Does youth group (and the like) create dependent Christians?
It’s been about a month since I’ve posted anything but I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I had a conversation with a few students this morning who were on break from college. We ended up talking about how hard it is to lead faith-filled lives outside of the structures they had put in place in their “safe zone”. I thought it was probably time to put some words down. I’m sure this will rub some people the wrong way which wasn’t intended but is an expected consequence.
We all have our safe zones. It’s that place we grow up in and feel secure in. The place where people don’t really ask us much that’s personal but we know that if we really have issues, we can come to them and they’ll help us bandage it up until the next time we need them. The place that we fill with Christian “things” like youth group, church, Campus Life, Young Life, book studies, retreats, camps, events… the list could go on. None of these things I’ve mentioned is bad. They all have their value in the faith journey of a teen. My issue is whether we should be fostering independent, dependent or interdependent faith.
I hear too often from students that head off to college that they have no idea what they are supposed to do in their faith. Many teens see their faith through the lens of their church, youth group or para-church ministry. When that piece is removed, the core of their faith is shake. What are they supposed to do? Who’s fault is it? What role does the church or para-church group play in this rampant failure during one of the most crucial and formative times in a person’s life?
Jesus’ ministry was all about preparing them for when he was gone. This should be the church’s mentality as well. A church shouldn’t have such control of one’s faith that once it’s removed, the person falls on their face and doesn’t know what to do. It also shouldn’t have anything to do with measuring success in our walk.
It may appear that I’m only blaming the institutions (the churches and para-churches) when I put just as much blame on the people who are apart of them. If someone truly wants something, they will do whatever it takes to get it. If a runner wants to go faster, they take as much time as they can, even outside their scheduled practices, to make sure they have their form down, that they are getting stronger and that they are eating right. Most likely, they have a coach or someone who they run with who they go to with questions and encouragement. The runner does the work. It’s not the coach’s job to make you run fast. It’s the coach’s job to make sure you have all the tools you need to be successful.
There are many other comparisons to running that I think are valuable to think question. Paul says several times, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” This can be seen in good coaches. Many coaches had successful careers in their respective specialties, the runners know that the coach knows what he/she is saying. Is this done in regards to faith? Many coaches won’t be successful if they say “Hey, meet here again next week and make sure you’ve at least looked at your runners manual and know what we’re going to talk about. We’ll play some games and then at the end, we’ll talk about running for a few minutes.” That team would be an utter failure. Instead, the coach expects that the runners will be, on their own time, taking steps to know how to do certain things and actually putting them into practice.
Jesus went to the people. Paul went to the people, The apostles went to the people. Jesus said this will be hard but if you’re willing to follow me then join me. Paul talked often about the beatings he endured because of his faith and then told the churches, in his letters, to imitate him. Most of the other apostles lived rough lives as well as they lived to imitate Christ as he commanded.
Christianity has to be lived out. We’ve had more than enough training. I currently teach at a Christian High School and many of the students there have had years of training yet very little interest in looking at faith through the lens of Christ, instead choosing to look at faith through the lens of their Christian education or church’s youth group.
Most, have read the books and talked about how to best run but are so obese in their own selfishness that we couldn’t run even if we wanted to. We know to stay loose and not tense up, to control our breathing, to stay focused ahead, to pace ourselves, to get in a rhythm, and lastly to enjoy the experience. We talk the talk but couldn’t hack it if it came down to it. We have to choose, on our own, to create opportunities to grow in our faith and these opportunities don’t happen once a week in a particular location.
Church – Our job is to disciple. It’s not to have the most friends or most fun. Our job is to train them so that if you were not around tomorrow, they wouldn’t skip a beat because they are confident in their abilities in Christ.
Teens – Your job is to do the work it takes to grow in Christ. The church is a great resource for you to accomplish this but you only need to stop looking at faith through the lens of your youth group and look through the lens of Christ. If your youth group or Campus Life/Young Life group was removed (like when you go to college) would you have any parts of your faith left? Are you so dependent on those groups for your faith that once you move on from them you have no idea what faith looks like?
Luckily, like a coach who has a lot of fun but doesn’t empower the runner to get better, you have the ability to find a spiritual coach, or leader, who will help get you there. It’s your job to get off your butt and make your faith real and pray and read the Word and hold your friends accountable. It’s our job to empower you to dig, discover and develop your faith along your faith journey.
So back to my initial question. Should we as adults in the church be fostering independent, dependent or interdependent faith?
Independence is freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others. In faith, we should be part of a community and part of a body that allows us to accountable to and responsible for different aspects in our faith. We should not be independent Christians
Dependence is a need for something so strong that it becomes necessary to have this substance to function properly. Unfortunately, this is where many teens fall. They are so dependent on their church or group that they don’t know what to do when it’s not there. Although this is great for the church because it keeps people coming back, it creates a destructive pattern for many teens when they go off to college or move to another town or even stop coming to church. They lose all they know and don’t know how to recover in their walk without going back to that one group or church because they’ve viewed Christ through that group or church. Too often, we only foster dependent faith because we need students to keep coming back to keep the energy high or to keep our numbers up or one of many other reasons.
Interdependence is a dynamic of being mutually and physically responsible to, and sharing a common set of principles with others. No church can be everything to everyone but as faith goes, someone has to do the majority of the work and it shouldn’t be the church. Filling seats doesn’t make disciples. Teens who desire Christ and who have trained and are training, regardless of their level, should be equipped by the church or group so they don’t fall but can continue to move forward. The church is a supporting role in the lives of a Christ follower, not the main goal. A church’s resources should be reflected in the same way. It shouldn’t be a “come to us” dependent type of ministry but one that encourages living differently and getting out and being the church, not coming to it.