This isn’t a fun blog post. My heart has actually been hurting for over a week as I was unwillingly, unknowingly prepared to write this post.
When I say my heart is hurting, I don’t mean I saw a cute picture of a puppy. I don’t mean I read about orphans in China. I don’t even mean I am going through a personal struggle. It’s a different hurt. It’s a personal hurt, but not because of something happening to me. It’s happening to teenagers in America.
I weep as I type these words. Over the past two weeks, I have heard, spoken with, and read about so many broken teens. Not the teens in the news or featured all over your social media. (I’m looking at you, Mr. Hogg.) I’m talking about the teens that sit next to you in church.
Teenagers are leaving the church in droves. Not the church as in a specific local church; they are leaving the body of Christ in which we are called to serve and worship. As a 24-year-old woman who was raised in church and is still in church, I am severely in the minority. I am not bragging–trust me. It is all because of Christ. Praise the Lord for giving me the family, church, and opportunities that He did. Those all shaped me into who I am. By the grace of God I am what I am. (1 Cor. 15:10) But it is discouraging to go to church events, retreats, and just regular local church services and see very few people my age. Where did they all go? What happened to the girls I stayed up late with at Old Mill, giggling and painting our nails together on the bathroom floor when we should’ve been asleep? What happened to the junior-highers I sat in Sunday School with week after week, the ones I went on trips with, memorized verses with? Where are the teens I went through youth group with, or even the ones who were there just a year or two ago?
My husband believes that one of the main reasons teens eventually leave church is because they are never told why: why we go to church in the first place, why we serve Christ, why we are supposed to make good decisions, why we aren’t supposed to do certain things. Instead they are given a list of do’s and don’t’s and expected to be pew-warmers for the rest of their life. Frankly, that isn’t a good enough reason to stay in church for anyone. If there is no motivation, no passion, behind serving God and being faithful to Him, these kids dry up in no time at all.
I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as apathy; just misplaced passion. I heard that first when I was a counselor at a teen camp, and I have seen it played out over and over again. When you look at that teen in your church who doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the sermon, or doesn’t open a hymnal when it’s time to sing, or half-heartedly hands out flyers for VBS, don’t think, “Man, that kid is so apathetic.” Maybe he or she is apathetic about serving the Lord, but there is something in their life that they are passionate about. It could be anything–music, social media, friends, their significant other, their phone . . . the list could go on and on. What are we, as adults in the church, doing to redirect that passion toward the things of God?
You have no idea what that kid sitting in the pew behind you is going through. I really have no idea either. I found out this week that a “church kid” teenager just committed suicide. What would you do if you found out the same thing about a teen you see every week? This is the culture we live in now, folks. You can turn a blind eye if you want, but it is real and it is happening in our area. And if we do nothing about it, teenagers will continue to fall away from the things of God. The world continues to throw lies and challenges at them, and if they are not equipped they will fall.
Young people are faced with temptation and tough choices every day. Countless kids are growing up in broken homes. So many struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, gender confusion, peer pressure, bullying, pornography, and self-harm; but because they’ve grown up in church and everyone sees them as the “good church kid,” they don’t feel like they can admit it to anyone. I was there. I was running from God as a young teenager, but no one stopped to ask me, “Hey, are you doing alright? How can I pray for you?” and because I was the pastor’s kid, I didn’t feel like I could voluntarily talk to anyone about it.
As a camp counselor, our job was to counsel our campers and then “hand them off” to the local church. At the end of each counseling session, I would always ask my camper, “Is there someone back at your church who could help keep you accountable, someone you could talk to about your struggle/decision?” For the majority of the time, the answer was no. Maybe there’s a teenager in your church that needs you to be that person for them. I know it’s hard to connect with teens and young people. But it is so worth it. Look for ways to “break down the barriers,” as we always say, between you and that teen. Sometimes it means going out of your way. Sometimes you might have to do something silly. Sometimes you might have to take the time to strike up conversation, even though you feel like you don’t have the time.
That’s really the point of this post. It’s a plea for the adults in the church to open their eyes to the needs of these teenagers. No, you cannot fix them. I struggle sometimes because I’m a tough-love person and just want to shake some sense into these kids and fix them myself; but that’s usually not the best thing to do. Love them. Talk to them. Ask them what’s going on in their life. Pray with them. Be intentional about connecting with them. They may not realize it yet, but that is what they need. And you could make a difference in their lives. Let’s reach out to the church kids, and encourage them to be passionate about the things of God.