Monday, December 12, 2011

Silent, Disconnected and Bored

I love to speak at student events!  As a matter of fact, years ago (it seems like only yesterday--all "old" people say that) I had the dream of one day being able to travel across the country and talk about my favorite subject--Jesus.  By the grace of God, He has given me many of these opportunities.  The "glamor" of travel fades quickly.  Instead, it is the passion and burden for fulfilling God's purpose on my life that motivates the time spent away from family, friends and the greatest group of students and families around (yes, I am a student minister that really loves my job--it is possible).  One of the things I enjoy most from all of my travels is the wonderful network of relationships I am blessed to have across the country.  My life is so much richer because of these relationships.  With the joy comes moments of heartache when a student from an event reaches out for support and counsel in working through crisis and/or painful circumstance.  Today was such a day. 

I got permission to share a portion of the Facebook message received and have changed names and locations:

Hey Dave, its Steve from the youth Rally, or if you remember me more by being John's nephew. Anyway, I'm coming to you for some advice, or your opinion maybe. I love The Hills Church of Christ, and all the ministries y'all create and are involved with. I attend a church near (Name withheld--it is not in Texas) which is struggling right now. I've attended this church before I was even conscious of my surroundings (baby). This is my home, and I have a lot of hope for my church. Especially being able to experience worship from The Hills Church of Christ, and other churches from across the west coast. I go to these churches and I love their worship, I love their environment, and I love their outreach. I go to these churches and they fill me with hope, hope that one day my church will be able to mature, and grow to an extent where we are confident and love what we do rather than complain and gripe over trivial things like a dress code...
Which brings me to the point of this message. Next Saturday morning, my church is hosting a men's meeting for the leading men of the church, and any other men who care to join. I am an acting song/worship leader at my church which means I am very interested in what this meeting is about... I have sooo many ideas that I'd like to bring to my church but feel like their is lack of support. I want our church to be a beacon of light, hope, and love to our community. But we continue to argue over things that are so against what Jesus would have taught. I've been informed that this meeting next Saturday will consist of our elders telling us we need to abide by a dress code, that they don't appreciate my preacher coming to Sunday or Wednesday night service in shorts and a Hawaiian button up shirt. For the longest time they've enforced a rule that I've hated: That no man would be allowed to lead worship or communion if he does not have a tie. Sooo I stopped wearing ties and began wearing jeans... besides when I lead singing. This decision gave me a lot of attention, I began to get comments from other people like "don't we serve on Sunday's." These comments made me sooo frustrated. But I had been meaning to talk to them about it. I understand the intention behind it, that we should bring our best to God, and I totally agree, but when we're commanded to do something rather than doing it out of the goodness of our hearts it becomes obligation. That's what's so great about Jesus' love, he loves us unconditionally, whether we choose to love him back or not. And I think the best way to show our love for him is to be the same inside the church as we are outside the church. What are we if we just bring out our Sunday attire and attitude on Sundays and put it away for the rest of the week. It's really hypocritical of us isn't it? Anyway what I'm asking for is your opinion. How would you deal with this kind of situation? What would you say? Please respond, I really look to you for advice, and I know its cheesy but you really are a role model to me.

Thanks Dave, hope things are well in Texas.

There are probably a few different reactions to the student's letter.  One, if you are not from the Churches of Christ heritage, you could be rather confused--don't be too critical, we all have our "issues."  Second, if you are in the Churches of Christ heritage, you may be thinking of a book, chapter and verse to support your doctrine of dress--don't go there, the problem is much deeper than dress.  Three, you are trying to figure out the name and location of the student because he may be wrong about the rumored topic of the meeting and you think it would be fun to attend the meeting and see what happens (some of you student minister's would love that)--interesting game, but you will miss the point of the blog. So, if you will, hold all reactions and vigilante investigations and consider the following.

The message from "Steve" is a glaring example of why some students choose to leave our Churches after graduation (yes, I used a big "C" to indicate all faith heritages).  When you read the student's words carefully and without "defense" you find a young man that wants nothing but the best for his church family and seems to understands their point of view yt fears his voice will not be heard.  Yes, he is idealistic (a gift youth bring to the Church) and is demonstrating his disapproval with a touch of dramatic flair (some would call that courage).  Furthermore, many of his points are valid and rather prophetic.  To be certain, "Steve" and I will talk over the next few days and sort out the best approach for voicing his concerns and such.  "Steve" is a strong Christian young man who I believe will continue to develop his faith.  Still, I fear, if the adults in his church handle this situation wrong, they will lose this young man to another faith community who will provide a vision worth his time and effort (a vision bigger than the upholding of a dress code).  I am certain, that many student's who believe dress code theology is all their church has to offer them are already leaving.  They are silent, disconnected and bored.  Here are a few things we have learned from the Sticky Faith Project at the Fuller Youth Institute (
  • 40-50% of students are leaving our Church communities after High School Graduation
  • Many leave because they are not able to free express and explore their doubts and questions
  • Many leave because they are being a taught a Gospel of Sin Management (Dallas Willard) that keeps them away from Hell and "morally" upright (dress code theology) yet leaves them without a passionate focus and purpose for taking the Kingdom to the world.  In other words, our student's are bored with a gospel that saves them "from" the world but has not prepared them "for" the world. 
  • Many leave because they do not have supportive relationships with the adult Church community.
With the Bullet points in mind, go back and read the young's man's message (I will wait).
Do you see it? "Steve" does not want to destroy his church family.  He wants freedom to express and explore doubts, feel a part of the adult community of faith and INSPIRED with a vision that will take his breath away! 

There are other sticky faith things adults have to offer and/or can place in a student's life (check out the above website) to help beat the 40-50% retention odds.   This is certain, if Church leaders worked towards providing these three, I would receive fewer letter's like this from the "Steve's" in our churches. 

Question:  How would you answer "Steve's" questions?  


  1. David- thanks for sharing and thank you to "Steve" for allowing to share. With boundless love comes exciting, energetic, passionate loving ideas to be Jesus' people and his church all around. We should foster this excitement to share Jesus.

  2. "In other words, our student's are bored with a gospel that saves them "from" the world but has not prepared them "for" the world."

    That may be the best sentence in the whole blog post. I wonder how many adults feel the exact same way.

  3. Have you read David Kinnaman's book, "You Lost Me"? Great book about this very topic!

  4. I have not read it as of yet. It is on my "list" of books to read. I have heard great things about the content and have read reviews.

  5. I have found in my experience, "Steve", that this sort of thing is best voiced over more personal conversations outside of a big group setting. I don't want you to be discouraged, and group dynamics often don't bode well with attacks on what the elders are wanting to accomplish in public. You will be more likely to have great conversations when you speak clearly and openly in private, rather than what most likely could feel like an attack from you on the elders. I have been there myself and those conversations never went well when I brought it out in an elders meeting. Whether I was or not, came across defensive, and what I said was not received the way I wanted it to be. So take it from my poor handling of similar(different conversations but along the same lines)discussions that I as a paid full time minister could have been better served having those conversations outside of the meetings where the ideas were being implemented. Most of all, my friend, be patient.

    They may be open for discussion but I've often found in the context of relationship, hard conversations are much better received. Thanks Dave for opening up conversations about hard things. I love "Steve's" heart for his church and worship, both evidence of his love for Christ! I pray that this will be a great chance for him to grow and all of us to consider how we can have these bigger conversations about how our faith prepares us for this world we are called to live in!