As we wrap up our conversation about emotional and psychological well-being in our culture, particularly as it is impacting our young people (but also the rest of us), we have to take a few minutes to talk about how all of this is impacting our churches and the future of our faith.
You've probably heard by now about the 'nones' - an entire demographic, consisting mainly of younger people, who do not have a religious affiliation at all. They are disconnected from God's people, not plugged in anywhere, and not confident enough to declare a belief - or lack thereof - at all. And the common explanation is something like this: they might be interested in our Jesus, but they hate our religion. They are disgusted by our churches. We are getting something drastically wrong.
Despite the fact that we are getting a lot of things wrong (we're human; we're going to, even when we're trying our best), I think the problem runs deeper than that. I think it's all the stuff we've been looking at this week that piles up and makes the Christian faith not unpalatable, but unbelievable. Simply put, persons who are so heavily burdened by the culture in which we live cannot believe the church can deliver on its promises; there are too many walls between them and Jesus (and we, as fallen believers, are but one of them).
Look at what we're up against.
We have a culture that labels everything about the human experience as defective. From a very young age, these young people are being taught that there is something wrong with them, something dangerous about them. They are hyperfixated on what they perceive as their brokenness, even if it's something that's not broken at all. And then we present to them a God who claims to be good and who has created everything, and they cannot overcome the question of how a good God could have created them so broken. If you listen, you actually hear our young people asking this question - how could God have made me this way? Why would God claim to be good and make me this way?
And then we invite them into our fellowships, into our communities, and we tell them they are welcome here, just as they are. "Come as you are," we broadcast on our advertising. But they think, no, you don't know who I am. You don't know what you're getting into with me. They are wholly unable to plug into the community that is the foundation of the Christian fellowship, a vital part of our worshipful experience and our abundant life. They can't fathom that this community is for them, too, because they can't fathom that any community is for them. So they purposely hold themselves out of one of the greatest blessings of the Christian life because they don't believe it's for them.
And if they can't fathom that anyone would value them for who they are, how can they possibly believe in a God who knows everything about them and loves them anyway? This is the heart of who our God is - a loving God. And yet, if you believe even your earthly father loves you only because he likes the things that you do, how are you ever supposed to understand the love of your heavenly Father? It's simply impossible.
Which leads us to a place where our young people develop a works-based faith and get tired of "performing" all the time and never reaping the benefits of it. They may be able to convince themselves that God likes the things that they do, but this isn't satisfying on a soul level. It doesn't even come close. So they begin to settle for whatever they can find, if it's even relatively close to what they think they're going after. Which is how we end up with a whole generation of young people who are "spiritual, but not religious." Who want to believe in a God and just...can't.
That's actually one of the most striking things about the 'nones' - most of them aren't atheists. Most of them aren't hostile to God. Most of them aren't opposed to the idea of being convinced of the Christian faith. There's just something that keeps them from believing it.
Do you think, perhaps, that our culture has something to do with it? Do you think that maybe the things they've been taught to believe about themselves keep them from buying into a narrative that believes more for them than they do? That's where we're at.
That's why these two simple words we've been coming back to all week are so important - you're okay. That's why we have to start at the foundational level with our own vulnerable authenticity and start putting our foot down and saying no. This is not a label. This is not a defect. This is not a danger. This is part of the human experience, and welcome to it. You're okay - not because you're not broken, but because we all are. And we've all been where you are. And we've all wrestled with the same things. And there is a way out, and it starts here.
Precious child, you have a world that is failing you, but hear me on this, the Lord will not fail you. And everything you believe is unbelievable, every secret hope you cling to that you think it just not possible, it's not only possible, it's real. And it's vital. And it's now. All you have to do is stop buying the story the world is trying to tell you and come check out one that's been ongoing since the very beginning.