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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Should we turn to culture?

Culture [Kuhl-cher] - noun 1. The quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.

School days. Ah. Fond memories of hanging with my friends, playing sports, pranks, girlfriends, getting good grades without studying too hard. My first concert, the thrill of doing things I wasn't supposed to, jumping off the second floor balcony of the Bilmar Hotel in 11th grade to avoid hotel security. No need to say why they were knocking on our door.

I keenly remember standing in assembly, the Catholic priest who was our school chaplain intoning...something. I'm a little embarrassed to admit the extent that my friends and I made fun of him and the hymns we were supposed to be singing. If God wasn't so forgiving, I'd be doomed for sure.

I'd gone to Sunday school and church as a kid growing up - back in the day, when we had to wear a suit and tie. But that was a lifetime away from military school and peer pressure and, well, fun.

Thirty years later, I'm a Sunday school teacher. I could dwell on the irony of that but I have a more important point to ponder: Why are kids leaving the church today?

More specifically, young men and women in their mid-to-late teens and even early twenties are departing the church in droves. In fact, Over 60% of children who grow up in the church will leave it as young adults according to Already Gone, a startling book by Ken Ham and Brit Beemer. The cause?

Sunday school syndrome.

Ham and Beemer are finding through extensive research that instead of strengthening the faith of young people by solidifying the Bible's historical authority, Sunday school is teaching that the Bible is more about inspiration and morality than authenticity and reality.

How much time to young people spend in church? How much time do they spend in school? How much time do they spend in front of the television or with ear buds firmly implanted in their heads, listening to music? How much time do they spend on social networking sites or otherwise surfing the Internet?

I would hazard a guess that the time spent in church, or in church-related activity is far less than the rest. In fact, I believe that, similarly to the premise of Already Gone, church plays a part in the disconnect of young people from God. And I readily admit that I've been an enabler.

How many times have you invited someone to church? Did that suffice for your outreach duty? According to Matthew 28, Jesus didn't ask us to go and invite people to church - He asked us to go and make disciples. Big difference. In college and professional sports, recruiters go and scout out talent, inviting them to come and play at a particular school or for a particular team. It's up to the coaches to take that talent and mold it into a winning team. I have a sneaking suspicion that most Christians - evangelical or not - are more recruiter than disciple-maker.

But if each of us fails to take our personal knowledge of God - gained through regular study of God's message to humanity and how it (and He) has changed our own lives - and share it with someone, helping them mold that knowledge into their daily life, we are blowing it - big time. I even found a video for a church that admitted church was boring - except for theirs.

At the end of the day, what are we up against? We're up against our culture. We live in the age of reality shows and instant gratification. Oh yeah, I hear that our youth today are the most giving generation of all time - and I've met some young people that awesomely fit that bill. But I also heard a report on NPR this morning that highlighted the emergence of charity for profit. Everything from the pink ribbons to the timing of donations to take full advantage of our tax laws. The new charity is I'll long as I get the best return from it.

So what's the answer? How do we fulfill Jesus' command to us in Matthew 28? Do we turn to culture? Do we make ourselves the anti-church?

I wrestle with how worldly we should be in reaching out to young people. Faith in God is a serious thing. That doesn't mean we can't have fun - heck, the knowledge that I will have eternal life and spend that time in the most amazing place in the universe is pretty exciting, if hard to conceptualize in our culture. One example of - at the risk of...something - a godly secular song is U2's 40

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

How do we get them back?



  1. Wow. I wouldn't have guessed. I was under the impression that youth membership in churches, especially the big evangelical churches, was already quite large and continuing to increase. **Surprised**

  2. It does go against popular wisdom, doesn't it? There are a lot of reasons but one of the ones I think is big is that the teens are never making the transition from living under their parents faith to having their own. That's where the discipleship comes in.

    And unlike a lot of critics opine, discipleship is not indoctrination, it's a clear communication of the Bible - and then letting God lead them to their own faith. You can't force anyone to believe in anything - they've got to take that step themselves.

    Thanks for stopping by - are the roads passable yet?

  3. The roads were pretty good today. We are still waiting until midday to venture out because what melts during the day freezes again at night. 17 degrees tonight. Brrrr.

  4. Tough to reconcile climate change when it's that cold, I'm thinking :-) You guys be safe!

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I have to agree with your point about today's children and youth and church, based on my own experiences.

    MUMC has virtually no children attending Sunday School but that's largely because their parents aren't attending the church. Some do send their children to the MUMC-run school for K-2nd grade however. So far as I remember, there were about a half dozen youth in the youth group at MUMC, but I never got the impression that they were seriously engaged in learning about their faith. Still, I had little contact with them and could be wrong.

    At my new church, they have no Sunday School for a full hour. The children attend regular worship service, are sent away for a mini, a micro, Sunday School lesson during the sermon, and then are brought back into the sanctuary when the sermon is over.

  6. At Newark UMC, I taught 5th grade Sunday School--which should give you an idea right there of how big that church and its Sunday School was. We had specific books, lesson plans, youth aides, and Bible verse learning contests which required that the children understand the meaning of the verse they recited.

    I thank God for my own experience in Sunday Scool when I was a child and a youth. While I abandoned a lot of the teachings for years, that bedrock was still under there somewhere when God later saw an opportunity to "haul me back in." :-)

    Watering down and distorting Christianity is another point entirely. Many, many churches and individuals distort Christianity to the point where non-Christians really have no idea what Christianity is or what the Bible says, because they can't base their acquired knowledge of it on what comes out of the mouths of many self-avowed Christians.

    But this response is long enough.

  7. Tree-Lady, your last point highlights something I could have really gone on about. The danger, as it were, of 'culturizing' church is that you will attract more visitors/members at the risk of diluting the gospel.

    People ask me from time to time what or who the Holy Spirit is. One of the keys to living out your faith and being obedient to God is being able to examine your words and actions and ask, "Do people see Jesus in me?"

    The answer will be 'no' if all we do is turn church into a country club.


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