honestly, i've been down this road many times in youth ministry, so i was ready to try something different. posted here are some pretty low quality pictures i took of the music, TV shows, movies, and websites our teens consume the most. the something different happened after we collected this list of media.
what was this different approach?
i let them lead the talking.
"look at these lists," i said. "are there themes or messages that stand out?"
now, i have to admit, my Junior Highers were the real "mature" group this week. they got it. they were honest.
one student said, "all these things are about having fun. the music, movies, and TV shows we like are about people having fun."
i made some air quotes because air quotes are totally hip and communicate tremendously with today's youth and said, "somebody define having fun as it is represented in this stuff you watch or listen to."
now things got tricky. you see, they had to admit that most of the songs they listen to, shows they enjoy, and websites they frequent define "fun" using sexual images, references to drinking or doing drugs, or having lots of money and stuff. this is what THEY said. i kid you not. i'm not making this stuff up.
so what does this mean? how does the church compete with this? how can we compete with the "Red Solo Cup" song or "Glee"? what do we do when shows like "How I Met Your Mother" and "Grey's Anatomy" are regularly consumed by teens? should we care? does this matter?
we talked about two biblical concepts:
1) What's in you will come out: Matthew 12:34-35, "For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him."2) Loving Jesus is about moving from darkness to light: Luke 11:34-35, "Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness."
i ask again, "Does this matter?" Jesus says it does, so why don't we (including ME in that WE) do anything to change what we see with our eyes, hear with our ears - the media we consume? because, as Jesus says, what we put in will come out, and that could get ugly.
It got me thinking:
In order to answer these questions we must begin to “imagine the end.” That’s what we do in so many other areas of life, why not with faith? That is, if we truly consider faith to be not just important, but The Most Important thing our children can own.
“The real idea of the course,” he put it in an interview, “is to develop heightened sensitivity and a noticing capacity. So baseball’s not ‘the’ road to God. For most of us, it isn’t ‘a’ road to God. But it’s a way to notice, to cause us to live more slowly and to watch more keenly and thereby to discover the specialness of our life and our being, and, for some of us, something more than our being.”
“Ascetical is an athlete’s word. It means training for excellence. It is the practice of the disciplines that fit us for performing our very best in an event.”
“Excellence isn’t about working extra hard to do what you’re told. It’s about taking the initiative to do work you decide is worth doing.”
Books, articles, and research telling us that and why students are leaving faith after high school are all the rage these days. From Almost Christian to You Lost Me, the numbers being reported aren’t encouraging. Some are suggesting that 40-50% of our Christian students will leave the faith once they graduate.
This post isn’t a suggested remedy or alarmist reaction to these trends. Instead, I want to look at one of the suggested reasons as to why students are leaving the church. I believe it’s one we need to debunk. It goes something like this:
When our Christian students go to college they are bombarded with teaching that is largely secular, even anti-religious. When they come up against these teachings they tend to trust their professors and begin doubting the faith they grew up with. This doubting leads them to leave the faith.
While this may be partially true, I wonder whether this is as significant a factor as some make us want to believe.
In his book Souls in Transition, Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith says,
“For contemporary emerging adults, going to college does not increase the ‘risk’ of religious decline or apostasy as it did in the not-too-distant past. Some evidence now even suggests that it may actually decrease that risk, compared to not attending college.” (251)
Going to college, according to this study, may actually increase the likelihood of students having a faith that lasts, and isn’t that our goal?
Likewise, I came across an article entitled, “Religion and Class: From Harvard to the Quick Stop.” Again, written by a sociologist from Missouri State University looking into the effects of college attendance on religious faith. Schmalzbauer writes,
“Recent studies of religion and higher education have found that college-educated Americans are less likely to drop out of church. In a 2007 article for Social Forces, Patheos Blogger Mark Regnerus and his colleagues reported that “emerging adults that avoid college exhibit the most extensive patterns of religious decline, undermining conventional wisdom about the secularizing effect of higher education.”
There are other fascinating statistics that suggest colleges are a place where religious affiliation is rising that you can read in the full article.
So college may actually be good for maintaining faith? If this article is correct, what does this mean for students and families who cannot afford college or for whom college is not a viable option? There are surely other options for helping our graduates “keep the faith,” but I think these studies are on to something.
I’ve been thinking recently about the students who take a year or two off before school to work and earn money for college. I’ve also been more aware of our students who are attending the local community college while living at home. It has been very hard to connect these students to any ministries in the life of the church. They aren’t “youth group” age anymore though a part of me grieves the distinction we’ve made in youth ministry between an 18 year old high school senior and a college freshmen, yet another part of me believes it is simply a stage in growing up, maturing, and moving on in one’s faith journey.
So what do we do with these “souls in transition,” particularly the ones who do not immediately attend college or those who are not traditional students living in the dorms in some far away city? I realize that the problem isn’t something that happens upon graduation. Instead, the problem with kids walking away from faith has everything to do with faith development during their childhood and early adolescence. That being said, this is OUR problem to address. Parents, students, youth pastors, churches – these are OUR kids, and we need to prepare them better for what is next. Whether that is traditional four-year university or continuing to live at home to earn money or begin a technical career, it is our job to raise children to know and love the Lord. Not just for the time that they are in our homes or stuck in our youth programs, but for their lifetime!