How has the idea of adolescence failed the church?
- We have chosen peer group relationships over intergenerational relationships.
- We have given teens spiritual entertainment rather than significant responsibility.
- Mentoring has given way to peer-driven discipleship.
What are the consequences for the church? Teens are leaving the church without ever developing a taste for real community, sound doctrine, or personal discipleship and accountability.
Hope is rising, however. Newt Gingrich isn't the only one saying such things. In 1995, Christopher Schlect wrote Critique of Modern Youth Ministry. He writes "I am convinced that young people have a far greater capacity for spiritual and social maturity than we tend to give them credit for... the church does not expect what it ought to from children and their parents... We see in our present day that the youth subculture has become the dominant culture in our society... we are confronted by the values of youth wherever we turn... Late twentieth century America is not allowing itself to grow up."
Listen to this 15 year old homeschooler:"The Bible never mentions teenagers. In fact, the word teenager was never mentioned in any dictionary until the middle of the 20 th Century. According to the Bible, children grew up into adulthood, not eternal teenhood. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put childish things away.” It has only been in the last fifty years and heavily influenced by evolutionary social theory that age segregation has been practiced in churches. Instead of being trained into righteousness, many teen ministries are leading their flocks into worldliness. However, the Bible never mentions any “teen” years or youth ministries in which to “find yourself” and embrace your “uniqueness.”
"What can be done? Youth should attend all church services with their families. After all, the church is one body. “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many are one body: as also is Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12 All ages/abilities should be integrated into the church, because all ages and gifts can be used to glorify Christ as one body.
"The youth are part of the church of today, not only the church of tomorrow. Serving the elderly, assisting the less fortunate and training for the mission field, will prepare the younger members for leadership by firmly establishing them in their faith.
"It really shouldn’t surprise us when so many teenagers leave the church after high school. They just can’t seem to make the transition into the “adult church.” Those that stay in church will usually attend their own college service or young singles groups. The church is one body with many members, not many categories with many groups... By allowing our youth to share their ignorance and immaturity with each other as they see fit, we are undermining the authority and stability of our churches. Just as a member of the body exposed to the elements will eventually weaken and make ineffectual the whole body; so will the spiritual life of the youth if we allow unBiblical practices such as youth groups and other special interests groups to have such unchallenged authority." -Annamarie Bettisworth is a 15 year old American homeschooler.
Perhaps it will be teens themselves who will lead the charge to change. Alex and Brett Harris, teens who are founders of The Rebelution blog and website, have written a great new book, entitled Do Hard Things. In it they not only lament the low expectations our culture has for teens, but tell story after story of teens doing incredible things. It is definitely worth a read.
What do I hope for the church?
- That teens will have already acquired a taste of union with Christ before they head for college
- That teens will be able to defend their faith in a pluralistic and skeptical age
- That teens will come to value those who are ahead of them in age and maturity as valuable resources and supporters as they face the world to come.
- That teens will disavow a desire to rebel against authority so that they do not cultivate a habit of rebellion that will lead to their destruction.
Finally, my hope for the church is that teens will come to identify with the present church so that the church will be challenged and influenced by their strength, zeal, and idealism for the future.