I have a young man speaking for me tomorrow night instead of
my weekly Bible study. I hesitate to give it up, but I feel compelled to give
this fellow a shot. He feels as if God is calling him to ministry and needs an
opportunity to expand his audience outside of just youth Bible study groups in
his home. I still remember the opportunity afforded me by my pastor.
Thankfully, my path as a Bible teacher and pastor has gone reasonably well
given that rocky start. It was not pleasant for me and I’m sure it was
downright painful to my audience. Still they encouraged me to continue and I’m
glad they did. They knew I was struggling to make my faith my own. Something
many of them had never done. Let me explain.
After the split of my parents at age nine, I began to
question everything I had been taught. I began to ask the same kind of
questions many kids do later in life when they go off to college. They are no
longer always surrounded by their parent’s culture of faith. They are
introduced to new ways of believing, or in some cases of not believing. When
suddenly confronted with the need to defend their belief before people who do
not share their faith, they often respond in one of two ways. They go on an
offensive assault to deliver a rousing judgmental sermon toward the hell bound unbelievers.
This is usually more smoke than substance but defended as righteous indignation:
a good Biblical excuse for losing your cool. The other response may be to
freeze in a defensive crouch and fail to respond at all. They realize that the
faith they have been carrying is not their faith at all. It was the faith of
their parents and pastors and Sunday school teachers. These kids either get
quickly swept up in the culture of the university or leave and go back home
where their fragile faith will no longer be under an assault.
So as a kid of nine, without constant church or parental
influence, I started to question the validity of what I had been taught in
church. I found much of it to be shallow and emotional. I was sorely
disappointed because I really wanted to believe in God. When I began to choose
my friends, who were all outside of my faith, I could not defend what I had
been taught. So I left my faith in my preteens. I became what has recently been
termed as a “leaver.” Leavers often ask their parents to explain why they believe
and are met with shock and dismay, “Why can’t you just have faith, like we do.
Where did we fail?”
Here’s a fact that comes from a former “leaver.” Most of these kids want to believe. Many of them return to church after wandering in the wilderness for a while. So many come to a happening church, with a popular youth group, and look for answers. When they arrive they find a bunch of kids who have not addressed the hard questions of faith, but instead have opted to numb themselves with activities to take their mind off their questions. Instead of addressing teens’ questions, most church youth groups focus on fun and food. The goal seems to be to create emotional attachment using loud music, silly skits, slapstick games -- and pizza. Those
are all good and fun, but they are only ways of attracting a crowd. The force of sheer emotional experience will not equip teens to address the ideas they will encounter when they leave home and face the world on their own. Hard questions have to be addressed.
Here is what I found. While I tried the youth group thing, I never really was satisfied with playing pool and roasting hot dogs. I began to seek real answers to hard questions. I looked for
people who were willing to try to give me a response instead of just turning me away. I had to go through a lot of “go ask the pastor” before I found some who would attempt an answer for themselves. Here in lies the solution to the problem of leavers. The reason why so many leave and never return is because they find too few of us who are “prepared to give an answer to everyone who
asks” (1 Pet. 3:15). They have to know it is ok to ask hard questions. Paul instructs us to “Test everything, hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21). I am not nearly as discouraged by the number of teens who are leaving the faith, as I am the number of us adults who cannot challenge when they return. And they will return, I found life without faith in God to be a “dry and barren land.”
So pray for the young man who is teaching for me tomorrow. He is making his faith his own. He will stumble. We all do. I don’t expect he will wow the crowd, but I am blessed to help him on his journey of faith.