that God gave us two stories –one of a kid who followed the rules and one who ran away –and yet both were loved.

We need to allow our kids to question the mystery and bigness of God and we need to stop acting like we have all the answers. (Read the book of Job again if you think you know it all)

The appeal of Jesus to anyone – a millennial, a young family, a divorced woman, or an old codger is love.  We are to love God and love one another.  We aren’t instructed to put on a show and work our ministers to death so they are so exhausted and grumpy and so un-loving that our kids see just another man (or woman) in a monkey suit (insert skinny jeans) working for achievement.   

When a pastor or a CHRISTIAN doesn’t have time for a hurting kid, we missed an important step along the way.

My son met a kid at the Spectrum (about 15 years old) who passionately spoke his mind about Jesus and God and love. After that night, my kid has looked at his relationship with Christ a little differently.  He prays more.  I find his Bible (gasp) open in the morning next to his bed. 

This is a kid who also has a chip on his shoulder about the church.  My son is a pastor’s kid and survived a church plant.  And while some kids make it through puberty thinking the church is AMAZING, my son has seen some of the darker sides of ministry. 

And yet he is still drawn to Jesus.  When he saw another kid s passion and love for the Lord, it made an impact.

Love burst forth from this kid and mountains moved.

We need to teach our kids that we can’t judge Jesus by the church.  Jesus loves the church and died for the church, but we are a broken lot who mess and muddle up love on a regular basis.  We need Jesus to forgive us for misrepresenting him.  And we need to ask our kids to forgive us for giving them a half version of the gospel.

Jesus is to be our model of love.  The church is the place we try to work it out in community.  Do our kids understand this?

I don’ think kid’s care so much about “cool church” as we think…

My middle daughter is wooed to Jesus through the relationships in her life. I have been consistently overwhelmed at the women surrounding her (female youth pastor, worship leader, and BEAUTIFUL neighbors) who are pouring into her heart and showing her what love and God look like on a daily basis.  She is encouraged to serve alongside them, care for their children, worship God with all her heart and model their love in action.

She could care less if they are cool.  She cares that they love her and they love God.

I remember the same thing in college.  I heard a young pastor explain Jesus in a simple way.  He was bursting with fire and exuberance.  And I was drawn to the person of Jesus Christ.  I couldn’t help but connect with authentic love, relevant sacrifice and a purpose to seek and save the lost, the broken and the disenfranchised of the world.

It’s about love –not REASONS why the church is blowing it.  Those are just distractions.

When I hear someone go on and on about what moves them, I can’t help but get excited.  It’s why we sob at weddings and act like idiots at football games. 

We engage in a story that’s bigger than ourselves and we remember what it feels like to be alive.

And we fall in love all over again. 

I don’t think our kids are leaving because we (the church) haven’t tried.  We have tried until we are blue in the face.  I just think we have forgotten the main thing.

We think kids want skate parks and nifty bracelets, Chick Fillet and hip lounge chairs.

Really?  I think a crappy old sofa with a caring young adult eating PB& J’s would suffice.

When we allow Jesus to not only transform us but to move within us, love becomes the fabric of our being.

And it changes lives.

I believe the biggest obstacle to our kids not finding Jesus is not the failure of the church…I know the church has tried, it’s a failure to remember what drew us to God in the first place.

What do you think? 

For further reading: Why Millennials Need the Church

Photo Source: http://www.csulb.edu/divisions/students2/intouch/archives/2007-08/vol16_no1/01.htm

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