Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why Do Our Kids Leave the Church - Part II - A Possible Solution, Step 2

Obviously I’ve never gotten past step 1 . . . but this is fiction (but hoping to raise some real questions).
Feel free to chime in under comments and add your thoughts:

First Youth Meeting: I would try to meet away from the church building, such as a coffee shop (or wherever the kids like to hang out . . . if it is quiet enough to talk).

I would tell them that we are embarking on a totally new, and radically different, approach to Christian youth groups. I would encourage them to give my ideas a chance to work before creating an opinion. Next I would pass out a copy of my ground-rules/syllabus for the coming year.


1. The space of the youth group is a sanctuary. There is to be no judgmental attitudes from each other or from me. Jesus covers you entirely . . . PERIOD.

A. You can say anything in our group and the only important thing is that it is true. Doubting is welcomed. Talking about your mistakes is welcome . . . I’ve made a huge number of them.

B. I will not promise that I won’t speak to your parents (for example if a student voiced suicidal ideations) but I’m not going to report on them on a continuing basis.

C. I will treat you like adults and so therefore you will be expected to act like adults. Adults respect one another.

2. Honesty is paramount. You are to be the same person in youth group as you are anywhere else. You come to youth group with a seamless transition from your world outside of youth group. I want to deprogram the ideal that church is where you act superficial. So this means;

A. You should use the same language in youth group as you do along with your friends. If you use words that offend other kids in the youth group, then as adults, you should refrain out of respect. However, the one offended should also be “offended” in all contexts of their lives and not just in youth group.

B. If you smoke or have other bad habits, I don’t want you smoking in our setting due to health concerns (not legalism) but don’t try to cover up your breath with mints for our behalf.

3. Sunday morning service is optional. Yes, that’s right. Sunday morning service is optional. You should NOT go to Sunday morning church if you do it for;

A. Penitence, believing that coming to church makes God more pleased with you,

B. Guilt, feel too ashamed before God, your parents or your Christians friends if you skip church.

C. You SHOULD only go to Church if it does something positive for you such as fellowshipping with other believers, giving you a true sense of worshiping God, learning something meaningful from the pastor.

D. If none of the group can find a reason under “C.” to attend Sunday morning church service, then that is not your problem anymore than it is the customers’ fault that a store goes out of business. It is the fault of the ones who put on the Sunday morning service.

4. Being “stupid for Jesus” is no longer cool. It would be a great aspiration for each person in the group to get a PhD from a great school like Harvard, Princeton or Oxford. However, if you have no interest in higher education, then be or do whatever fulfills you.

5. Our youth group will be made up of a core curriculum plus field trips, which are described in the Syllabus.

6. The field trips for the youth group would not be water parks, go cart riding, skiing or Christian concerts. Those things are fine and God is glorified when you are laughing and having fun. However, the public schools, parks and recreation and other groups already do that. Go with them! We don’t need a separate “Christian” area of having fun from the non-Christian. Having fun is important but being entertained or having fun will not be a key part of the youth group. We will do some fun things together only because no one else is doing it (like museums).


Core curriculum

This course will be for one hour each week and will deal with a variety of factors over the year. Consistent with the proverbial statement, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish” (okay, you know the rest), this course will not teach you WHAT to think, but HOW to think. This includes Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), philosophy and all aspects of culture and thinking. (I will expound on this in my next post).

Regarding hermeneutics, I will steer the students away from the Gnostic/Dualistic Biblical interpretation that is endemic in most Evangelical settings . . . including youth groups. No more “God showed me a verse this morning.” It will also be studying the Bible, looking for the intended meaning of the authors in their cultural context. No more closing your eyes, ramming your index finger into a random verse, and knowing that was God telling me to ”Ask you out to the prom.”

We will spend a lot of time on culture, understanding where it comes from and how to live within it (or above it at times). This is includes all of its contributing factors of history (secular history not just the Old Testament), psychology, sociology and politics. None of this will be the “Christian (meaning politicized) Perspective,” but the actual facts. None of our study of history will have anything to do with pointing to the “End Times.”

The purpose of studying culture is found in the previously mentioned proverb. If you teach kids what to think, then they must live the rest of their lives behind tightly arranged, high walls to protect themselves from everything that is not included in those “whats.” But if you teach a kid how to discern, then you open the entire world up to them to explore . . . without fear. No more worrying about the demon behind every video game, book, song etc.

The field trips would include:

1) Going to Walmart and loading up on toenail clippers, emery boards, lotion, towels and basins. Then we would drive to the “Nicholasville” homeless camp in Seattle. Offer free pedicures to all the homeless people. The youth would not be there to “Share the Gospel” nor even allowed to (unless, in some odd way, one of the homeless people demanded to know). Nor will we mention that we are from any kind of church. We will clean those stinky (and I’ve dealt with homeless people’s stinky feet before . . . gross) feet all day long and have a ball doing it. While we are trimming their nails and scrubbing their feet, we will talk to them . . . one person to another and asking and learning about their lives. We would see the beauty in every person.

2) We will go and visit the dean of the department of Evolutionary Biology at the U. of Washington. We will ask him to try and convince us that there is no God and all life forms evolved from nothing . . . by chance. We will say nothing back but just listen and take notes and thank them for their time. During out next core class, we will discuss what he/she said . . . their good points and their bad points. The clichés (lazy person’s way out of any argument), such as, “Well I know God is there because there is a God-shaped void in my soul that He fills” will NOT be allowed!

3) We will take field tips to visit art museums, science exhibits and concerns of all types of music. We will go to comedy clubs, poetry readings and philosophy discussion groups.

These are just starters. I will add more over the next couple of posts. Feel free to add your own under comments.


NOTAL said...

Good luck getting parents to sign up. I have a feeling that most parents would be rather reluctant.

Hope T. said...

My sixteen year old son would love to be a part of this group. The only thing he would be disappointed about is not having amusement park trips but I think he would quickly get over that.

Heck, I would love to be a part of this group even at my advanced age!
I think that what both of us (my son and I) would most appreciate is the feeling of being free of the box we've been placed in. My son has spoken of that often and I am coming around to see his point.

In my neck of the woods, they place a premium on what is called "habit formation". So while I think that your rule about not going to church just because you are supposed to is spot-on, the people around here would not approve since going to church is a good habit. However, I've seen some poor results of doing things "just because that is how we have always done them" which is basically what a habit is. There is probably a place for the habit of church attendance but perhaps it is when children are very young. If so, I wonder at what age and how they would be able to segue into making their own decision about church.

You have proably already thought of this but I would like to see the youth spending a lot of time outdoors just in what I would call unstructured appreciation of nature. I can't tell you how many times I have heard pastors condemn the attitude of "I can commune with God out at the fishing hole better than I can at church". Usually they are speaking of what some man in the church has told the pastor about why he does not show up at Sunday service very often. Well, now I think that maybe some people ARE closer to God at the fishing hole than at church. For that reason, I think fishing, hiking, biking or just being in nature would be a good idea. Also, I know my son (and I think others his age) do not get outside very much apart from organized sports games and most of us lose perspective from spending too much time indoors.

My favorite part of your post is the sentence "It will also be studying the Bible, looking for the intended meaning of the authors in their cultural context."
Just that one thing would be huge for youth but for adults as well.

Okay, I could go on and on but I will stop now :) Great post.

MJ said...

I can't imagine any church in the country that would go along with this plan. The sad reason is, Evangelical Cultural Idolatry. They would rather force their kids to go to Sunday morning Church service because the culture mandates it (you would have a very hard time finding such a directive in scripture without bending verses to their breaking point). So, most parents are more willing to allow their child walk away from the lord, and 80% do, than allow them to miss church. What would the neighbors think? What would the pastor think? It is like a small town on a cliff and kids keep walking off that cliff. Someone suggest they put up a fence and there is an outcry that tradition says that there should not be a fence to spoil the view.

When I started a horse church, we were embarking on the most significant development in our kids spiritual lives. However many people were horrified that we had taken them out of "church." There they were being forced to listen to long boring lectures that was above their heads, listen to music that they (and I ) hated and generally being taught that Christianity was about "faking it."

That's why I call the cultural things idols because they stand in the way of our kids best spiritual interests.

Speaking of the out of doors, I like that idea. I would to take the kids on a canoe trip or backpacking trip but the purpose of the trip is not to get them on top of a mountain with bright stars all around and make them have some emotional experience as proof that God spoke to them. (Years later that proof will fade and their confidence in God will as well). There's no problem in sitting up under the star-lit sky and being moved to tears by the greatness of God's creation but I just don't want to use the situation to manipulate the kids, like I've seen youth pastors do.

Anonymous said...

The one-liner that makes it:

"Being 'Stupid for Jesus' is no longer cool."

MJ said...

No it wasn't a church for horses . . it was a HOUSE church:>)

pennyyak said...

Hey, I want to be in this group too - with adults (maybe a few changes for this). Sounds utterly cool.

Anonymous said...

No it wasn't a church for horses . .My writing partner wouldn't mind.

His fannish handle is "Heavy Horse".

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...

We will go and visit the dean of the department of Evolutionary Biology at the U. of Washington. We will ask him to try and convince us that there is no God and all life forms evolved from nothing . . . by chance. -- MJ

What if you do that and find out the dean is a believer (theistic evolutionist)?

After stuffing the leaked-out brain tissue back into everybody's ears, you could take it in a whole 'nother direction. Like have the dean present the arguments for evolution and the current differences between the various schools and factions of evolution. Like clearing up common misconceptions (such as linear progress instead of branching bush) and putting them into historical perspective (like Stephen Jay Gould did in his essays).

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...

Oh man...this is so good...

Anonymous said...

Sign up my kids. Our church would love this.

Mike Bell

Hope T. said...

Although I am by no means an outdoorswoman, I think the perspective that I get when outside is one of being a part of something, of being connected to something "real" rather than the disconnect of being surrounded by all manmade items. Perhaps that sounds pantheistic but for me there is a difference. Then, this connectedness leads to questions about all manner of things and right now I am at a point in my life where I just need to let the questions come and not necessarily jump to answers. But the thing about church is that all I hear is answers. In fact, they don't even let the questions bubble up before they are right there with your answers on a platter. It is like going to a restaurant and not even getting a chance to order but just being brought something that does not match what you were hankering after at all.

But in the process of thinking about this, I remembered what it was like for me to be 14 years old and to be told by the nun teaching my religion class that we would be studying the Bible but just as a work of historical literature and nobody had to believe any of it. The part about the students not having to believe it was fine but I really wanted to hear that SHE believed it. I wanted to know that the adults in my life had found answers and that eventually when I grew up I would too. So I would not have wanted to know if they were questioning. I guess I am thinking that there is a tricky balance to be trod between questioning, doubting, etc. and still showing the youth something rock-solid to hold onto. Because rock-solid can quickly turn to a too rigid dogmatism and yet doubting can turn to the impression that the church does not have any answers which can occasion leaving the church altogether and God along with it.

Wow, as you say, it would take someone really gifted to do this.
A group like this for adults, as pennyyak says with a few changes, would be easier and "utterly cool". I wonder if starting with adults and then allowing the older youth to take part (say 16 and up) might be a way to start out.

(For clarity I just want to say that I was not Catholic but just attending a Catholic prep school at the time. I attended a Protestant church.)

Hope T. said...

Just wanted to say two more things (I promise; my family and I are going away for a few days so I won't be able to comment :) )

To clarify my earlier restaurant
comment: Jesus knew how to give what people wanted before they wanted it, as in "here is that living water you've been longing for". The person did not even realize what it was they wanted to "order". I guess the church thinks it is following suit in handing out living water but for me it has been anything but that.

Second comment: The same year I had that religion class, I also had a confirmation class at the Presbyterian church. We were supposed to learn what we needed to know to become full members of the church. I memorized the list of names and dates in church history that was handed out by the pastor but later found out that it was not expected that the kids would actually learn that stuff and it did not matter if we did or didn't. That is the only thing they gave us to study all year. I guess what I was looking for both from my religion teacher and from my pastor was some excitement about what they were presenting to us. I mean, if the Bible and church informed their lives, I expected some kind of joy and interest in it but they both seemed kind of bored. A few years later, I found evangelicalism and there, people were a little more excited about their faith (or at least they acted like they were) but they told me if I didn't think the same way they did about pretty much everything, I was going to hell. So I really wanted adults to tell me about their faith and how they viewed the church and Bible but I really did not want them to tell me what I HAD to think, believe and do.

Anna A said...

Do you have this class for us adults, yet?

I'd love to be in one myself.

Becky said...

Sounds like fun. When I was younger I used to loathe going to church. My mother used to give me advise, such as: “you need to get out of the house more and fellowship with other people.” I just didn’t want to! I wanted to do other things. I felt like I was a misfit and just didn’t belong. However, when I read The Missing Link by Drs. Richard & Phyllis Arno, I started to realize that my mother was right- Being in a fellowship with others of my same faith is important. Your idea would have actually be very appealing (it appeals to me now).