Tuesday, June 9, 2009
The Life Span of a Christian
I had a conversation the other day with a friend from church. "Jeff" is in his late-40s and has been an active member of the church for a very long time. I could tell something was troubling Jeff, so I asked him to share.
"Where are all the young people?"
I asked him to say more.
"It makes me sad that there aren't more youth and young adults in worship. I look around and all I see are people my age or parents with small children. Where are the kids in their teens and 20's?"
As we continued to talk, my friend shared the story of his faith journey. It was not unlike most others I had heard. He was reluctantly taken to church as a child, drifted away after confirmation, worshiped on Christmas Eve as a young adult to make his mom happy, got married, had a kid, and got reconnected after his child's baptism. It was a that moment that the light bulb went off.
Jeff came to the astonishing conclusion that he was no different than the very people he was chastising for being MIA.
We continued talking about how important it is for the church to continue reaching out to youth and young adults. We covered the main buzz words like "creativity", "innovation", "renewal" and "emerging". We knew that, just because many young Lutherans drift away after confirmation and (hopefully) return in adulthood doesn't mean that's a good thing. We just didn't have any ideas of what that kind of ministry looks like.
* * *
Later that night, I couldn't sleep. I thought about my conversation with Jeff...contemplated my own journey...and considered the stories of two Biblical big shots.
Moses -- he lived the life of an Egyptian prince, fled to the desert, farmed for a while, got married, and eventually came back to lead God's people to freedom. Moses was well into adulthood when he claimed his identity as a child of God, after having nothing to do with Yahweh up until then.
Jesus -- we know a lot about his birth and a "Home Alone"-style fiasco in the temple when he was 12...and then...nothing until he's about 30-years old. He grew in "wisdom and understanding", but what does that mean? He made nice shelving units in his dad's carpentry shop? He did miracles and signs and wonders around the neighborhood? What happened in his formative years? When Jesus finally appeared on the scene as an adult, had 3 good years of ministry, and then died.
There are many other examples of faithful God-followers that started young and continued throughout their lives (Jeremiah, Samuel, David, etc.). However, in light of the inverse bell curve of Christian involvement in many churches, I began to wonder:
What is the life-span of a Christian?
Are we wired to be people that are constantly growing in faith until the day we die?
Is it acceptable to ride the waves of doubt and certainty throughout our lives?
Does everyone have their time in the desert, a la Moses?
Does a person who remains active in a church during their young adult years become disconnected in their 40s & 50s, when other people their age become reinvested in their faith community?
Are churches needlessly banging their heads against a wall while trying to figure out what to do with the 13 - 30 crowd?
Should we invest our denominational efforts in creating para-church entities that take the place of a congregational focus? (A.k.a. create a theologically-sound alternative to Young Life or Campus Crusade for Christ.)
* * *
My tendency is to say that the church, which is the body of Christ, must remain central in the ministry that it does with people of all ages and stages in the journey. I'd like to think that we can be all things to all people. I subscribe to the theory that most churches have become (for lack of a better word) LAZY when it comes to engaging youth and young adults in meaningful ways...and there are lots of people / organizations that will gladly fill the void.
The big question, of course, is "how do we do this?" How does an established, mainline, intergenerational congregation go about nurturing faith among those in their teens and 20s?
Please provide the correct answer below. Thanks...