This post will not actually do what it says on the tin, because I don’t think I know the answer.
I was reading this book called “Ordinary” by Michael Horton which a friend lent us. It’s basically about how nobody wants to live an “ordinary” Christian life, and why is that? And what does that mean anyway?
I don’t agree with Mr Horton about everything he says on what an ordinary Christian life should look like… but a couple of things have really struck me. One of them is this:
“We are all adolescents now.”
“The youth group was created, offering adolescent-friendly versions of church. In the second stage, a new adulthood emerged that looked a lot like the old adolescence. Fewer and fewer people outgrew the adolescent Christian spiritualities they had learned in youth groups; instead, the church began to cater to them. Eventually, the church became them.”
“Like the culture generally, many churches deemed most ‘alive’ and ‘cutting-edge’ reflect a near-obsession with youth… Instead of the more biblical pattern of children growing towards maturity, churches [are] turning adults into children.”
This is quite a provocative thing to say, and a big part of me doesn’t want to accept that maybe I still think about faith in an adolescent way, but I think it might very well be true. I think it explains a lot of things I have been feeling.
Loads of people my age drift off and leave the church. I think one of the reasons is that their experience of being a Christian hasn’t matched up to their expectations. If they became a Christian as a young person or student, they were riled up to believe they were going to be a world-changing, radical generation, like nothing seen before. As a young person, they felt restless and passionate, they wanted to challenge the status quo, and they were encouraged to do that as the main way to really be serious about their faith. The thing is, feeling restless and passionate and challenging authority is part of being an adolescent. It’s normal and it’s a good thing to have those people around to keep everyone on their toes.
But what happens when you get a bit older and, having passed adolescence, you don’t feel quite so restless and radical and like you want to overthrow everything any more? As a Christian, you can start to feel boring and guilty, especially if your church still talks mainly to those revolutionary young people. You feel like maybe you’re not as good a Christian as you used to be. Remember how radical you were back then! How much you believed you would change the world! If you don’t feel that way now, you must be losing your faith, because that’s what your faith was. Or maybe you were mistaken about the whole faith thing in the first place. Maybe it’s time to walk away and get on with life.
Is it possible that if we spent time teaching young people not just how to be passionate young people but also how to be amazing, faithful, Christian adults, that they would stick around? The book says that in the past, older church members “took young people under their wing and taught them by word and example what it meant to begin to accept the privileges and responsibilities of membership in Christ’s body. Churches saw young people neither as the measure of their success, nor as ‘the church of tomorrow’, but as an integral part of the church today.”
Being a young person isn’t the most important time of your life. It’s brief. Being an adult lasts decades. Surely that’s the most important bit? And yet we aim so much ministry and adapt so many of the things we do to appeal to young people. That sort of traps everyone into trying to be an adolescent forever – and they get disillusioned when they can’t.
What does it mean to be a proper Christian grown-up, faithful to Jesus, in step with God and working with him? What does that look like? I don’t think it is meant to look like a youth conference. I think there is much more. I think if we really knew, then Christian grown-ups would not worry that they are boring or ordinary.
Disclaimer: This is just a theory. And I am sure there are a lot of churches teaching young people to be Christian adults.