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.