Young people have their reasons for leaving church

Symptoms, we call them. When I can’t stop coughing, it’s an indication something is wrong in my lungs. When my truck will not start, there’s something wrong under the hood. When young people drop out of church, there’s something wrong. Dropping out is a symptom.

It’s not really news that many young adults stop attending church regularly after high school. New numbers show the situation is actually a little better now than 10 years ago.

But if we care about the people these numbers represent and the teenagers who are following them, then the reasons why they leave are very important.

Top five reasons for dropping out:

  1. Moved to college

  2. Judgmental or hypocritical church members

  3. Disconnected from people in church

  4. Disagreed with church’s political/social issues stance

  5. Work responsibilities prevented attendance

The LifeWay Research post said this:

Virtually all of those who dropped out (96 percent) listed a change in their life situation as a reason for their dropping out. Fewer say it was related to the church or pastor (73 percent); religious, ethical or political beliefs (70 percent); or the student ministry (63 percent).

Accurate, yes, but something very disturbing is said here. The change in life situation is a huge factor, but it’s not only that these young people moved out of the house. Church life bothered them to a high degree — 73, 70, and 63 percent.

These are young people who had been attending church regularly. They are not people from outside with impressions shaped by word of mouth, stereotypes, or the media. They didn’t like what they experienced INSIDE church.

Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry at LifeWay, said:

For the most part, people aren’t leaving the church out of bitterness, the influence of college atheists, or a renunciation of their faith.

True, but:

What the research tells us may be even more concerning for Protestant churches: there was nothing about the church experience or faith foundation of those teenagers that caused them to seek out a connection to a local church once they entered a new phase of life. The time they spent with activity in church was simply replaced by something else.

Read that paragraph again. Nothing about the church experience or the faith learned there “caused them to seek out a connection” to a church in a new place.

If this is true, it’s an indictment of our churches. How can a person go to church and not have an experience and a faith that people want to replicate in a new place?

Something is wrong; the symptoms are clear. Whatever the diagnosis, the treatment is clear — a healthy dose of Jesus.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.

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Russell Moore offers help for families

My copy of Russell Moore’s book, The Storm-Tossed Family, arrived this weekend. Russell:

These families of ours can be filled with joy, but will always make us vulnerable to pain. And the joy and the pain are pointing us to the same place: the cross. Nothing can show you that you are loved and that you belong like family–and nothing can strip away your crafted pretensions and comforting illusions like family [p. 3].

As I share this, I’m thinking that friends are in different places with their families. Some of you are in a real time of thankfulness for the love in your families, and some of you are hurting with pain. Both point us to the cross that symbol of God’s love, the pain that comes from love, and the hope that arises through love.

To my friends whose lives and families are storm tossed right now, you may want to recall the biblical story that Russell cites in the first chapter of his book. On a storm-tossed sea, with Jesus asleep in the boat, the disciples panicked. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). Jesus spoke to the storm, “Peace! Be still.” And peace came.

The storms of life do not respond too well to me. All I know is to give them to God, which isn’t easy for those of us who like to fix things.

Russell sites another storm and a boat with those same disciples.

Jesus, again was preternaturally calm, walking out on the storm-tossed waters themselves. When Peter attempted to join him, though, he was knocked down, not so much by the storm as by his own panic. . . . Jesus, of course, grabbed him by the hand [p. 4].

Peter took it.

May we today take Jesus’ hand of help in the midst of our panic. That “hand” is sufficient.

USA is no typical nation

People fleeing Western Europe in the 17th century created a unique civilization eventually called the United States. They left Europe but brought its ways and ideas with them — some that we cannot be proud of now, such as ideas of racial superiority, and some we can be proud of, such as unleashing human potential.
 
The English-centered nature of the U.S. civilization began, with time, to expand to be more broadly European, then more African, Hispanic, and Asian. (Africans participated from the start but were subjugated and oppressed. It took emancipation to free them to help lead this nation into its greatest days.)
 
Some things written 100 years ago about immigration can be instructive now. I’ve encountered two quotes lately that I love for describing the USA.
 
Randolph Bourne praised the United States as “the first international nation” in 1916.
 
Horace Kallen spoke of the USA as a “symphony of civilization” in 1915.
 
The historical context is different today, but I still like those two ways of describing and understanding the USA — an international nation and a symphony of civilization.

Trying to find the Jesus side of Christmas

There are always two sides to Christmas. There is the 2,000-year-old side of it with the Emmanuel Moment — God with us — in the birth of Jesus. Then there is the today side of our experience with the living Christ.

On the today side, if the subject of religion comes up, I often say to people that I’m a Jesus guy, at least I’m trying to be — the highest standard can never be fully met. The odd thing that happens is the look I get. People don’t seem to know what to do with that response — with a Jesus guy or gal.

I guess it’s easier to respond Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Calvinist, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever. Then we can put people into neat little contemporary boxes.

To say one is a Jesus person is to be a bit odd, I guess. I think it’s because most people only think of Christmas and Easter when they hear of Jesus — a miraculous birth, a brutal death, and an astounding resurrection.

New birth and death to ordinary life are part of what it means to be a Jesus person, but Jesus’ life conveyed so much more. He healed hurting people. He taught confused people. He challenged and confounded religious people. Most importantly he loved God and people.

When I say I’m trying to be a Jesus person this is what I mean. I’m trying to die to self and live to Christ — trying. I’m trying to bring healing to hurting people out of my own hurts. I’m trying to teach confused people out of my own confusion. I’m trying to challenge and confound religious people out of my own need to be challenged and confounded. I’m trying to love God and people.

A special star announced the first Christmas. Today, each Christ follower is a new star shining into darkness — pointing toward new life.

May we live with the awakening brought about by that first birth and all of the new births it has led to since that day.

Learning from George H.W. Bush

It’s easy to say we need more presidents or more politicians like George H.W. Bush. That lets the rest of us off the hook.

Joseph de Maistre famously said, “Every country has the government it deserves,” and, “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.”

We are not the same nation today as the one which nurtured Bush into maturity. This nation is always shifting and changing. It’s interesting that the U.S., in its 1992 incarnation, dumped this good and great man as president who had overseen the fall of the Soviet Union and led the nation to victory in a war to stop aggression — The Gulf War.

But here we are at now. We need a nation that nurtures and lifts up truly great leaders as it did with George H.W. Bush.

Whenever we learn of a person’s values, we should ask ourselves how they align with Jesus and the broader scriptural wisdom. So let’s try that with a few ideas attributed to Bush. His biographer, Jon Meacham, said Bush’s life code was “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course.”

Tell the truth. This is about as solid as it gets. It’s in the 10 Commandments — don’t bear false witness. Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” In other words, you should be so trustworthy that a simple “yes” or “no” will do; you don’t need to swear on your mother’s grave or anything else when you are trustworthy.

Don’t blame people. The first thing that comes to mind is Genesis 3 when Adam blames Eve for his sin, and she blames the serpent for her’s. It didn’t work; God punished all three. Proverbs 28:13 says we are not to conceal our transgressions, and blaming others is a way people often seek to do that. One other thought occurs to me. Blaming others is really childish behavior; it’s immature. The Apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” 1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV).

Be strong. Paul’s words come quickly to mind. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10, NIV). To live a life of character, to live a life for God requires courage and strength. It’s throughout the Bible.

Do your best. Try hard. Colossians 3:23: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (NKJV).

Forgive. This is at the core of Christianity. The model prayer asks God to forgive me as I forgive those who wrong me. In other words, we need and want God’s forgiveness. We should be like God and be forgiving of those who wrong us.

Stay the course. This one is a little tricky. Staying the course is a good thing if you are following a good path; it’s the opposite of what we need to do when we are on a bad path. Hebrews 12:1-2 talks about the importance of following Jesus with perseverance. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (NIV).

Those are a few of the values that characterized the way George H.W. Bush lived. They are consistent with Scripture. Bush, however, was not perfect. Like the rest of us, he can be open for criticism.

As we think of the late president, we can see shortcomings in ourselves and seek to be better Americans. Better yet, we can look to Jesus and seek to be better followers of Him. As we follow Christ, chances are we will choose leaders who can someday be eulogized as was George H.W. Bush.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.

Education is about raising awareness

I’m reading a fascinating book — Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover. She just used a word that unpacks the meaning of education — awareness. Education makes us aware of things we did not know before.
“I had started on a path of awareness,” she writes. And this new awareness caused her to “perceive something elemental about my brother, my father, myself.”
 
Her brother had been calling her the N- word, even though she was white. Previously she had not been fully aware of the truth about slavery and discrimination, but college had begun opening her eyes.
 
“I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either willfully or accidentally ignorant.”
 
Note “ignorant,” not unintelligent. Her family had remained unknowing of certain true things.
 
“I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others–because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.” (p.180)
 
This is why education is so important; it makes us aware of things we do not know. And our ignorance is affecting how we live our lives. Education gets us out of our prejudices, whether they be racial or whatever.

Finding joy by running in the wind

My brown, wavy hair once grew to touch my shoulders. At that same time, my legs could move me faster than most young men when running full tilt. It is odd to remember the sensation, but one of the things I loved then was to feel my hair blowing in the wind created by my own endeavor, my own speed.

Four decades later, I still think of letting my now-white hair grow long just so I can experience that sensation again. I surely cannot run as fast, but I think I could run fast enough.

Why did that sensation strike me then and stay with me so long. Maybe it was the feeling of freedom. Maybe it was not psychological at all. It could merely have been the molecules of my hair roots massaging my scalp in a way that is pleasing, as when you touch the skin of a newborn baby. Maybe a bit of both.

When riding my bicycle, the same thing happened — hair blowing in the wind (no helmet) — but I do not have memories of feeling the same satisfaction. It’s as if my subconscious self minimized the feeling when machine-aided; something inside me knew when it was my energy alone creating the thrill.

Have you ever noticed in real life the difference between the speeds of light and sound? It doesn’t happen often. I noticed it clearly once as I watched a car entering a freeway in Dallas and plowing into the backend of a Ram pickup. I saw it, before I heard it — clearly. It was about 50 yards in front of me. That’s the difference between the speeds of light (seeing) and sound (hearing) in very non-technical terms.

I’ve also seen it on highways as the smoke from braking tires is seen before the squeal is heard. (I drive too much.)

Those two speeds are constant (though it gets technical). The difference is always there, but we don’t usually notice it.

The key is noticing.

There may be another factor in my experience. I didn’t have it until I was in my upper teens.

I grew up with a crew cut (very short) then migrated to a longer-but-well-trimmed haircut. During my crew-cut years, I never experienced the sensation of hair blowing in the wind. When my hair got a little longer, hair blowing in the wind meant only that my well-oiled hairdo had been disturbed — not good when your hair has to look just so.

When, at about 17, I let my hair begin to grow longer (against Dad’s wishes), I experienced something new — for me.  Sometimes the wind, on its own, blew my hair this way and that into a mess. But running differed. When I ran, the wind pushed my hair back and away from my eyes, and I finally noticed the joy of it.

I felt free, as if in some small way I was escaping time and space and simply experiencing pleasure in that moment. We really need to at times to just feel the joy of being human — created in the image of God, who clearly loves joy.

Moral of the story: When we move through life using the gifts God has implanted in us we can experience great joys and little joys. When we don’t use those gifts, we never know what we are missing. That’s why it’s so important for us to tell each other about the little and odd joys that just come from living as the gifted persons God has made each of us to be. It may encourage someone else to live a little.

And here is one more thought: Some Christians seem afraid of freedom and joy. They are bound up in fear and anger. This is so sad. The world turned to Jesus because of the love, forgiveness, hope, joy, and celebration that He has brought to living. We need only notice it.

And, don’t tempt me, or I may let my white hair grow long, part it down the middle again, and run like the wind — or more like a breeze. Trese, however, would not like that look on me, so I may need to just dream it.