Pew’s latest religion poll is out and while many headlines claim Christianity is declining in America, further scrutiny of the data suggests otherwise. The survey shows that nominal Christians (that is Christians in name only) are relabeling themselves as ‘no religious affiliation’ particularly from within the Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations. However, it appears evangelical Christianity is on the rise.
As an evangelical ‘science-rejecting, sexist, homophobic, right wing crazy’ who is looking for the best way to indoctrinate her children, this is good news. Since we’ve got 4 sons, my husband and I want to be sure the odds are in our favor.
But, if I’m honest, I’m a bit concerned with the where ‘youth programs’ in churches all across America are heading.
If you look around, churches everywhere are trying to figure out how best to reach the next generation. With an apparent goal of making church ‘fun’, the most popular tactics appear to be:
- Change up the music; exchange the dull dirges for some R&B and alternative rock.
- Give the youth someone they can relate to. Rather than an old white guy, try a young lumber-sexual, especially if they have tattoos to demonstrate they have a “past.”
- Lots of trips are needed. Whether they are lock-ins or mission trips, kids love to vacation to the beach or a big city.
Here’s the problem. God already told us the instrument He wants to use to reach the next generation, and it’s not a youth program. It’s the family.
“You shall teach [these commands] to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 11:19
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” Proverbs 1:7-9
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
When God made a promise to Abraham, He did not promise fame or fortune. He promised kids – lots and lots of kids. When Paul laid out the qualifications for pastors, deacons and elders, he always cited the need to evaluate the spiritual health of not just the candidate, but of all the family members (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Tim 3:1-13).
God calls parents to shepherd their children and teach them to know who God is. If you’re like me, that’s probably a terrifying thought. It means my husband and I are responsible for instructing proper theology, not the pastor. We are to teach them generosity and service to others, not the youth trips to the local soup kitchen. We are to show that God isn’t just ‘relevant’, but that His truth is timeless. We have to ask and be prepared to answer the tough questions about sex, money, school, work and friends. The home is where they are to witness the Gospel in action. No pressure (don’t worry, even Mary and Joseph messed it up occasionally).
Sounds pretty obvious and I think most churches and some parents agree with this in theory, but stumble on execution (intentionally or not). I’m not saying all youth programs need to go (because frankly my husband and I were both came to Christ largely impart due to them).
But it may be time to reconsider if we are truly striving to create fun environment or one that will build up the ‘youth program’ that God intended. After all, Jesus did not tell us ‘follow me and you’ll have a good time’, so I don’t think that’s the narrative any program in the Church should be push. Instead, we should be focused on providing something culture cannot: truth.
I know that God is calling my husband and I to instruct our children in the faith. And I think that this responsibility should not be delegated to another, even the local church. But this nagging feeling has me asking the following questions:
Should we be less about ‘engaging’ the teens and more about equipping, supporting, and correcting parents? Is the Church inadvertently telling kids ‘it’s all about me and my needs’ and parents ‘its about me and my comfort level’? Are we suggesting both should be more concerned with how they feel or what they fear than what is true? Are we ensuring that parents have the answers needed to combat differing worldviews that their children are embracing? Are we rejecting the model God created in favor of a more entertaining and frankly easier one? And if so, at what cost?