Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fighting Benign Whateverism

In my life, certain quotes and phrases have always stuck with me.  Whether it is good advice, random fact, or just something I find interesting, I just remember it.

Before saying something harmful to someone, walk a mile in there shoes.  That way when you say it, you’re a mile away…and you have their shoes. (middle school)

In all the events of your life, there is one common factor…you.  You may not be able to control a situation, you can’t control other people, but you can control yourself and how you respond. (college)

Some say that the youth are the future of the church.  I disagree.  Youth are the church. (high school)

This past Sunday, I was reminded of the last statement.  One that has stuck with me for many years.  And just reinforced how powerful this statement really is.

When you look around, you can not simply say that these youth are the future of the church.  Yes, that is true…but that also says that at the moment, they are nothing…a sentiment I strongly disagree with…

Youth are the church.

This past Sunday was Youth Sunday here at Church of the Holy Communion here in good ole Memphis, Tennessee.

This was not your typical Youth Sunday where some youth played some minor roles in the church but they did everything.

They wrote the Eucharistic Prayer, they wrote the Prayers of the People, they wrote and delivered the sermon, they were the Eucharistic Ministers, they did the readings, they chose and performed all the music, they even made up the choir.  An entire Sunday morning service…written and lead by the youth of the church.

Another great aspect of the morning was the privilege of having Dr. Andrew Zirschky join us to lead our Formation hour before the service.

Hey talked about the new belief that is rapidly growing in the church in today’s society.  I concept outlines in the Raising Teens in an Almost Christian World: A parent’s Guide, by Dietrich Kirk.

I wanted to highlight a few bullet points that are covered in the book regarding youth in the church.

The results came after years of research by the National Study on Youth and Religion which Dr. Zirschky was apart of.

Major Findings:

1.      Most American teenagers have religious beliefs.
2.      Organized religion doesn’t matter much to most teenagers.
3.      For a significant minority of teenagers, faith does not matter.
4.      Adolescents are incredibly inarticulate about their faith.
5.      Religious vitality differs by tradition.
6.      Highly religious teenagers fare better than less religious teenagers.
7.      Teenagers mimic religious devotion of their parents.

What does all this mean?

In the book, they call this trend in the church “Benign Whateverism”.  But what does that mean?

It means that most teens these days do believe in a god or some deity but when it comes to how they feel about it…eh, it’s whatever.

In a society where “church” is simply getting up and going to a service on Sunday mornings and after that we just go about our everyday lives…is it really surprising that most teens have this attitude towards religion?

I have a challenge for you…

The next time you gather with your family for dinner, after the usual check-ins, and heyhowareyas (because those are important conversations too)…take it a step further.

Ask your parents, ask your kids, your friends…What do you think of when you hear the word church?

What is it and what does it mean?

Have a conversation about that for a little while and just see where it goes.

Then ask what is it that Jesus taught us about how we should live?

How different are your two answers?

Does that feel right to you?  Why when we ask what does the church, the house of God, mean and what did Jesus teach…why are those two separate conversations!

Why can’t they be the same. 

They can.  It will just take work. 

In my years of working with youth, they has been one constant result when research is done to determine how to keep youth active in the church as the move into young adulthood.

In a word I would say it is relationships.

More than the relationships the youth build with each other in youth groups.  More than the ones they build with their Youth Minister.  More than the ones they build with the volunteers with the youth program.  More than the priest.  But the WHOLE congregation.

In John 20:16, Jesus has risen and is no longer in the tomb when Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus appears, he calls her by name, “Mary.”

The impact that had on Mary’s life was tremendous. 

In John 21:17, another time the resurrected Jesus makes an appearance but this time to the disciples.  ‘Simon son of John…”

Again, calling him by name and again having a tremendous impact on the life of Peter.

One thing I have grown to believe is that we can be the living example of Christ to others.  By the Holy Spirit working through us in our lives we can be Christ to others.  And it can be something as simple as calling someone by name.

Imagine the impact that it could have on someone’s one life when instead of walking by and ignoring someone, or walking by and saying a simple, “Hey, how are ya?”

What if you said “Hey Michael!  How are you doing today?”

What if we not only said that, what if we meant it.

What if instead of having the church be some place we go on Sunday but it being this thing that we live.

What if we all made an effort to take the time to talk to a child, a youth, and an adult at the church…more than just a simple hey.

If we shift from being a church to living the church then we take a step towards fighting benign whateverism.

We take a step closer to living out the church.  And not simply preparing the youth to be the church but include them in the church.

Cause that is what they are.  They are the church.

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