Students Leaving the Church

That students tend to leave the Church when the graduate high school is no secret. It’s recently made it’s way into the GOP primary field. Tim King is right that the fact that college students walk away from the faith has nothing to do with colleges. However, I still think Tim misses the point.

He argues that the reason many college students leave the faith isn’t because of what they’re taught in college, but because of the hypocrisy they see among Christians. Yes, hypocrisy turns people off to the church. Yes, hypocrisy is painful. But it also tends to be the favorite gripe of those of us who have felt it’s sting. In the end, however, hypocrisy is only part of the reason students walk away from the Christian faith. There is now plenty of data out there which suggest that the problem is more broad than simply hypocrisy.

So, in addition to hypocrisy, it would have been nice to see Tim discuss the following in his op ed:

1. Parents – Now, he almost touches on this with his comments on hypocrisy. But he still misses the bull’s eye. Yes, sometimes parents are hypocrits, but not always of the type Tim imagines. Instead, sometimes parents simply don’t model a robust faith. They model of faith that is comfortable and sterile, and their children simply inherit the same faith that they see their parents enacting. If we want to see fewer students leaving the church, than we need to help parents develop their own faith at much deeper levels.

2. Youth Ministry – Lest I be too hard on parents, I actually think a greater part of the blame lies with youth ministries (and churches, generally). We have not helped to disciple parents and we’ve given students exactly what they (sometimes, sorta) ask for: a faith that is comfortable, but not one that’s worth anything. Because many of us are either A) young and naive or B) worried about numbers and our jobs or C) woefully untrained, we end up running youth ministries which do a great job of keeping kids away from drugs, sex and alcohol, but a pitiful job of forming life-long disciples. We separate students into a age-specific ghetto in the name of giving them something that will connect with them, but in the end we simply end up cutting them off from the life-giving Body of Christ, no matter how broken and deformed that Body might be.

3. Questions – Going right along with #2 above, in my experience (and here we leave what is fairly well established by surveys and move into more conjectural and anecdotal territory), a contributing factor to students leaving the faith is that they haven’t been deeply challenged and taught. We tend to teach students within a narrow theological framework (either denominationally, or in terms of assumptions about what a good Christian does). So, we teach students they can’t question God (because, I guess, we’ve never read about Moses, or the Psalms, or Job). But when bad stuff happens, what do we expect them to do, remain silent? Or we teach them a narrow interpretation of a passage, for instance, that one must believe in a six literal day creation to be a good Christian. When students realize they don’t know if they can do that, they figure they must have to stop being a Christian. Or we teach them a particular theological point as a litmus test, for instance, God’s sovereignty, and when they aren’t quite sure if they can believe it like we’ve explained it, they figure they have to walk away from the faith, rather than turn to other traditions within the faith.

We could talk about several other factors that often contribute to students walking away from the faith, but I think I’ve made my point: we can’t limit it merely to hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is sometimes an issue. Sometimes it’s questions students have about faith. Often they’ve never had a robust, passionate faith modelled for them, and perhaps even more often they’ve had a shallow youth ministry that–inadvertently–did everything possible to make sure they weren’t connected with the larger Body.

So, this discussion obviously braves the question: what do we do about it? On the one hand, the problems seem insurmountable. But, on the other, we can tackle one thing at a time. There are many in the youth ministry would that are realizing these issues and thinking of ways to address them. To say it’ll be an uphill battle is probably an understatement, but at least it’s a place to start.

Games, Game Ratings, and Children

I truly want to believe that the day will come when people stop being paranoid about games. There is a belief out there that all games are designed and intended for children. This belief leads to the conclusion that there is a worldwide conspiracy among game creators to destroy the minds of children by exposing them to mature content. It’s simply not true.

I’m going on this rant because of a recent story I read on CNN. I think that its very interesting. The group is absolutely right. There are games that will never be suitable for children. But should they be? If I had children, I probably wouldn’t let me six year old watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But it’s rated PG-13. My job as a parent is to discern if my child is ready for that. Video games should be viewed in the same way. There is no way I would allow my 12 year old to play Manhunt 2 — I won’t even play it! But I’m not going to allow my 12 year old to see Saw IV (or whatever number we’re on now) either. Video games of ratings the same as movies. No one is suggesting that all movies must be acceptable for children, in fact some of the most critically acclaimed movies aren’t really for kids (cf, Brokeback Mountain, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, among others). I see no reason the same should not hold true for games.

In my opinion the issue here is that the media/parents see games as things for children, not for adults. As a result they have this idea that they may pick up any game at a store, and it should be fine for their child. The fact of the matter is that this isn’t reality. There are games designed for a variety of age groups. All games have a rating icon that is more clearly displayed than most movie ratings. They don’t take a rocket scientist to decode (E – Everyone, T – Teen, M – Mature). These rating icons also include, much like DVD movie rating icons, the reasons the game was rated at the level it was. I can only think of one game that I’ve played and enjoyed rated M, and that’s the Halo series. But I’m fine with there being M rated games, in much the same way I’m fine with there being R rated movies.

So, my plea is to parents. But, as a youth pastor, I also try to do my part. In particular, we don’t play Halo at a youth ministry gathering because of its M rating. I personally don’t have a problem with the game, and I have yet to figure out why its rated M and other FPS games are rated T. But, my opinion doesn’t matter. It has been rated M by the ESRB, and so since we have students under 17 at our youth ministry, no one plays it. I get complaints, and will get them in the future. But that’s life, I suppose.

Rob Bell, Sex and CNN

So, Rob Bell is, I’m told, the next big thing. Whether that is true or not is something I have no comment on. I happened upon a CNN video about Rob and his book Sex God this evening, and I thought what he said at the end regarding Christians being the moral police was excellent. You can view the video here.

On a side note, I so need to get some glasses. All the cool kids have them.

Democratic Presidential Debate

So Mandy and I watched the presidential debate tonight on CNN.com. A few thoughts:

1. What was up with John Edwards. He didn’t answer any questions, he just bashed Hillary.
2. How is it that Hillary could answer the question “Are you playing the gender card?” in the negative and then proceed to tell a story about how a 95 year old woman was just “so pleased she was running…” and “wanted to live long enough to see a woman in the white house.” Honestly, if you’re going to play the gender card — fine. But fess up to it.
3. Biden was in good form tonight. I really enjoyed some of his humor.
4. Why is it that none of the candidates were willing to give specifics on what they were going to do to make their plans happen? The largest offenders here were Edwards and Clinton. The candidates who I felt actually gave specifics on what they would do were Biden and Obama. Of the others, the only thing that I know for sure is that Kucinich wants to impeach Bush. Movie at 11.
5. I’m really curious to know how Senator Clinton is able to say that the “middle-class” somehow makes more than $100,000 per annum. I think Obama thrashed her over that argument, and rightly so.
6. Bill Richardson had a few moments…but overall didn’t give me enough specifics. Some good sounding vision…but, meh.
7. Er…Dodd?
8. I want my libertarian candidate!

Go directly to jail…

At least that’s what seems to be the case if you wear baggy jeans. Well, baggy jeans that show your boxers. I personally find this completely and utterly laughable. I’m so happy to know that some old local politicians (by old, I mean above 30, because apparently you lose all ability to reason after that age) have decided that cops should be policing what people wear. I hope the citizens of some of these areas are happy that their jails will be filled with teens who have done nothing more than let their boxers show. This is a law worthy of Orwell. We had RAs that did this at Davis, and we laughed then. There is a whole lot that the government should be doing – and making certain fashions illegal should not be high on that list. Perhaps I will one day propose a law that you be fined for wearing a tie. Why? Well, because as we all know – people who wear ties are white homophobic middle class business men who exploit the poor, lie in court, commit hate crimes, and otherwise ruin society. (Note – this is hyperbole, and meant simply to show that laws based on fashion (or, in the case of ties, a lack thereof) are perhaps best left to individuals).

Now that I’ve got my initial rant out of the way, let’s look at this a bit more objectively. There are teens who wear saggy pants. I know some teens who wear saggy pants. They are intelligent. They get good grades in school. They also skateboard. Why should they have to pay $500? Why should they be interviewed and questioned as to what they hope to do with their lives? They are perfectly normal teens. I think, as citizens of America, we have to ask if this is really worth the fight? Why make a law like this? I honestly cannot see the harm that society is facing because of saggy pants. I’m trying to be objective here. I must conclude that this law is being created because some people do not like the saggy pants fashion. I am therefore forced to conclude that this is an example of those in power exerting their influence to make the world conform to what they would like it to be. This happens often, but I’m not sure if it’s healthy.

There is a bit of rebellion in me that wants to go to one of these cities, walk in public with saggy pants showing six inches of my boxers and when I’m interviewed by police as to what I’m doing with my life, and if I’m employed, explain that I have a college degree, graduated Summa Cum Laude, am currently attending graduate school, am currently employed as a youth pastor, regularly give to charity, seek to keep students off of drugs, teach students to avoid breaking the law, etc, etc, etc. I’d really like to see the reaction. I mean, six months in jail because you wore saggy pants? Okay – but I have to be honest and say I have a really hard time taking this seriously.