We are called to make disciples of Jesus, but are we in the church often making young people disciples to something else?
I stumbled upon this question as I pondered conversations I have been having with young adults. The conversations I have regularly revolve around the worship expression of their church. Often they talk about an inability to connect with the worship; how it doesn’t relate to their life and that it’s not helping them grow in their faith.
In the research that we conducted around young adults and the church we discovered that worship styles are quite low on the list of what young people value in a church. However, if you spend enough time around a bunch of teenage or young adult Christians you will eventually hear a conversation about the ways that they struggle to connect with worship. Bluntly, they are complaining about worship.
So here is my question.
Why are they complaining about not being able to connect with worship, rather than not being able to connect with Jesus?
And this question prompts another question.
Have we inadvertently discipled young people to worship, rather than God himself?
The fact that there is a subtle but distinct difference between these two is the exact reason this should worry us. We could be leading our young people astray without even knowing it.
When you hear a young person complain about the worship service that their local church provides, what you are hearing is a reflection of what we have taught them to value. So much of our conversation and focus in the church is tied up in how and when and why we worship.
When we talk about young people and the church we are usually talking about whether they come to church or not. When we talk about how we can keep young people in our church, we are usually talking about worship styles or a second service. We have taught young people that the most important thing in faith and church community is how we gather together. So the next time you hear a young person complain about the worship service at your church, remember that you probably taught them to think that way.
When was the last time you heard complaints about the lack of bible study, small groups, mentoring relationships, or faith at home practices; instead of worship styles, songs, times and content?
What does this tell us? What does this teach our young people? What does this disciple them to?
If the main thing is the wrong thing there is a bigger implication as well. If we are inadvertently teaching young people that worship is the main way to connect with God and grow in faith, what happens to this young person’s faith when they come to a place where they cannot connect with worship? I wonder if it is not always the fact that young people walk away from church because they feel they can’t connect with God. I wonder if sometimes the reason they walk away from God, is because they could not connect with church. They had an understanding of worship that was so high that it had become the main way they understood their faith. Therefore if it failed, everything failed.
I long for the day when a young person comes and complains to me that their church is not discipling them properly. What this will tell me is that their church actually has done a good job of helping this young person understand that knowing Jesus is the main thing. If that is their complaint then the church probably has done well in discipling that young person.
What is needed here is a shift. A shift away from an understanding that expects Sunday gatherings to be the primary spiritual input into a young person’s faith, away from thinking that an hour on Sunday will form the faith of a young person.
How are we learning to walk alongside young people as they grow up in our church, to help them understand that knowing Jesus is central to faith and life? The central expression of my faith is how I respond to the grace Jesus has so freely given to me. How are we helping them and coaching them to develop spiritual tools that help them connect with God and hear him speak into their life in any and every situation?
How can we always be pointing young people to Jesus – and Jesus alone – and involvement in our communities as an expression of that faith relationship?
Let’s keep the main thing, the main thing.