Much of my work to date has been dealing with Teenagers. For the last 20 years of my professional life, I’ve worked diligently to answer the question “Why?.” Why do so many teenagers who grow up in faith environments start to reject the faith of their family when they go off to College? To date, nearly 80% of Christians who are raised in Christian homes reject their faith by the end of their first year at the University. That’s just the fact.
When I was introduced to this problem, I started asking the obvious questions:
1. Is it because they just don’t know enough?
We’ve seen a crazy increase in the amount of youth programs around the country focused on programmatic, event driven youth groups. So it seems the trend is to build a “more fun” type of youth center filled with better lights, smoke, music, and video games. Unfortunately the time and resources spent on the facility overwhelmingly outweigh the resource spent on teaching a clear understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Many programs will use the cliche “We’re about a relationship with God not a Religion” But when you see the way they perform the programs, it only seems to further highlight that religion just took a modern jump to music and pop-culture instead of the liturgy of old.
2. Is it because they don’t know how to process information?
Clearly our education system is built on regurgitation of information over actually being able to handle a problem. Ask any Freshman in High School to reason through why they believe what they believe, and you’ll be surprised how elementary most of the answers will be. It’s like they’ve hooked onto a list of a’s,b’s, and c’s, but haven’t had the chance to really work out the belief system they say they hold onto.
At KIVU, we started examining the information versus true understanding. Instead of simply pumping more facts and figures in the teenage brain, we developed a process whereby we meet students where they are. We create a free-safe environment for students to question what they believe in order that they can develop their own journey to God.
Unfortunately for western thinkers, there’s no one size fits all type of faith journey. We can’t manufacture someone’s trek to find God, but we can help find out where students are, and try to help them understand the options where they can go.
3. Is it because emotion plays such a pivotal role in our salvation attempts?
We know now a teenager right out of puberty has a brain connecting at LIGHT SPEED. The synap connections are fresh, and most of those connections happen through the amygdyla part of the brain. (the emotion center).
So when a youth director turns the lights down low, sings a slow song, speaks with a high emphasis on guilt and shame; of course they’ll see a high ROI on Salvations at an event. (I have to be honest, today’s teenager is sick to death of this method.)
Through research with a high emphasis on biology and physiology, we’ve started to show students what it means when we worship God, what happens to their brains when we pray, and what it means to live day to day with a God-Centric paradigm. We just come out and say, “We’re not going to manipulate you, and we’re not counting the numbers of people who decide to follow God. If you want to know God, we can help you. If you don’t, It’s your life.”
You would be amazed at the results.
Students flock to honesty. When they don’t feel like they’re being played for a higher agenda, you can really work with students who are curious about what their role in God’s Kingdom can be.
Jesus said it well, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
4. Or maybe it’s because they’ve been given a limited view of how the world functions? Maybe today’s teenager has been so wrapped up in creating a division among people, when they get to a place with all shapes, sizes, and colors of people; they have a world view malfunction. They look at the place they came from with strict lines of exclusion, they don’t know how to reconcile a God who might be able to deal with people on a variety of levels.
At KIVU, we ventured out to create a place where students could have a safe place to explore faith issues. We call it Camp KIVU.
At first, I wanted to create a place where all Christian Denominations could come enjoy the outdoors of Colorado and discuss the similarities of our faith journeys. We started primarily with Evangelical Christian Protenstants, and slowly ventured out to include mainline Protestant Denominations and our Catholic friends too.
You know what was crazy? When we realized the culmination of this experiment we found most people really aren’t that different. Sure, we tend to worship a little different, do the sacraments a little different, read a few verses a little different; but all in all we’re just people.
We found most teenagers were interested in trying to answer the profound questions life presents. Who is God? How does God work? Can I trust in the Bible? What do other people believe? How does science fit into this faith deal? Does God hate me because I make poor decisions? How can I live in the real world, and still find faith applicable?
As we slowly developed this ecumenical gathering place in Colorado, we found that the more we focused on our similarities and celebrated our differences, true relationships were forged. The Cliche today is “community” but we had a REAL LIFE example of how community works.
We didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the differences, because we already know how deep the divide really is. I mean let’s be honest, just go to a town and try to get the local pastors to sit down and have a meal together. In my experience, I’ve found it increasingly hard for people who go to different churches to fellowship together. And I get it.
We all have a center worldview that causes us to worship how we do.
We all want to be a part of the ‘right’ team.
We all want to learn as much as we can so we know our eternity is secure.
We all have traditions ingrained in our DNA from the earliest of memories.
And it’s threatening to think someone else might have a different way of doing faith because that means someone else is right too.
So our culture continues creating different denominations, different chic ways to label our team, but ultimately we’re all trying as best we know how to figure out this Journey we call faith. (I find it hilarious how many churches are popping up with these ‘culturally relevant names.’ The Ladder Church, The River Church, The Well, The People’s Church; these are all an attempt to overcome the divide.)
Unfortunately in the real world, the divide continues to forge a wedge in fellow believers; so our sub-Christian-culture created the “non-denominational” church. It’s kind of like an “Independent” label politically. We feel comfortable trying to act like we welcome diversity, but truly we’re just all the same kind of people looking for safety and security in our worship. Just take an inventory of the kind of people who sit next to you in your church, and remember there is a variable at play. America is the biggest melting pot in the history of the world, but we still have the most segregated hours in our culture–From 9:00a.m. to 12:00 p.m on Sunday mornings.
After the grand ecclesiastical experiment in Colorado, I forged ahead. I wonder what would happen if we could share our experiences in worship with Others.
Now before you go off and label me a Universalist, rest assured I’m not. I spend the majority of my time writing to people about how to employ the teachings of Jesus in day to day life. I believe One God. I believe in Jesus. I believe the Bible. I believe a personal relationship with God is the only way to make sense of the world around me. But I do think it’s a compelling conversation to learn how others around the world come to the conclusions about the Creator they worship.
So at KIVU, we invited Atheist kids, Agnostic kids, Mormon kids, Jehova’s Witness kids, Muslim kids, Jewish kids, and Buddhist kids. Funny thing happened. Once we got in the raft on the river, got on the mountain bike, or took a prolonged hike in the woods; we found similarities really have no boundaries. The conversations about Jesus were easy, once we tore down the walls we were told make us different. Instead of focusing on another person as an object we learned about in some Sunday School Cult class, we began seeing other teenagers as humans, just like us. We talk about Jesus. We worship God. We explore the necessity of having a “whole” worldview that builds principled behavioral living. But we also know that people are people dealing with life issues.
Teenagers in China are dealing with a lot of the same things Teenagers in America deal with.
Teenagers in the Middle East are dealing with a lot of the same things European Teenagers are dealing with.
And Teenagers from non-believing families…well, you guessed it, they are trying to survive just like my Christian teenagers are.
We’re all looking for the same thing.
It’s silly to think the whole world would have the same picture of God. We all come from different traditions, family make ups, and varying teachers. Depending on where you were born, who you were born to, and what experiences you’ve had discussing God to date determines how you shape your view of God. After all, if you think about it long enough, would you believe what you believe if you were born in a place that emphasizes a different faith tradition? Compound that question by adding the reality, you really had no input into the decision where you were born, who you were born to, or what environment you were born in.
Much of our most intimate world views come as a result of our environment, it only makes sense we need to reach out to others on a platform of commonality to learn how and why someone else thinks the way they do, and then try to make sense of how Jesus might make a difference in someone else’s life.
I’ve found most people are totally agreeable to talk about Jesus. But when we ask them about what their view of God is, that’s where the divide begins to take shape.
My friends in Thailand are trying their best to figure out who God is in their lives. They long to worship a Creator. They want to know there’s something more than life here on earth. They count on the hope in the hereafter as much as my friends from Dallas Texas. So we have to talk about the differences AND the similarities to find out what is true and right. After all, People are People. (I hope you’re getting this by now.)
They want to get educated.
They want to provide.
They want to grow their family.
They long for security.
They want a good job.
It’s not really that different from the community you live in.
Of course each one of us believes our way of doing, believing, and being are the right way. We’ve found a metaphorical box where it’s comfortable. If I can exist inside my “known” box of reality and it’s safe. So naturally I believe everyone else needs to come in my box to be safe. RIght?
This is the essence of the great divide. It keeps us safe and secure and gives us the illusion we can separate people across national, economic, and religious boundaries; thereby associating them with the wrong way. If we look closer, what we find at the core of this type of thinking is a healthy dose of FEAR.
I’ve found myself thinking, surely the person is Thailand can’t be right…right? After all, everything I’ve learned as an American is true and right. Right? Because if my friend in Thailand has the essence of how the world spins according to his worldview, then I might be wrong.
Nothing incites more fear of being than thinking we are wrong. But if we don’t examine, explore, and try to understand THE OTHER, how do we know we’re right? It would be like someone who never lived with electricity might see modern western ways of living as demonic. How silly is that?
I believe the God of the Universe is Big Enough to provide answers for these fundamental divisive questions, if we’re willing to search. After all, it was Jesus who said, “Seek, and you shall find, Knock, and the door will be opened to you.”
Well, the world is changing.
The Information Age has opened channels of communication like never before. We can witness, in real time, people living life like we do. They may not have the same size house, drive a nice car, work out of a high rise office, or go to a name brand University to prepare for life. But they have the same essential needs, desires, and wants that we do. It just looks a little different.
The beauty of the Great Divide is that it provides me a place to know something true, safe, and real. The negative part of the Great Divide is the failure for me to recognize others as people will keep me from experiencing the big “KINGDOM” of God, rather than the small “kingdom” man has developed.
Jesus was a master of blurring the lines of the divide. His work included the Jewish Pharisee, The Religious Sadducee, The Zealot, The Racist, The Prostitute, The Sick, The Needy, The Businessmen, The Home Maker, The Government Official, and thousands of others. He didn’t run a class for people to “defend their faith.” He offered the Kingdom of God freely for anyone who might hear.
Jesus actually tore the divide to the ground, causing the people living in their sphere of comfort and security to rise up and kill him.
He threatened the power structure of the religious.
He didn’t bow to the government of diety.
He wasn’t about giving in to the racism of the day.
He only showed His anger when he entered the “mega-church” of the day and found them taking advantage of God’s kingdom for their own personal financial gain. (this should cause the modern church to be extremely wary)
Jesus was all about people. It didn’t matter where they came from. It didn’t matter what brand of Jewish theology they held to. It didn’t matter what their economic situation looked like. He invited all to hear the message, and then go and decide if they wanted to be a part of the kingdom or not.
Today, I find too many Christians who are interested in building the walls of the Great Divide based on some sort of Behavioral Modifcation, Belief System, Or Belonging (almost tribally), that when someone different comes in our world, we tend to steer clear of them.
How much more does the Kingdom of God exist when we can promote the vision that “God so Loved the World” ALL THE WORLD, that “He gave His only Son.” (John 3:16)
The most exciting work I’m doing today includes a broad net of God’s Kingdom. Every encounter I have is one that includes people as people, and a discussion about the Hope Jesus provides in the world today. I’m not concerned with what people believe, how they behave, or what tribe they belong to. That’s God’s work.
I want my life to be about Jesus, plain and simple.
I want to bridge the Great Divide, in hopes God might intervene and show us, just like the children’s song claims, “Red and Yellow, Black and White, They are Precious in HIS sight. Jesus loves the little children of THE WORLD.”