To quote the prophetess Whitney Houston….
I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way…
I don’t wish to sound fatalistic but perhaps that is inevitable given what I am writing. I am starting to despair of seeing real unity in the church. So many people are so set in their ways, so comfortable with church as we know it that ideas like community, family and unity garner very little interest. Heck, I am quite set in my ways although I am trying to ferret out my own blind spots as much as any person can be. For every person who keenly desires to grow beyond a Sunday-only community, there seem to be hundreds that see nothing wrong with an hour a week of “fellowship” and divisions between believers. Sure there will be, and are, pockets of people who reject the division and institutionalization of Christianity but the momentum of tradition and apathy are strong drivers. Short of a powerful moving of God among His people, things for the foreseeable future look a lot like how the culture sees the church.
That doesn’t mean this is hopeless. I actually think there is a very compelling reason to not give up and to keep hope alive. I think that this hope for unity lies in perhaps an unlikely source: the youngest among us, our youth and young adults. What would make me think that about this most maligned youth since the 60’s?
Our children and young adults are growing up in an America where many of our cherished institutions are crumbling. Organized religion, no matter how you slice it, is rapidly fading. The notion of American superiority and exceptionalism is being tested at every point. Many younger Americans look at the crisis in the social safety net and the crushing national debt as evidence that they should not harbor what has always been an article of faith in America, i.e. that each generation will be “better off” than the generations that preceded it.
It is easy to decry our youth as aimless slackers, more interested in texting and video games than anything substantive. Some of that is fully deserved but I see signs of hope among the younger generation of the church. In the church, our youth seem more concerned with “the least of these” than their predecessors. They seem less inclined to accept without question the cultural institutions that their parents assumed were correct. The huge numbers of young adults at theology conferences indicates that many younger Christians have a keen interest in learning more about God and studying the Scriptures. While there might be fewer kids and young adults in church gatherings, the ones that do show up seem far more informed and enagaged, willing to ask hard questions and make changes where necessary.
My hope is that the youth and young adults in our area will grow up to eschew denominational and creedal boundaries and seek fellowship and community with one another, unified in the mission of Gospel proclamation and serving the least of these in our community. Of course this sense of mission must be coupled with an unwavering orthodoxy. All of this is going to require an investment of time and effort on the part of parents and older adults and of course as I mentioned far too many people don’t think there is a problem or perhaps they sense there is a problem but think the solution is “more of the same”. There is one difference now that didn’t exist in prior generations, what I think of as this generations Gutenberg printing press, the internet. A combination of a tech savvy youth and a plethora of great resources on the web means that non-traditional viewpoints have a voice unlike anything they have had before.
Jesus promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against His Church and I believe that to be true. Even as Christendom is in the midst of its death throes, the future is brighter than it has been in a long time. Instead of bribing and begging kids to stay in church, it is high time we challenge kids and young adults to step up and be leaders. I am confident that they will respond far better to an expectation to do more than being treated like slackers who can’t handle the truth.