A Lost Generation, pt. 1: the overprotective Church

Reason #1- Churches seem overprotective

One quarter of 18-29 year-olds have indicated that most of the time, or all of the time, they feel like Christians demonize everything outside of the church. That is 1-in-4 of this age group. Over 1-in-5 feel that the church ignores the problems of the real world. Just under 1-in-5 feel that the church is too busy placing prohibitions on what video games they can play, what music they can watch, and what music they can listen to. In other words, the church is seen as being too overprotective, and too restrictive.

While we may think that we are seeking to protect our young people for their own good, instead, to some, it comes across as smothering, reclusive, or disengaged from the world around them. For a generation that is fully immersed in instant communication, with access to knowledge, ideas, news, and various opinions at the single click of a button, this overprotective attitude can come across not only as the church’s perceived irrelevance to the “real world”, but as a naivete and disengagement from them as well. To sum it up,

A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.~ Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church, The Barna Group

When it comes to our youth today, we need to resist the temptation towards overprotection. Instead, we need to focus on equipping our youth to navigate through today’s world in a way that helps them engage in a faithful and missional way. Jesus didn’t retreat from the world. He dined with sinners and tax collectors. He didn’t avoid sketchy places or people. He went to them, engaged them, and shared the good news. Part of our problem is that often we feel like we, ourselves, don’t know how to do this! In a sermon I preached last year, I said this:

As the church, we so often isolate ourselves from the world. We want to seclude ourselves in order to protect ourselves from false idols, from sin and temptation. The problem is, in doing so, we neglect the great commission, and we end up only paying lip service to wanting to see God’s salvation play out in our communities.~ “Looking for the unknown God,” preached 5/29/11

I’ll also repeat this quote I shared then from Brian McLaren:

We want to protect folks from alcoholism and drunkenness, so we tell them not to drink any alcoholic beverage. To protect them from alcohol, we recommend they avoid establishments that serve it. To be on the safe side, we tell them to avoid people who drink alcohol… and to avoid excessive laughter as you’d hear from tipsy people…and in fact to avoid parties in general except boring ones. We want to protect folks from following the crowd and succumbing to peer pressure, so we imply or outright assert that good Christians don’t go to R-rated movies, don’t listen to rap music, or any popular music at all. We discourage them from making non-Christian friends. We approve of them spending all their time in church services, church meetings, church activities—safe rabbit holes, a protective Christian ghetto. We want to protect folks from losing their faith, so we warn them against reading philosophy, from participating in culture and the arts, from dealing with tough questions and controversial issues.~ Adventures in Missing the Point by Brian McLaren

I continued on in my sermon from there:

Don’t mishear what I am saying, thinking, “Cindy told me that it was ok to go get drunk!” Or “Cindy told me it doesn’t matter if I listen to music that talks about sex and violence.” That is not what I am saying at all. What I am saying is that we, as the church, have become so afraid of becoming like the world that we simply retreat from it. We isolate ourselves and pronounce judgment on those outside of the church. No wonder many people do not want to include the church in their quest for spiritual fulfillment!~ “Looking for the unknown God,” preached 5/29/11

Our youth sometimes observe this attitude in our church, and it is one factor that can cause them to distance themselves once they are old enough to make their own decisions. So what is the biggest solution here? Besides finding ways to help them navigate the world in more faithful ways, even more importantly, WE NEED TO LEARN TO DO THE SAME! If youth cannot see the church present and engaging in their world, in the places they see every day, in the communities that they are immersed in, and instead only hear the church saying, “that’s bad, don’t do it” or “stay away from so-and-so, they are bad influences,” then how can they truly begin to learn that there is actually good news for the whole world, and that they can learn to be in the world, even if they are not of the world? So to recap: reason #1 that young Christians are distancing themselves from the church is the overprotective and isolationist tendencies we often have. Today, my challenge to you is to look at your own life and ask yourself this question: do I isolate myself within an exclusively Christian circle, and if so, what can I do to be more openly engaged in the world around me? Let’s learn to model faithful engagement with our world for our young people!