“The Kids Haven’t Changed. You Have.”

I see a lot of talk online about ‘Millenials’, and almost all of it is negative. It’s been going on for years now. Recently I saw a video in which a young woman apologizes on behalf of millenials everywhere for them being so awful. This video was shared widely by, you guessed it: people 35 years old and up.

A few years ago I went to a conference in Colorado Springs with Jeff, the Administrative Pastor at White Fields. The conference was put on by Barna Research Group and was about ministry to Millenials.

There were a few really good points made at the conference. One was that it’s going to be really hard to reach young people if they feel that you disdain them and don’t like them. The other one was, that despite all the chatter that Millenials are lazy, self-centered and entitled, if you really look at the virtues of this generation, you will see things like: they are heroic – they want to do great things and save the world! What if that was harnessed and directed towards good goals? That youthful zeal could accomplish many great things.

Here’s what I think: Each generation of adults is quick to forget that older people looked at their generation and thought the same things about them that they now think about Millenials. Remember GenX?  Remember Generation Y?  Remember how in the 90’s everyone thought the sky was falling and that the GenX-ers were never going to get jobs and move out of their parents’ basements?

Or how about we go back even a little bit further, to 1985, to John Hughes and The Breakfast Club. Remember the conversation between Vern the assistant principle and Carl the janitor?  Here’s a clip to refresh your memory:

“The kids haven’t changed. You have.”

Good point, Carl.

One of the things I appreciate most about the association of churches I found myself in as a young person (Calvary Chapel) was that they encouraged young people’s zeal, and gave them outlets for it. As a young person I had the opportunity to go overseas, full of zeal and idealism, and serve Jesus. I will forever be thankful for that opportunity. They didn’t squash my zeal, they gave me an outlet for it. They didn’t tell me that if I wanted to serve God then I needed to go to school for 6 years first and get a degree in Youth Ministry, until I came out tired and so burdened with debt that I wouldn’t dare do anything daring. Being busy serving God and working with churches as a missionary probably kept me from the siren call of temptation and other vain pursuits.

How about instead of bemoaning this up and coming generation, we encourage them to use their enthusiasm and heroism for God’s mission and give them plenty of opportunities to do so?

 

Bad Church Statistics

I ran across this article this week about Bad Church Statistics and the lies that are commonly believed as a result. I’ve copied the 7 myths part below, which is the core of the article.

I don’t know about you, but I have heard almost all of these before. I guess the sky isn’t falling quite as bad as we’ve been told it is. But, as Winston Churchill said: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

Myth #1. The divorce rate among Christians is as high as that of nonbelievers.

Reality: Christians have significantly lower divorce rates than the religiously unaffiliated. Further, the more regularly a Christian attends church, the less likely that person is to divorce.

Myth #2. Christian young people are leaving the Christian faith in record numbers.

Reality: It’s true that younger people are less affiliated with church than older people, but that’s the case in every generation since scholars began tracking it. We always need to help the next generation connect with church, but the overall percentage of Americans who affiliate with evangelical churches has remained rather stable for the last 30 years.

Myth #3. The majority of American evangelicals are poor and uneducated.

Reality: This quote from the Washington Post has some truth to it. The problematic term is “the majority of” which should be replaced with “many.” On average, evangelical Christians are less well educated than mainline Protestants, Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated. But evangelicals cover a wide spectrum from poorly educated to highly educated. Themajority, however, are not poor and uneducated.

Myth #4. The prayer life of American evangelicals is diminishing.

Reality: It turns out that evangelical prayer is on the increase. For example, 75% of evangelicals today pray on a daily basis, compared to 64% of those in the 1980s.

Myth #5. Evangelicals are less active in sharing their faith with others.

Reality: About half of all evangelicals report sharing their faith with non-believers, and rates of evangelism have held rather steady over the past several decades. This evangelism rate is more than double the rate of mainline Protestants and Catholics, and is higher than most other religions. We all have family and friends who seek a closer relationship with God, plus we know of entire people groups that have little exposure to the Gospel, so let’s keep ramping up our efforts.

Myth #6. Evangelicals preach one thing about sex outside marriage, but practice another.

Reality: Actually, evangelicals have relatively low rates of adultery, premarital sex and pornography usage, and these decrease with more frequent church attendance.

Myth #7. The more educated you become, the more likely you are to give up your faith.

Reality: Belief and practice grow stronger with increased education, evangelicals included.

Something Worth Fighting For

A few days ago I was talking with a friend, who is also a pastor, and we got on the topic of marijuana legalization here in Colorado, and the issue of Christians and recreational weed.

This pastor friend of mine said something to the effect of: our twenty-somethings are already so apathetic, the last thing they need is to get stoned all the time.

While I agree that getting stoned and checking out on life is dissipation, I told this friend of mine that I strongly disagree with his generalization about young people being apathetic.

The words I would use to describe those coming out of high school and college would be much different. I would say rather than “apathetic”, they are heroic. They are idealistic. They are people of action.

It is a highly discussed phenomenon, that young people, especially in the age range of 18-30 tend to disappear from church, only to reappear in their 30’s. A plethora of conferences, books and blog articles try to solve the problem of how to get these people to stay in church. Many theories as the to reason for this have been postulated, such as that young people need to come to faith on their own, or that they go off to “enjoy their twenties” by sinning a bunch, and then return to the church once they are married and have kids and realize how much they need the Lord!

Here’s what I think: one of the reasons why the church has trouble retaining twenty-somethings, is not because they are apathetic, it’s because we struggle to give them sufficient outlets for their heroic aspirations to change the world and make a difference.

I believe that young people are chomping at the bit to do something significant and change the world. I was that way when I was fresh out of high school – I didn’t want to spend 4 years at college; I felt that time was of the essence, and I wanted to get out there and change the world NOW. I realize now that in order to make significant change and contribution, some investment is necessary, e.g. doctors go to school for a long time, and as a result they are able to save lives. But as a young man, I wasn’t apathetic at all, and I don’t believe young people today are apathetic in the least. I believe they are heroic.

But if young people are as heroic as I claim they are, why do so many of them waste their 20’s smoking weed and going nowhere?

I believe it’s because they don’t have sufficient vision and they don’t have sufficient outlets for their heroic longings. They haven’t been given something worth living for, something worth dying for – something worth fighting for. And so, as a result, they direct their enthusiasm towards useless things.

For many young people, the only vision the church gives them is to go to groups and sit around talking. That is less than compelling for many of them. They desire community, but they want dynamic community – and they want an outlet through which they can be used by God to change the world. I don’t think that’s wrong – in fact, I think it is very much in line with the Gospel.

Another thing about young people today, is that they don’t just want to be given a task, they want to understand the vision for WHY that task is important, necessary, crucial to a greater mission – and what the end goal of that greater mission is.

I believe the challenge for the Church today is to give direction and vision to these heroic young people for how they can be used by God to bring His love to others and instigate redemption and transformation in the world, so that their heroism doesn’t get crushed by the weight of life and turn into apathy.

I have heard it said by leaders before: “I would rather have to reign in a racehorse, than kick a mule to get it moving.”
I think that’s where we need to be with young people: giving them outlets for their heroic longings, while yet being present to teach, guide and direct, so that their enthusiasm isn’t wasted by being spread out in so many different directions.

Young Life in Longmont

A few months ago, my wife and I were talking with some people from White Fields – and the topic of Young Life came up. This friend of ours was telling us how she had been involved in volunteering at a YL camp up near Winter Park. Then another friend from White Fields told us that he had applied for a job up at that same camp.

So my wife and I had this conversation: “I wonder if Young Life is doing anything in Longmont…”

A few weeks later, historic flooding happened right here in Longmont. Houses were flooded, roads were washed out. Lots of destruction.

As one does, I went to go check out the destruction. Here’s the picture we took of Sunset Street in Longmont:

Image
Sunset Street – owned by the St Vrain River

As we’re standing there, some other guys come up and stand right on the edge of the road. I tell the guy: “Hey, watch out, that’s not stable!” Then somehow we got to talking – they asked if I was from Longmont, they told me they recently moved to town from Boulder. I asked what brought them to Longmont – and they told me: “We moved here to start a Young Life branch for the St. Vrain Valley.”

“Really?” I said. “I’m the pastor of a church here in town and my wife and I and some people from church were just talking about how we would love to work with Young Life here in Longmont.”

And that is how I met Ben and Tim, who are heading up the new Young Life branch in the St Vrain Valley.

Since then, they’ve started doing Wyld Life meetings for middle schoolers here in town, and had great turnouts. I’ve gotten together with them a few times – in fact, I just had lunch with them again today. They are great guys, doing great work.

Check out what they are doing – it’s great stuff. The meetings they do are fun and are a safe environment for kids in middle school – and they love parental involvement. Here is their website: St Vrain Valley Young Life