Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 04/30/2010 by Chad Vandervalk.
Recommended. A hard-hitting, pull-no-punches, critical and challenging look at what ails youth ministry today.
I have a friend who is attending university and was recently out on a summer internship in a town he had never visited before. He had been staying with some relatives who didn't really attend church, so he was left on his own devices to try and find one that would suit him. He spent some time driving around one Sunday morning and finally drove up to one that started in minutes.
As he parked his truck and walked across the parking lot, he noticed one of those buses that local nursing homes have to shuttle around those who want to go to church services. It pulled in front of the church and a few elderly folks got out. He thought, "Oh, isn’t that nice that they minister to the elderly that way." When he walked into the sanctuary, however, he realised that those who came on the bus were probably the youngest ones in the building; aside from himself.
The place was not just seasoned with the salt of gray heads, it was like someone had spilt the whole shaker there.
For one reason or another, our young adults have not been remaining in our churches. This, says David Sawler, is a serious issue. In his book Goodbye Generation: A Conversation About Why Youth and Young Adults Leave the Church, he suggests the problem is not really out-of-date programming, but is deeper than that.
The problem exists in the fact that we have taken things that are free and have applied the laws of 'sowing and reaping' to them. We have carried many things like salvation into this group. May groups have used fear based Christianity to keep people in line, which has only added to the 'failure mentality'. I have heard teachings that suggested that is Jesus came back while you were in a theatre you might not go up to Heaven. It is incredible how people have made salvation seem so weak. One minute you are going to Heaven, the next you are going to hell. Say a quick prayer and, 'Wow! Again I’m going to Heaven.' You then repeat this cycle several times a day, hundreds of times a week.
Is this the message we want to send to our youth and young adults? Whether we like it or not, this is the message they are receiving. We are not being open and honest about what the life of a Christian is like. We present this great image, and when our youth do not experience that image, they begin to wonder if we have sold them a fake bill of goods.
They begin to label Christians as a bunch of snake oil salesmen.
The message of the gospel is not being received, and much of it is due to the way that we, as Christians, act. We promise love, acceptance, grace, but the most divisive, argumentative, unloving people are Christians toward fellow Christians. You do not have to look very hard to see some so-called Christian spewing hate upon some other group.
In addition to all of this, says Sawler, our younger generations are growing up as orphans. We spend a lot of time and effort trying to get people to commit to Jesus, trying to conceive new Christians, but then we abandon them to their own devices and hope that they will grow up strong and healthy.
So much effort has been put on conception, which we call evangelism. We have held crusades, events, and concerts, pushed for decisions and so forth with very good intentions. We are guilty of looking for instant results with no commitment. We have become casual daters but we are definitely not looking for a long term relationship. In fact many of our 'outreach' events are really selfishly motivated. They are just another opportunity for us to be in the limelight.
The answer? Adoption and discipleship.
There should not be one young person, young adult, or anyone in any church who does not have someone who has adopted them. Everyone should have someone who is praying for them specifically; someone who is pouring their lives into them; someone like Paul was to Timothy, like Jesus was to the twelve. Everyone needs someone who loves them individually. No one should be an orphan.
The majority of young people who have kept their faith have had this type of relationship with someone.
Sawler goes on in the book to cite other examples of things that seem to push people away from the faith; lunatic televangelists, an over-protectiveness of the Bible, a lack of interactivity between the faith and everyday life, etc., but mainly Sawler argues that we need people who are willing to pay attention and invest their time and energy in young people. Even when they go away to college, or for work, we need to take our responsibility toward them seriously and remain in contact to maintain the relationship.
While there are many who are trying to show why the younger generation is walking away from the church, Sawler presents a lucid description of what is happening in North America, as opposed to the rest of the world. It does not read like a rant against all that is wrong with the church, but takes some hard shots at things that may be taken for granted. He issues a challenge to us, and reminds us of the ways in which our churches can and will continue to spread the good news of Jesus.