At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all or like I have a solution (because I assure you I’m not and I don’t) I was struck recently by a gap in the church. And by church I mean, western canadian living in the bible belt, church. The gap? My children. To name names, my almost 13 year old son.
There are stats to prove, thank you George Barna, that 85% of teens (16-22 year olds) raised in evangelical homes are leaving the church. That, my friends, is a very large gap. It’s also a gap that’s frightening to me as a mother of children who are raised in an evangelical home and whom I hope and pray I am raising to love the church.
So far, they do and have but I can see a bit of a shift with my oldest. What they have for him in churches far and near is youth group. My son is not a lover of youth group and I will explain why. He doesn’t like floor hockey night because sports are for after school and not for when he actually thinks he’s going to be learning something. It seems silly to him to leave our neighbourhood which almost always has a game of hockey going on in the street to do that yet again just with different kids. He also doesn’t get weird games. Like why you would want to fill your mouth with marshmellows and then try and speak so that you look like a drooling idiot. Or who that strange kid is who would volunteer to eat….er….drink an entire happy meal blended up smoothie style. He doesn’t see how these are building into him or how they help him learn about Jesus, which is what we say youth group is and why he goes.
I was exactly like him at that age. Actually, I still am. I fear women’s retreats for fear of games or pranks or too much loud women cackling and so I get his point. He often asks why he has to go and I never make him but I know his one and only reason for getting out the door is because of the one friend that he attends with who goes to a different school than him. They get to see each other once a week. So it’s not worship that’s drawing him in. It’s not that he’s learning. It’s not sports or games. (to be fair he does appreciate his ‘core group’ once a month because he says they actually talk about stuff)
So I don’t push him. I don’t make him sing in the sunday service or tell him he has to raise his hands. I get why both of these things may seem awkward to a pre-teen boy. His dad and I lead by example and much discussion but we aren’t going to force these issues. They are things he needs to work out. (though we prod like crazy!!)
Rewind to a friday night a few months ago. Rogers Arena. Coldplay takes the stage. At first we sat and watched, eyes fixed on the band. We listened to silly banter, talk that made us feel like the lead singer was speaking to us personally. We looked at each other, my son and I, we rose to our feet and we didn’t sit again. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the fact that he danced, jumped with hands raised and fists pumping, swayed, sang and yelled because my son has always been comfortable in his own skin and couldn’t really care less what people around him think.
So as I watched him I wondered, why here? Why this action in this place and not in church? He’s clearly not awkward here. He’s not afraid to belt out the lyrics or raise his hands in ways that could almost look like worship. What gives?
I know the first thought on your mind is going to be, he’s worshipping his favourite band and I will shut you down and immediately say no. That’s not true. He gets what idols are. He doesn’t long to bow before Chris Martin or gain acceptance from this crowd. No, it’s not that. It’s that he’s seeing something he hasn’t seen before and it’s moving him to places he hasn’t in his life been moved to. He’s got his hands raised because he’s seeing something great and what that greatness is is passion. This band loves what they do. They exude it from the stage, they talk it, they yell it, they move like they believe it. In fact, I believe it’s seeping from their very pours in the form of sweat and tears. They are working for something, doing something they love and they want you to join in and so they engage, pull you in, tell you to jump around and by their very actions show you that dancing and raising your hands is what we do here in this place. It’s what we do here in this place. It’s what we do here in this place.
So why doesn’t he do these things in church?
I’ll tell you why. Because he watches very proper people on stage in khaki’s and polo’s sing songs. Sometimes they raise their hands but most often they don’t. Every now and then they speak but most often not and when they do it’s ‘put your coffee cups down so we can worship’ but I can only see his little brain questioning why? (as my big brain is.) Nobody is jumping. Nobody is proclaiming loudly that they love what they do and they love these songs and they love you because they love Jesus. The crowd is not moving to the beat. No, they are standing still – perhaps the odd swayer in the crowd, but certainly not the norm. There may be a smattering of people around the room whose hands are raised or whose voices are slightly louder than others but the general feeling is calm, contained, boring.
I want my boys to worship their Lord and Saviour loudly. I want them to raise their hands because he is worthy of that. I want them to jump and dance and sing with all their hearts because of what He has done for them but they can’t do that all alone. They need people to lead them. To engage them. To draw them into worship because they are passionate about what they do and passionate about serving their King. To be contagious in their worship because they are in fact leading.
Is that asking too much?
(edited to note: I’m not being a church hater here just a questioner. I LOVE our church but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. I wouldn’t be asking these questions if I didn’t have a child who is who he is in the exact life-stage that he is. I’m just wondering if he’s alone. Is he the odd one out? Or are we missing something. No hate. Big Love, with questions.)