Saturday, April 19, 2008

Teens taking the lead

I went to several sessions of a Christian revival this week. Now, I agree with C.S. Lewis that it's intellectually sloppy - indeed, intellectually indefensible - to confuse "Christians" (individually or collectively, real or pseudo, good or bad) with "Christianity." (See The Screwtape Letters for some good illustrations on this. Or, I'm pretty sure Mere Christianity also covers the same ground.) But let us concede that, unfortunately, people do tend to confuse "Christians" with "Christianity," and that some revivals don't tend to increase the appeal of the faith, and some seem to have tenuous ties to it. This event, happily, wasn't one of those. There were times it was profoundly moving, thought-provoking, focusing, challenging. A revival indeed.

The one night I missed was "Youth Night," with an emphasis on teen youth. This is not because I don't like youth. I do like them. (In general.) There were, in fact, teens in attendance the other nights, behaving every bit as well as the grown-ups, and participating in ways to do credit to anyone who wanted to lay claim to a relationship. I did not attend "Youth Night" because when the pastor announced "Youth Night" he told us to go out and find the teens we knew and say just two words: "Drums. Pizza." That would get the teens in, he said; telling them that there would be drums during the service, and pizza after.

It was not the high point of the several day event for me, let's put it that way. But I had trouble putting my dismay at this approach into words. But then I ran into a post at Brandywine Books, in which Phil shared a 2001 message from Dr. Howard Hendricks, which included this:

...There's a church in our area that has a fantastic group of young people. I love them like crazy. They went to the elders of their church and asked, "Can we open the church on Wednesday mornings to pray?"

"Well, we'll have to take that under consideration."

So, after four or five meetings (typical elders), they finally decided, "No, we can't do that. We don't have anyone who's willing to open the church and take the responsibility." Even some legal aspects to it, which I'm still trying to find out what they are.

So, the kids go down the street to a restaurant operated by a pagan and say to the proprietor, "Could we meet on Wednesday mornings about 6:00 in your restaurant? Promise you we'll take good care of it, won't tear it apart."

This guy is so blown away that he says, "What do you want it for?"

They said, "We want to come and pray."

He said, "What?"


"Would you include me?"


"You got it, and furthermore, I'll provide coffee and doughnuts for you."

And one day one of the elders drops into the restaurant one Wednesday morning and sees this group of kids from his church, which shamed the church elders into opening the church; and church has never been the same since.

I think most of our youth programs are an insult to the intelligence of the kids involved. Young people today, I assure you, are not looking for entertainment, and certainly not the cheap kind they get at a church. They're looking for a challenge; and I'm having the hardest time at my age keeping up with a group of students that are stretching my faith to the breaking point, and I see an increasing number of young people who are very, very serious about their Christian life.

Well, yes. I see that, too. Thank you for sharing that, Dr. Hendricks. That's what bugged me about our call to go out and say "Drums. Pizza." to the teens around here. There's every chance indeed it would have been an insult to their intelligence, not to mention incredibly shallow on our part, unless it could have been passed off as friendly kidding. I wasn't sure I could pull it off, so I posted a flyer in a likely spot, told an adult friend about it ('Be sure and take aspirin before you go!' she called at me as I went out the door), and then I let it drop. To be fair, the rumors I heard the next day were that the preachers pulled it off just fine, and some good messages got worked in between the ear hammering and the chowing down. But, still. It seemed like we were aiming awfully low.

I was talking with a friend about this, and it hit a nerve with him. When he was in a youth group at church back in the 1960s, he and his friends had the hardest time trying to convince the church that they craved a quiet place to meet and talk and learn and just relax. They also had a hard time convincing the church to let them organize field trips to other churches.

They won on the field trips. They'd call ahead and ask permission for a flock of teens to show up at a specific service. They would show up well-groomed, well-behaved, and respectful, just to connect with some of the rest of Christendom and see for themselves what the other churches were like. That cross-church outreach gave him some of the best memories of his youth, and it also helped focus and deepen his faith, but it was something that the kids had to fight for.

Helping lead the charge these days are Brett and Alex Harris, whose book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations is now out. Catherine Claire has a five part interview with them. (I did a pre-pub notice in January.) Learn more about the authors and like-minded teens at The Rebelution.


Pinon Coffee said...

Our church has a quite decent youth group--all the time I was in it, and still, they love the Lord and actually teach doctrine.

And I enjoyed going to our massive denominational conferences, but I clearly remember coming home from one and putting on classical music and reading Dante.

I don't want to insult youth groups en masse, especially mine. But a whole week of enforced modern-ness just about did me in. But such a lot of people refuse to have anything else...

What we did was just ditch the youth group occasionally and let me hang out with the adults. :-) It's better for several reasons.

Kathryn Judson said...

Dear Pinon Coffee, I like your ways of countering the downsides (Dante, classical music, and hanging out with the adults). Thanks for writing.