Tuesday, February 21

Failure of imagination

The reason that so many young people are walking away from church is that they were not properly taught about the reliability and defendability of the scriptures when they were children in Sunday School. That argument is the essence of a blog rant that I was recently sucked into reading hoping that the writer might have some helpful insights.

I would humbly suggest that the blogger has it backwards. As I see it, the real reason that we are failing to develop mature, convinced, and convincing followers of Christ among the younger generations is that we are still thinking like we’re in the 1970’s and 80’s. That is, we are assuming that the kids somehow got the facts wrong.

If we’d just throw some more facts at the them and demonstrate the scientific reliability of those facts, it would fix things.

To the contrary, though, this generation has been exposed to more data, gone to more youth ministry events, had access to more online conversations, and has done more Bible study led by trained experts than any generation before them. But they still aren’t getting it.

I’m not suggesting that the facts are unimportant -- just that our approach to them is an attempt to itch a scratch that most people don’t seem to be feeling right now. In other words, we, including me, are answering questions that people aren’t really asking. And then the answers we give are misinterpreted because they fit better in a different context.

The issue, as I see it, is that we have failed to capture the imagination of this generation. In spite of our good intentions, we’ve reduced the gospel to a bunch of reliable facts to be mastered, experiential hurdles to be jumped, and approved political positions to be adopted. Formulas! It’s no wonder that younger people, nurtured in a post-formula world, are backing off and are so slow to jump in with both feet.

The solution?

There is no solution. This isn’t a problem to be solved. It is a relationship to be repaired. We do that by listening and then by talking with them in the languages they understand. And I’m not speaking about some version of youth dialect, fashion statements, or musical styles. Such have little to do with it. (Those are 1982 solutions!)

The appropriate languages are are those of radicalism (not extremism but radical in the true sense of the word -- “rootedness” in Jesus himself), holism (we’ve been feeding them dessert and pretending that’s the whole meal), and loving authenticity (genuineness, no staged performances, nothing pre-packaged for success... ).

If we do these things will we right the wrong? Not likely. It’s too messy. But perhaps the mess itself will be the thing which God uses to capture the collective imagination of the rising generations.

I'm trusting that this is already becoming the case.

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