ATTENTION: Please make sure you check out PART TWO on my home page. Very important to get the full picture!
One of the biggest concerns for our Church today is an aging ministry. The older generations are asking themselves, “Who’s going to take over the work of the church when we’re gone?” Not only does there seem to be a lack of interest in this type of “career” by our young people, but there is a constant stream of them leaving the church all together. 1st and 2nd generation Christians are befuddled by this, wondering what it is that the younger generations aren’t getting.
Drawing from my feelings and experiences as a 4th generation kid/teenager/young adult that grew up in the church, I hope to better explain some of the struggles our young people are facing. I realize that these are not the feelings of every 3rd/4th generation Christian. This is merely a broad generalization. Also, I am in no way trying to put the church down, as I know they are in many ways understaffed and over worked, and doing the very best that they can. I am simply trying to shed some light on what’s going on in the minds of some of the young people in our church.
- When you’re given something, it’s not as easy to appreciate it.
When Mr. Armstrong started the Radio Church of God in 1934, people from all over were overwhelmed with excitement by the truth. It was unlike anything they had ever heard before, and it stirred up a passion of learning. Many faced difficult obstacles in order to start following their new found faith – including losing relationships with family and friends. But their faith was the most precious thing to them, and it was worth whatever else they had to give up in order to follow God. Many of these first generations brought their children with them, and the lives of these 2nd generations took on a drastic change. They said goodbye to Christmas and parties on Friday nights, and began keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days… and they saw firsthand the difference it made in their lives.
Most of us 3rd and 4th generation Christians were born into the church, never knowing anything different. Attending church every Saturday was just what we did. It was a part of our being as much as eating dinner was. But we’re told we are supposed to have a fire and a passion for God’s truth… a thirst for knowledge. But it’s not so easy to be thirsty when you’ve never been without water. Just as you appreciate a bike you worked all summer to buy more than one that’s given to you, we struggle with appreciating the faith that was given to us.
The fact that many of us struggle with our passion for God and His way of life can make us feel guilty. We question why we don’t have the intense love for the truth that those before us did… and it makes us wonder if there’s something wrong with us. We look at these ministers and elders that stand before us and seem so “perfect” and we think “I’ll never measure up…”
When we worry that there’s something wrong with us because our lack of zeal, we get discouraged, convince ourselves that God isn’t all that interested in us… and it becomes easier to leave.
- We speak a different language… one of vulnerability, openness, and creativity
With all the different ways to attain knowledge out there now, it’s hard for us to only learn in one way. Many of the older generations were brought up in a time where you kept your personal struggles private. We however, are very much the opposite. We feel bonded to one another because of the struggles we face together. We love reading about other people going through the same things that we’re going through. It gives us hope and encouragement. We are a creative and people oriented generation that deeply needs more than just head knowledge. We thirst for personal experiences and lessons to be shared with us in order to connect to what’s being taught.
Because many of the 1st and 2nd generations don’t openly talk about things they have been through, we are afraid to talk to them about our own battles. I personally feel there is an unintended persona of perfection that is put out by some of the ministry… and it can be very alienating to us young people. We ache so much to be understood but fear putting ourselves out there for for risk of judgment.
Many of those in charge right now are so focused on “‘maintaining the tradition” that they can be resistant to adapting to teaching us in the way we learn best, and to speaking to us in ways that we need to hear – through passionate music/hymns, vibrant videos and articles that include personal experiences and people we can relate to. This organization (going back to World Wide times) was in many ways created by the 1st generations for the 1st generations… and in a lot of ways, over the past 83 years it hasn’t really changed.
Sometimes it’s frustrating knowing that we missed out on the “glory years” of the church. The insanely huge Feasts, camps that lasted all summer long, Ambassador College, and the excitement at the newness of everything. Sometimes it feels like we are surrounded by older people so focused on maintaining their beliefs, traditions, and love of the truth that they forget we didn’t get to experience it… and that we need that fire to be ignited in us just as it was for them.
When we don’t feel accepted, when we don’t feel understood, when we aren’t being fed in the way we need, it becomes easier to leave.
- We ache for more meaningful ways to serve
We have a deep need to be a part of a team. Of something greater than ourselves. To be appreciated for our own unique talents and gifts. But many of us feel limited in our ability to share those gifts within the church because we feel there are such strict guidelines on what is and isn’t “appropriate”. In order for us to flourish, we need more creative freedom to be who we are. To be able to share our stories and struggles without worrying that we will be looked down on because of them. To sing music that speaks to our hearts as well as our ears, even if it has a drum line. Bringing snacks to church or taking down the stage decorations, while needed, don’t exactly feed the soul. We ache for a more meaningful way to contribute, and struggle to find a place to do so.
Other churches have mission trips, praise bands, and artisan communities that help give those with more creative gifts a place to serve. I know older generations are always wary of us becoming “protestant-y”, but what’s the problem with being like the Protestants in the ways that they do great work? Sometimes I think we start to confuse tradition with core beliefs. Our traditions are things that we, as human beings, put in to place (the order of our service, hymns that we sing, what we do or don’t talk about, etc). Our core beliefs are things that God put in to place (the Sabbath, Holy Days, etc.). Core beliefs should never change, but there does come a time when tradition needs to be re-evaluated and new ways of thinking and doing are necessary.
When we can’t find our place, when we feel our talents aren’t wanted, when we feel squashed creatively… it becomes easier to leave.
- We don’t care about the politics, we just want to be together
God has us assemble together in a church for two main reasons – so that we’re not alone, and to more easily preach the Gospel. He didn’t bring us together to have a power struggle over ways to govern the church. He wants us to get along and be there for each other as we try to navigate this sinful world. If there’s one thing we as Christians all understand, it’s how lonely it can be without friends of like mind.
Growing up in the church it was hard enough only having a small group of friends that believed the same “wacky” things that I did. Depending on the church area you grew up in, you might not have had any other kids your age in your congregation. Camps, the Feast, and the WFW were the best times of the year, because we finally got to see our much missed friends! Now that we have splintered off into a million pieces, it makes keeping those relationships so much harder. Without those activities being combined, our social circles got a whole lot smaller. As if finding a spouse in the church wasn’t already hard enough! It’s frustrating to us that there are so many different Church of God groups that believe the same core things, and yet we can’t seem to get along and come together.
When we lose the friends that kept us anchored, we are left feeling alone and overwhelmed, and it becomes easier to leave.
- We are inundated with more distractions than the generations before us
Distractions. Distractions. Distractions. At the touch of a button we can pull up porn, dirty comedy, and a host of all kinds of other sinful things. Even if we aren’t out looking for it, it’s constantly being pushed in our faces. While TV and the internet are considered amazing modern advances, they make being a Christian a lot more difficult. Not only do they surround us with temptation, but they distract us from what we should really be doing.
We are trained to think that studying is work. It’s not something we look forward to since we do it all day long at school and even into our jobs. Studying the Bible in your free time just doesn’t sound relaxing. Now TV, that’s relaxing. We know what we should do, but it’s just so easy to give in to other options when they are sitting right there at our fingertips. However, take all those distractions away, sit in an empty room with just your Bible, and reading it becomes a lot more appealing.
Our relationships with God suffer because of this… and we know it. We ache for the simpler times when people weren’t so overwhelmed by this world and the distractions in it.
When we get distracted, when our relationship with God falls by the wayside, it becomes easier to leave.
I hope and pray that this article doesn’t cause offense to anyone…. because that’s the last thing I want. I felt strongly that these things needed to be said because the fact that we have so many young people leaving the Faith is a big problem, and the only way I know to help fix it, is to start opening the lines of communication.
So, to those in the 1st and 2nd generations (especially those that hold positions of authority): Please remember that many of us struggle with a passion for our calling, and that we need you to help us cultivate it. That we need you to be approachable and vulnerable in order for us to feel comfortable sharing our feelings without fear of judgment. That we deeply desire to serve, but need you to be open to us bringing new ideas/ways of doing things to the table. That we hate division and want to be together as one big family. That we get distracted and discouraged and need you to lovingly encourage us. That we trust you to take care of us.
And to all my fellow 3rd and 4th generations: If you’re struggling, tell someone. You’ll be surprised to see how many have been in your shoes and are eager to help. If you’re feeling frustrated by a lack of ways in which you feel you can serve, be proactive! Talk with your peers, family, and minister and see what you can do to change things. Keep up the relationships you made before the split, and don’t let political differences get between you and your close friends. And when you’re feeling distracted, find a quiet room with just your Bible, and take yourself back to the simpler times. Don’t let Satan trick you into believing that you’re not good enough… that your presence in this Church doesn’t matter, because it does. You matter, you are loved, and you have so much to offer. Don’t ever forget that.