As we seek to rescue and reach a generation at risk it is imperative that we do not lose those growing up in our midst. Our goal must be that every kid and teenager has a growing relationship with Jesus Christ – firmly rooted in the Bible and Christian worldview; an authentic faith that they will not lose or walk away from when they are older. The statistics are alarming. Depending on who you listen too (Barna/Kinnamen/Etc) anywhere from 60-70% of those who grow up in the church leave by the time they are young adults and few return later on. Some abandon church while others abandon their faith altogether.
I find this alarming and totally unacceptable. Even if the reality is at the lower end, it is still a huge problem that we need to address. ‘Root’ is basically all about discipleship and spiritual transformation. Yet, many reduce this to pumping our kids and youth with more and more information and “truth” which will somehow guarantee they will not leave the faith. I think it is more complex than that and we need to address this on different levels. People walk away from God and the church for various reasons and we can’t lump them into the same box. For some they see a big discrepancy in what they hear and what they see lived out in the church community as well as at home. Others have honest questions and doubts that need to be addressed but seldom are. Overly simplistic or pat answers do not satisfy the younger generation. Still others experience a crisis in their life but do not have someone to walk it through with them and give them God’s perspective. Having your parents get a divorce is a prime example, especially if they are “Christians” and have been involved in church life. Experiencing a tragic death is another. “How could God let this happen?” I highly recommend Drew Dyck’s book, Generation EX-Christian, “Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith…And How to bring them Back Again,” as a guide to more fully explore these issues.
Perhaps part of the answer lies in better preparing this emerging generation to face and withstand the onslaught of Satan’s schemes by rooting them in fighting back against the lies about their morality, identity, value and worth that leads to chemical abuse, promiscuity, depression, loneliness and even suicide (which is an epidemic among teenagers today).
On the other hand, we will lose this generation if we do not offer them something compelling. Most young people today really want to make a difference and want their lives to count. If we don’t give them something to live and even die for, they will look elsewhere. If we don’t make room for them and give them space to be who they are, they will go somewhere else where they have that freedom.
What if we prepare them to live in Kingdom tension rather than trying to remove it? The tension of living in two worlds at the same time. Many feel pressure (some from us) to reject culture as all bad and evil or to accept it all and capitulate to it. When we try and over-protect them from the “outside” world they become suspicious and ill equipped to respond. We must move beyond a surviving mentality and inspire and equip this generation to go and make history and actually create the future. Let’s raise the bar for this generation rather than lower it. They will rise to the level of our expectations for the most part.
I think we need to fight for this generation and decide that losing even one is unacceptable. We need to make it really hard for them to walk away from God and the church. We need to be persistent and not give up on this generation. We need to listen to them and find out what their issues and questions are and walk it through with them. Sometimes they need someone older who can interpret events that don’t make sense to them and make them question God’s love or even his existence.
Rooting and raising up a generation is a community effort. It really does take a village to raise a child. Ground zero is and will always be the family. When faith is not being lived out at home it makes it really difficult for them to put their roots deep in God. We want on one hand to partner with parents in their effort to raise up their kids and youth to follow Jesus. But as a parent, I have realized that the most important thing I can do for my kids is to follow Jesus myself and live my faith out in authentic ways that they can see. For many who have not had the advantage of having parents or family in the church we have a unique opportunity to be a family to those who do not have one or never have. For me the church has become the family I never had and also a second family for my two sons. They have learned how to live for Jesus not only from Becky and me, but also from those in our church throughout the years.
Word to parents?
Please don’t make the mistake of taking your kids and young people out of church. You will absolutely regret it later! I have had many parents in tears tell me how they regret letting other things get in the way of church. Rooting our kids includes making church a priority. Your kids and teens need friends at church. If you and they spend all their time in other activities they will find friends elsewhere and come to believe that church is not important in their lives because it is not important to you. I see this especially with sports. I love sports as much as anybody but I have seen many of our young people drift away because of sports that took them away from Church, friends, and their faith.
Second, be active in their lives. Talk AND listen to them and discover who they are and what they are going through. Know their friends and what influences are pressing into their life. Know what’s going on with facebook and other social media. Don’t be the last to know.
Above all, be an example to them. Being a hero to your kids is not that hard because that is where you start with your kids. They naturally want to, and do see you as their heroes from day one.
AND…NEVER stop praying for your kids and remember that whatever happens it is never too late for God to work his wonder in their lives. Also please get this, God is BIGGER than any mistake you have or will ever make. That doesn’t let us off the hook for trying to be the best parent we can be, but it does remind us that God can work beyond our sin, mistakes, and brokenness. It’s called Grace. We need it, you need it, and this generation needs it!
Next Week: RELEASE: Equipping and empowering a generation to change the world!