Young Adults Who Wander from Faith (You Lost Me 3)

I want a pair of Google glasses.

A pair of glasses that are basically a computer in your field of vision.  How cool would they be?

I actually got into an argument with some of my students a few months back.  They seemed more skeptical then me about the possibility or usefulness of something like this.  It is almost like they do not appreciate how quickly technology is changing and developing!

I am 32 years old.  I remember the first time I went on the internet: in the tech ed classroom in high school, back in 1997.  Somehow I made it through college without owning any sort of computer!  I used computer labs on campus.  I did not get a cell phone until 2003.

Freshman college students are 18 now which means they were maybe 2 or 3 when I first went on the internet.  They do not remember a time without the internet.  Not only do they all have cell-phones, they have phones that can go on the internet anytime and anywhere.

I don’t think they appreciate how amazing that is!  Though I am sure my parents might say I do not appreciate how amazing things are that they did not have that I take for granted.

David Kinnaman writes:

In this chapter I argue that the next generation is so different because our culture is discontinuously different. That is, the cultural setting in which young people have come of age is significantly changed from what was experienced during the formative years of previous generations. In fact I believe a reasonable argument can be made that no generation of Christians has lived through a set of cultural changes so profound and lightning fast. Other generations of Christ-followers have endured much greater persecution. Others have had to sacrifice more to flourish or even survive. But I doubt many previous generations have lived through as compounded and complicated a set of cultural changes as have today’s Christians in the West.

Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 538-543). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.

This change is not limited to technology, but that is a primary area.  Kinnaman tells a humorous story about how a friend of his recalls going to see Star Wars numerous times in theaters because, in the 1970s, he was not sure if he’d ever see it again.  There were no DVDs (or VCRs) yet.  To see it outside of a theater, you’d have to wait till it was shown on television.  What we have today is unlimited access to almost anything.

Whenever my wife asks me a question about something, from how to fix a broken appliance to where to find a recipe, I respond, “did you ask Google?”   Access to the internet, unlimited access to all the information we want or need, changes everything.

How does this access to information via rapidly and ever-changing technology change how we talk about faith?

Kinnaman talks a little about how this can be an opportunity for the church.  One thing that jumped out at me was that young people do not just want to be passively soaking in whatever a preacher says, they want to engage and participate.  Perhaps one reason some walk away from the faith is that the church services they attend are very passive: all the action is on stage and done for an audience, kind of like a movie or concert.

Though, you could argue church was never meant to be a passive experience for most in attendance.  So maybe technology will drive us back to the original idea of a community in which all have, as Paul says, “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Corinthians 14:26).

What can be done to allow more interaction and participation in our faith communities?

Young Adults Who Wander from Faith (You Lost Me 2)

David Kinnaman, in his book You Lost Me, notes that there are three broad ways of wandering from the faith.

Nomads walk away from church engagement but still consider themselves Christians.

Prodigals lose their faith, describing themselves as “no longer Christian.”

Exiles are still invested in their Christian faith but feel stuck (or lost) between culture and the church.

Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 321-324). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.

I find this not only helpful, but true to my experience with college students.

I wonder, though, how much of this is the church’s problem and how much is the youth culture’s problem.

It is tempting to look at statistics, books and stories such as these and lay all the blame at the church’s doorstep.  The church is blamed for being old-fashioned and too traditional.  We complain that the church is too political or spends time fighting the wrong battles.  Through all of this, young people, who may otherwise desire to know Christ, lose interest and drop out.  Kinnaman notes this, saying, “most young Christians are struggling less with their faith in Christ than with their experience of church” (Kindle Location 351-352).

At the same time, we do live in a selfish culture (perhaps I should say a selfish world as selfishness is not limited to one culture).  Much of what we learn from American culture goes directly against discipleship to Jesus Christ.  Young people are told their life is all about them and their own happiness and comfort.  Yet Jesus does not seem too interested in our happiness and comfort.  They are told to find themselves and be true to themselves .  Yet Jesus wants people to look away from themselves and find him.

In other words: If the church just changed every last thing to reach out to disillusioned youth, would there be anything left to make the church unique?

I think of some common criticisms of Christianity I have heard over the years:

Christianity is so intolerant, don’t you realize that all religions are equal paths to God?

You Christians are no fun.  I want to get drunk every weekend.

Christianity is so old-fashioned.  You have to test-drive the car before you buy it so I’m going to have sex with whoever I want whenever I want.

I’d go to church if it was more fun, like a rock concert.

The fact is that Christianity claims Jesus is unique, that there is right and wrong and that having a fun time is not the most important thing in life.

There are certainly plenty of areas where Christian communities are at fault and have needlessly driven people, especially young people, away from involvement.  Yet there are other areas where the church just might be right in standing its ground.

We are quick to listen to the critiques of the young…and we should do that.  But perhaps older people, even long-dead people who were followers of Jesus, also have some good things to teach us.

All of this reminds me of the time Jesus told the guy to sell all he had…and when the guy wouldn’t do it Jesus let him walk away!  How easy it would be to say all Jesus did wrong in driving this man away from faith.  How many of us would be critical of Jesus for having such high standards?  Maybe, harsh as it sounds, the best thing for some people is to let them wander.

Of course, if the Christian church ever listens to Jesus and gets serious about nonviolence, loving our enemies and even dying for them we might see a lot more people leave the church!  If we took national flags out of churches, seeing them as idols, and clung only to the cross, how many older members would flock out, seeing this as unpatriotic?

But that’s a topic for another day.

Our Daughter’s Name and What it Means

Even before we knew we were going to have a baby, Emily and I had often discussed potential baby names.  Did we want to go with something traditional?  Perhaps a name already in our family?  Or something new and hip?  We chose not to learn the gender of our child, so we really had to come up with two names.  Right down to the day Emily went in to labor we were not sure of a boy’s name.  It had been narrowed down to a few options and we could not land on one.

But we had a girl’s name picked out for months.  It was a name we both loved: Junia.

On April 28, 2011, we were blessed with a girl – Junia Elizabeth Hershey.

When we told our family and friends the name, without fail they asked two questions:

Do you mean Julia?

Where did you get that name from?

It comes from the Paul’s letter to the Roman church: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ  before I was” (Romans 16:7).

Junia was outstanding among the apostles.  In other words, she, like Paul, was an apostle of Jesus Christ.  The apostles were leaders in the early Christian movement, teaching, preaching, spreading the gospel and providing leadership to the infant church.  Junia was the only woman mentioned in scripture who was one of them (perhaps there were other women apostles who did not get a mention).

A few hundred years later one of the great church leaders of the day, John Chrysostom, wrote this about Junia in his commentary on Romans: “To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle” (In ep. ad Romanos 31.2 – copied from Scot McKnight’s book Junia is Not Alone, but you can also find it here.

But over the years the female “Junia” was changed to the male “Junias“.  Why did this happen?  It is quite simple – since it was common knowledge that women could not be church leaders then it is obvious this leader Paul mentioned could not be a woman!

Thankfully, most Bible translations today once again give Junia her rightful name and gender.

So in choosing the name “Junia” for our daughter, we did not choose it just because it is a pretty name (though, it is that).  We chose it because Emily and I hope Junia will grow into a strong and powerful women who loves and serves Jesus in whatever capacity and vocation to which she is called.

Besides being inspired by my lovely daughter Junia, the timing of this post is inspired by Rachel Held Evans’ One in Christ: A Week of Mutuality series of which you can read the fifth entry here: Who’s Who Among Biblical Women Leaders.

The Hobbit vs. Les Miserables

Christmas is going to be fantastic as two film adaptations of great stories are set to hit theaters.

First, The Hobbit.

Second, Les Miserables.

I am torn over which one I am looking forward to more.  For both films, I have loved what has come before.  In terms of The Hobbit, I love both Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings.  In terms of Les Miserables, the book was a long, tough and enjoyable read and the musical is amazing.

Also, both stories contain powerful and thought-provoking themes.  Though I think I’d have to give Les Miserables the advantage over The Hobbit here, as it seems to me more of the themes in Tolkien are in Lord of the Rings.  The Hobbit reads as more a straightforward adventure story.

My hope is that both movies live up to expectations.   My other hope is that we can get a babysitter so Emily and I can go see them!

Young Adults Who Wander from Faith (You Lost Me 1)

What do we make of this statement from David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me:

Teenagers are some of the most religiously active Americans. American twentysomethings are the least religiously active” (Kindle Location 246-248)

I see it every year at Penn State Berks.  Students who were heavily involved in their church youth group do not get involved in any sort of Christian community whether it is church off campus or CSF on campus.

But getting involved in college is only half of it.  When I talk to recent grads, students who were in CSF or went to church while in college, many struggle to connect to a church.  They observe that many churches have a lot for youth and a lot for families with kids, but not much for single twenty-somethings.

Kinnaman says there are a few key realities to keep in mind:

Teen church engagement remains robust, but many of the enthusiastic teens so common in North American churches are not growing up to be faithful young adult disciples of Christ. There are different kinds of dropouts, as well as faithful young adults who never drop out at all. We need to take care not to lump an entire generation together, because every story of disconnection requires a personal, tailor-made response. The dropout problem is, at its core, a faith-development problem; to use religious language, it’s a disciple-making problem. The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ faithfully in a rapidly changing culture (Kindle Location 231-238).

It is tempting to shrug off statistics and stories like these, assuming that when these young people get married and have kids, they will drift back to church.  Perhaps some will.  But to assume this will be the case in the future is to miss where our culture is presently at.

Our culture has experienced massive changes.  I am tempted here to mention the fantastic book I have been working through over the past five months, A Secular Age.  But instead I’ll point to just one factor – the ubiquity of the internet and along with it devices such as smartphones.  Not that long ago people sitting in the pew at church, or around the circle at a campus Bible study, had no way to fact check the pastor, other than wait till they were home and open a book or encyclopedia.  Now people can compare what the pastor is saying to a myriad of other voices, all while sitting in the pew.  Some have even said the Web is killing faith.

That is just one factor.  The point is that our culture is changing and it is naive to just assume all who wander will return to the church.

Of course, the other temptation is to fear the sky is falling and Christianity will soon have no one left in America.  This too seems a bit extreme as we still remain a very religious country and large groups of young people are committed to their faith.

The question I am left with is what can be done to help young adults not just stay in the faith but also flourish as followers of Jesus?