Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why Do Our Kids Leave the Church - Part II - A Possible Solution, Step 3 (and Final)

When I was taking a basic physics course in college, to keep things simple, we had real-life problems but were allowed to ignore important factors such as the coefficient of friction. So far, I’ve ignored the coefficient of parents, which as my wife pointed out, would be a deal breaker.

Certainly, I, as youth pastor, would have to have a meeting with the parents in the beginning. Then, there must be a parallel course with them. In this idealized, fictional world, I imagine that the senior pastor or someone else has the exact same vision as me and is willing to lead that small group . . . or it possibly would have to fall on my shoulders.

This parent small group would be looking at many of the same issues as their kids, understanding both the American evangelical culture that we are in, and the post-modern secular culture in which we are immersed.

But another fundamental process would have to take place. There needs to be a lowering of the level of dis-honesty among the parents (increasing candor in other words). This of course takes time and trust. But eventually, this small group of parents would hopefully feel safe enough to start taking about their own problems . . . looking for support and help. In any given church there are secret issues among the parents of things like, 1) alcoholism, 2) prescription drug abuse, 3) pornography addiction (a recent survey mentioned on imonk said that 52% of pastors confess to having looked at internet porn in the previous year), 4) emotional affairs (where there is no sex but you confine and find more emotional support from an opposite sex friend than your own spouse), 5) sexual affairs and not to mention the more ambiguous ones like materialism. But it is my humble opinion that one of the biggest drivers of the youth away from the church is the hypocrisy they see within their own homes.

My parents were good Baptist who opposed all forms of alcohol. That’s why I was so shocked to find a secret stash of about 20 bottle of hard stuff in my parents' bedroom. When I found it, at age 12, I first attempted to get drunk on it (acting out) and I decided I would never go to church with them again. I’m not saying that the parents should throw out their alcohol. I like Alaskan Amber beer a lot. I’m talking about the hypocrisy of preaching that alcohol drinking is sin at church, but being an actual alcoholic in secret. Plus these parents need help to overcome these problems . . . they can’t do it alone.

So in closing this topic (it could go on for a hundred posts) I want to mention a few more things that I would like to do with the kids.

Deconstruction of the Evangelical Sub-culture:

I've attempted twice, in real life, to create a course like this for youth groups. Both times I brought fear to the pastors of those chruches. This course would be simply the process of separating simple Biblical teaching from the complexities of American, Evangelical Christian Subculture. I think this helps kids a lot and keeps them away from the legalism that eventually break their spirits.

It starts as an open discussion about this concept that some things come from culture and only a few things are mandated in scripture. It takes great discernment to tell the difference.

Part of this class would be looking at the psychology of our Christian social circles. A real ice-breaker to this discussion would be watching the movies, "Saved" and "Jesus Camp." Of course both movies are distortions of the American church, but they do stir up some real issues. We wouldn't just watch these movies and move on. We watch them, look at the backgrounds of the producers, directors and writers (trying to grasp their perspectives that may taint their views). Then we honestly open the discussion of what about these movies are true to real life and which ones are not. It really can open a wonderful can of worms.

After spending the first four weeks deconstructing our own culture, then we want to learn about the larger-secular culture in which we live. Schaeffer's works, the book Escape From Reason and his movies series (although now dated) are great tools. While kids want to roll their eyes at this stuff (in the old montra) thinking ignorance is bliss or "Jesus wants you to be stupid" or "use faith not worldly knowledge" doesn't work. Kids can understand this stuff if they are willing and the teacher knows enough about it to teach it in a simply way.

While we are working through the first two courses we will certainly use scripture for a reference routinely. However, another great barrier to helping our kids is the concept that ONLY scripture should be used in church.

The worst example of this mentality was a man I met at a homeschooling conference. He had a long beard and his wife a bonnet (both looked like an American version of the Taliban). He raised his voice and declared (as we were having a discussion) "The Bible is the only book allowed in our home!" How sad. Those poor kids don't have a chance.

I was teaching an adult Sunday School class in Minnesota, a large E. Free Church. It was a class of about 30 adults. Most of us traveled from a large area to meet and we really didn't now each other. I decided to break up into small clusters (each week) and for the first 10 minutes answer an ice-breaker question, share a personal prayer request, pray and then come back together. The "ice breaker" questions were simply, "Where were you born?" "How did you meet your wife?" "What do you do for a living?"

The first time I did this, one man became very, very angry. He threw his chair back and marched out of the room. My wife was in his cluster so she followed him into the hall. He was in pure rage. By having people answer these personal questions, in his opinion, was a humanistic ploy that did not belong in a church. Only Bible teaching belonged in the church.

This is the same barrier I've run into with kids. There is so much for them to know and it is beyond Bible stories. They had Bible stories beat into their head since they were little. When you start to look at other things, rather than just scripture, many parents have a celestial coronary.

Besides using scripture as a frequent reference, the next course would be about hermeneutics. I want the kids from that point on know how to fish. So we will not spend a lot of time in Bible study . . . but a lot of time in "How to read and study the Bible."

I think I've said enough on this topic and will end it here. I was going to to into more of the field trips for example to a hospice center and talk to dying people, go and talk to all kids of non-Chistians, Buddhist, Mormons, atheists . . . because, it is my belief that it is far better to have you kid's faith challenged intensely, while you are around to help them sort it out, than to just "protect them" from any outward challenge . . . then when they are in college or have moved away, they meet these challenges alone.


Anonymous said...

Hey, um, can thirty-somethings join the youth group?

hippimama said...

Please, this is too important not to do -- could you consider some kind of online version for kids (and their parents)?

MJ said...

A few people have asked about a course like this for adults. I did do a program like this at Grace Evangelical Free Church in Rochester, MN (back around 2000) The title was From Eden to the New Age, and was basically look at church/secular history from a bird's eye view and with a goal of a better understanding of our Evangelical subculture and post modernism. To took a good 12 months.

For reasons I'm not sure about, I'm not really allowed to teach in my present church. I think because everyone (including the pastor) thinks I some kind of wacko. They did let me show the Francis Schaeffer series "How Shall we Then Live" last fall. I highly recommend it (although it is now a little dated). You can order it at:


Justin said...

True confession time: Alaskan Amber is my absolute favorite beer of all time. I was accused of bootlegging at a time before it was available in my area. Mmmmmmmmmmm...

Um, I'm sorry... you were talking about church... carry on...

Justin said...

Okay, seriously:

I have been following this series, and I think it's great. I find myself going through exactly this as an adult, but I had to leave church to do it... that makes me sad. Regardless, I hope to do this with my kids, and I have already had opportunity with my oldest (9 yrs old) to start the process. I hope to go through the process together with all my kids.

Thanks, MJ.

pennyyak said...

"celestial coronary" I've had a few of those. Funny.

I really like hippimama's idea for an online version, although it would take an incredible amount of effort. Might have to be an "open source" project - lots of contributors. Anyway, it's an idea, when you have 6 months or so with nothing to do!

NOTAL said...

Sounds like a great course for youth (or adults). Do you think that teens on large would engage enough to make it work? From working with the youth a couple years ago, and being a youth not too long ago, it always seems incredibly hard to get teens to want to do something that that is not entertaining or amusing.

MJ said...

Notal (are you trying to confuse me with your name changes pop?) I'm sure that many youth, who have been taught (both by pop society and christian society) that it is cool to be dumb, may put of a bored fight. But someone more talented than I am could present it in such a dynamic and meaningful way that I think the majority could be on board.

NOTAL said...

I changed my name to match the title of the blog I started pop. I've used NOTAL as my screen name for a while. "NOTAL" is what you get when you try to type "BRYAN" if you assume that the keyboard is Dvorak, but the keyboard is actually QWERTY.