Top Ten Reasons Why Our Kids Are Leaving the Church

A workplace colleague recently engaged the young people of his church in a discussion: Why are your friends leaving the Church? Now, as a former youth-group leader I know that getting kids to open up and talk is not an easy undertaking. But on this topic the discussion was so lively that he took notes. And then he shared them with me, inspiring this list (in no particular order) of reasons why our children–and grandchildren–are choosing not to worship with and serve alongside an organized body of believers.

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  1. I don’t agree with the politics preached from the pulpit.
    Is God a Republican? Or a Democrat? When I worship with my church family, I feel pressure to vote a particular way once I turn 18. And that’s not right.
  2. Some of my friends don’t feel welcome here.
    I have friends from another side of town. I have gay and lesbian friends. I have friends whose skin is a different color. I have friends with piercings and tattoos. I don’t feel comfortable inviting them to share worship with me here because I’m not sure they’d feel welcome. 
  3. The leaders spend too much effort trying to seem cool.
    Why does the pastor try to dress like a teenager? (He can’t pull it off.) I don’t need hipster adults; I need mentors who will inspire me and examples who will model for me the kind of person God wants me to be in 10, 20 or 50 years.
  4. I don’t feel respected as a person.
    When adults see me in church, they don’t see a person; all they see is a kid. I don’t know everything, but I do know something. Do I have to wait until I’m 35 to be treated halfway seriously?
  5. I’m too tired from Saturday night to get up and go to worship Sunday morning.
    Hey, I’m alive, I’m in college, and I like to have fun on Saturday night. Not drinking or partying but hanging out with good friends. Sometimes until 1 or 2 in the morning. But my friends and I might go to a worship service if there was one Saturday night, like at 7 or 8 o’clock.
  6. The sermons are boring and have nothing to say to me.
    Yeah, I know that parents with little kids need some help from their church. And my grandparents are having trouble coping with their empty nest. But what about me? I’m here too! I can’t relate the message to my life. And is it too much to ask that you include a video clip or visual aid–something!–to make the message understandable and interesting? I’m having trouble staying awake .
  7. Anyone older thinks they automatically can tell me what to do .
    I get tired of people telling me what I should be doing, what I should be wearing, what I should be saying, without making the slightest effort to get to know me first and find out who I am.
  8. It’s full of people pretending to be something they’re not.
    What good is going to worship on Sunday if it has no effect on what we do the other six days of the week? If it’s real, shouldn’t it lead us to make better choices throughout the week? Love more deeply? Live with more integrity? Serve with more compassion? I don’t see it happening; the church is a bunch of hypocrites.
  9. Shouldn’t it be about more than just a list of “Do This But Don’t Do That”?
    Is that all there is to our faith? Is it just a bunch of rules? I desperately want something–or someone–to believe in. But all I hear about in youth group is what I shouldn’t be doing.
  10. Too judgmental!
    I don’t feel loved and appreciated; I feel judged. I know I’m not perfect, but then neither are you. Can’t we both love one another and support one another as we fight our battles and work on our issues?

Maybe things haven’t changed too much. Matthew 23 tells us that Jesus had strong words for the church leaders of His day. He criticized them because “they do not practice what they preach” and [e]verything they do is for people to see”. They insisted on complete compliance with a heavy load of rules, but “neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness”. Jesus called them “hypocrites”, “blind guides”, and “whitewashed tombs” who were clean on the outside but filthy on the inside.

So, how does the Church keep our young people from heading for the exits? (And, really, the reasons that young people give for abandoning organized church bodies are pretty much the same reasons that adults give for drifting away.) Let’s try these remedies:

  1. Be welcoming.
  2. Be caring.
  3. Be courageous.
  4. Be accepting.
  5. Be real.
  6. Be about relationships before rules.
  7. Be a role model.
  8. Be nice.
  9. Be Biblically sound.
  10. Be humble.

What are others saying? Take a look at this blog. Or this one. Or maybe this one about Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church.

 

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Top Ten – Steps to Recovery from a Bad Choice

I make bad choices. I do my best to avoid them, but I make bad choices. My duty then is to accept responsibility for them by admitting them, apologizing to those whom I’ve hurt, and trying to make it right. I hope I can be forgiven by those affected by my mistake.

But sometimes the hardest person from whom to secure that forgiveness is myself. I hope I’m generous in forgiving others, in releasing myself from any lingering bitterness, in forgetting the disappointments of the past and in moving on to the greater achievements of the future.

But it’s hard to forgive myself. That’s grounded in my pride–arrogance really. While I’m willing to accept shortcomings in others, I expect more from myself. So when I really screw up badly, it throws me for a loop. I can’t believe I acted in such a fashion. I can’t let it go–even when those whom I’ve hurt have forgiven me.

I’m a left-brained, analytical person. I make lists. So years ago after a particularly poor choice had me mired in depression, I decided to devise a step-by-step process to pull myself out of the muck. Here it is:

  1. There is a God. I’m not Him.
  2. Because I’m not God, I am not perfect.
  3. Because I’m not perfect, I will make poor choices–big ones sometimes.
  4. My poor choices will hurt people, sometimes badly, sometimes the ones whom I love dearly.
  5. When I make a poor choice, I must accept responsibility for it.
  6. I accept responsibility by admitting it, apologizing for it, and trying to make things right. (Sometimes things are irretrievably broken because of me. I can’t fix them.)
  7. I will learn from my poor choice and commit not to make the same mistake twice.
  8. I will ask those whom I’ve hurt to forgive me. I’ll ask God to forgive me.
  9. Then I’ll forgive myself and move on.
  10. But I will still make mistakes. (See #1, #2 and #3 above.) 

Top Ten – Best First Lines

It’s summer. And time for a summer-vacation blog post. Summer means beaches and beaches mean books. Is there anything better than sitting down with a good book on a sunny, sandy beach with the whole day stretching out before you?

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I love a book with a good first line, a line that not only draws you into the book but gives you a clue about what you’ll be reading. A good first line will not only get you and the book to the Barnes & Noble checkout line (when you were sure you were “just browsing”), but it will also capture the theme of the book in just a few words.

Here are my top ten favorites. (OK, I cheated. There are eleven. I just couldn’t bear to make the final cut down to ten.)  

11. “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” –JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
This captures the major conflict of the Harry Potter books, doesn’t it? What is it like to be a wizard in a world full of muggles like Mr. and Mrs. Dursley? Is there any teenager who doesn’t feel like a wizard in a muggle world? And as we become adults, don’t we realize that there is no such thing as “perfectly normal”?  

10. “It was a dark and stormy night” … –Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford
This might be the most famous opening line of all time–but not for a good reason: it’s undoubtedly the most ridiculed opening line ever. When Snoopy was struggling to write his novel with a typewriter perched on the peak of his doghouse, he always started with those same words. San Jose State sponsors an annual bad-opening-line contest named in “honor” of Mr. Bulwer-Lytton. Betsy Dorfman won in 2014 with this stinker of an opening line: When the dead moose floated into view the famished crew cheered – this had to mean land! – but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose.

9. “It used to be Cliff and Vivian and now it isn’t.” –Jim Harrison, The English Major
Is there more poignant way to start off this novel about a 60-year-old man’s quest to find balance and meaning in his life after his 38-year marriage unexpectedly implodes?

8. “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” –Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind
Yeah, the book is about war and slavery and Reconstruction, but at its heart one finds Scarlett, her resilience, her resourcefulness, her ruthlessness and her undeniable power over men.

7. “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” –Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
Isn’t that so, so right? Ooooohhh, if only I could write like that, to cleverly express a truth with a concise and apt metaphor! 

6. “When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake–not a very big one.” –Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
I was hooked as soon as a read the opener to this Pulitzer-Prize winner. What is a blue pig? And pigs eat rattlesnakes? On the porch?? The opening line let me know that I was in for a heckuva read–something different from my daddy’s Louis L’amour westerns–with a surprise in every chapter.

5. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” –Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
What many call the greatest novel ever written is a story about the many ways in which a family can be unhappy: a rejected proposal of marriage, a proposal that would have been accepted if the gentleman had had the courage to offer it, an unfaithful wife, a cold and unforgiving husband and all sorts of other Russian complexities.

4. “All children, except one, grow up.”  –J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan
Is there a more concise, more accurate description of what this wonderful story is all about? I think not. 

3. “Call me Ishmael.” — Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Confession: I’ve never read Moby Dick. But no list of opening lines would be complete without this one.

2. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … ” –Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities
This famous first line foreshadows the duality and tension of the novel’s ending when–SPOILER ALERT!–Sydney Carton arranges to go to the guillotine in Charles Darnay’s place so that his friend could be reunited with Lucie, the woman both men love.

1. “In the beginning, God … “ — God, The Bible
Could there be a more appropriate way to begin the story of God than to let us know that He was already there at the beginning? At the outset, the Bible tells us that at one level, this God thing is easy to understand–He created everything!–but it also signals us that there are deeper, more mysterious aspects to His story and His nature that will take us more than a lifetime to unravel.

Top Ten Ways to Raise a Damaged Kid

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10. Criticize the person, not the action. When she bends the rules in a board game, loudly exclaim: “You’re such a cheater!” Never indicate that you know she’s capable of doing better by saying something like: “I’m disappointed in you. It’s not like you to break the rules.” Let her know you expect the worst from her, and she’ll work at being the best. Kids like to prove their parents wrong.

9. Praise the action, not the person. Never say “Thank you for being a good helper.” If you do, your kid might start thinking of himself as a person who helps others; helping others might become imbedded within him, a part of his character. Instead, say this: “Why should I thank you? You’re just doing what you’re supposed to be doing.” Best case scenario: Ignore his helpful behavior altogether and speak up only when he’s being selfish.

8. Demand conformity. Say stuff like: “Stamp collecting! You’re such a weird kid. Why aren’t you playing video games like everybody else your age?” Her life will be easier if she goes with the flow and follows the crowd. And, after all, it’s your job to make her life as comfortable and pain-free as possible. A round-hole world is not kind to square pegs.

7. Schedule his every moment. Childhood is brief, and how kids spend those childhood hours is way too important to be left to kids. After all, he’s got a lot to learn. If you leave it up to him, he might waste those years laying in the grass watching clouds roll by or taking your kitchen clock apart to see how it works. A programmed kid is a productive kid.

6. Live vicariously through her. Thank goodness for second chances! Life unfairly prevented you from realizing your dream of dancing on Broadway, but let nothing stop you from getting your daughter there. She might think she wants to be a marine biologist, but you know how happy she’ll be when she’s a big New York star. And the road to stardom begins with dance practice before school and gymnastics afterwards. Your kid is a sculpture: you can chisel her into the person you know she’ll want to be. She’ll thank you later.

5. Protect him from failure and unhappiness. You hate to see him unhappy. And isn’t it your job to make him happy? To keep him from pain? To ease his way? To catch him before he hits the ground? He’ll have time when he’s an adult to learn how to deal with a challenging and difficult world. And he’ll find out soon enough that he won’t succeed at everything he tries. Right now you’d better call his college professor and fix things: Baby got a B- in calculus!

4. Praise intelligence, not effort. If you constantly tell her how smart she is and ignore how hard she works, she’ll learn that effort is worthwhile only if it results in victory and achievement. Challenges must be avoided at all cost because she might fail. She’ll learn that looking smart is more important than learning.  And who doesn’t want a kid who looks smart?

3. Reward only success. Let him know that failure is not an option. Discourage experimentation; it might end in failure. The world hates losers. (Do you want your kid to go through life with a big “L” stamped on his forehead?) If his worth is totally tied up in his success, he’ll make sure he never fails because that’ll make him unworthy of your affection. So he’ll only try things when he’s sure of success. And he’ll never fail. Mission accomplished!

2. Make her the center of your universe. Let her know she is the most important part of your life. That’ll send her self-esteem sky-high. Say things like: “My daughter is my whole world!” When it comes time to pick between her and your spouse, always pick her. When she whines about going to Sunday School, stay home from church with her. And never leave her with a baby-sitter; there will be plenty of time for spiritual growth or romantic moments with your spouse when she leaves home. At age 30. Or 40.

1. “Do as I say, not as I do.” Make it clear that you want him to be a better person than you, and so he should listen to what you say and ignore what you do. He needs no model to show him how a mature, emotionally-healthy adult acts; all he needs to do is shut up and listen carefully to you. After all, kids invariably listen attentively to parental lectures–no need to back up those words with actions.

Full disclosure: The author is the parent of two children who somehow turned into well-adjusted adults despite him and his mistakes.

Top Ten Words to Keep Out of an Apology

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Almost everyone feels to need to make an apology at one time or another–no one of us is perfect–but surprisingly few of us know how to do it well. A good apology should be direct, sincere and pure. It should contain three elements: (1) a clear and unqualified admission of what I did wrong, (2) an expression of sorrow for what I did to you (including an acknowledgment of the harm I caused you) and (3) a commitment, to the extent it’s possible, to make things right (including a description of my corrective actions). But it’s hard to spit out those words. I want to make myself look good. I want to make my bad choice look not-so-bad. And I want everyone to know that I’m not as big a jerk as my actions make me appear. So I tend to let these ten words sneak into my apology. None has any place there.

10. Apologize. Ironically, the word “apologize” does not belong in a good apology. “I apologize” is a lukewarm substitute for “I’m sorry”. Even worse is its black-sheep cousin: “I want to apologize”. Instead of saying that I want to apologize, why don’t I actually apologize by saying “I’m sorry”? Even worse than “apologize” is yet another close relative …

9. Regret. Just say “I’m sorry”. “Regret” is a weasel word I use when I choke on the word “sorry”. If “sorry” was a beer, then “regret” would be “sorry lite”. “Sorry” means: “I feel bad that I did this to you.” “Regret” means “Gosh, I wish that hadn’t happened.” Which leads me to another blacklisted word …

8. Happen. A poor apology obscures my responsibility for the harm that resulted from my bad choice. “Happen” is my ally in that  effort, as in “I’m just sorry all this had to happen.” Using the word “happen” implies that the harm done to you was the end result of an unavoidable chain of events, not anyone’s fault–bad luck, really. Better to say it this way: “I’m sorry I talked about you behind your back and betrayed our friendship.” Also avoid the use of happen’s good pal: “occur”. And those two bad boys like to hang out with …

7. Incident. This is another good word to add to my avoidance-of-responsibility arsenal. It can be effectively used to mask my thoughtless actions, as in: “I regret the incident.” It helps me evade responsibility by failing to describe what I did and failing to identify me as the culprit. Just an unfortunate series of events. Close by “incident” in the dictionary is yet another word to avoid …

6. Inconvenience. This is a great word to use when I want to minimize the seriousness of the harm I caused you. Businesses are notorious for using it to downplay the impact of their mistakes, as in: “We may have failed to keep your personal financial information safe and secure from hackers. We sincerely regret any inconvenience this may cause our valued customers.” That reminds me of another word never to use …

5. If. When I apologize, it’s not a question of IF I made a bad choice, it’s a question of WHAT bad choice I made and HOW that choice hurt you. “If” is frequently paired with its evil cousin “offend” to come up with this non-apology: “If I offended anyone by saying that NASCAR fans are beer-swilling idiots, I am truly sorry.” Is there anyone on the planet who thinks that statement would provide the least bit of comfort  to stock-car aficionados? It not only repeats the insult but fails to acknowledge its undeniable offensiveness. But the real fault lies in the way it throws the burden back on the victim, saying in fancier language: “If you are so thin-skinned that you took offense at my humorous remark, then I guess I have to apologize.” It reminds of another word that often fouls up an otherwise good apology …

4. Sincere. Or its partner in crime, “truly”. If I have to say that I “sincerely apologize” or am “truly sorry”, then chances are that the apology is not at all sincere and the sorrow is far from true. One cannot make an apology sincere by saying it is so. It is up to the apology’s recipient to decide whether the apology is sincere and the sorrow is true. If I use those words in my apology and then I’m called out on it, I may be tempted to say I …

3. Misspoke. Politicians use this word a lot. I’m not sure what it means, but I think this is it: “I accidentally said what I really think, and it’s landed me in hot water.” If one means to say “cooperate” but says “copulate” instead, that’s a true misspeak. Don’t laugh, I did that. In front of my pastor. Twice in a row. True story. I was tempted to blame someone else for my embarrassing error by using one of these unacceptable words …

2. He, She and They. Third-person pronouns have no place in an apology. It’s about two people only: me and you. Sure, I might not be totally to blame for what was done to you, but an apology is no place to bring that up. It’s a place for me to acknowledge my part in the harm you suffered and to ask forgiveness for it. Those pronouns are often followed by a conjunction, the #1 word that should never be found in an apology …

1. But. Just as apology is no place to introduce third parties who may also be at fault, it is no place for me to introduce extenuating circumstances that might mitigate my fault. “I’m sorry I ran the red light and T-boned your car, but the sun was in my eyes.” Even worse is to use “but” to argue that the recipient of the apology bears some of the blame too. “”I’m sorry I ran the red light and T-boned your car, but you should have known that nobody stops for red lights anymore.”

There may be a time and a place to discuss others who may be at fault. And perhaps at a later date the victim of my poor choice might be interested in hearing how I came to make such a choice and why I’m not really the heartless human being that my current conduct seems to indicate. Just maybe the recipient of my apology might be generous enough to initiate discussion of his or her part in the entire incident. But when making my apology, I need to set those aside. It’s about me, what I did to you, how sorry I am, and what I am going to do for you to try to set things right. Don’t diminish the quality of an apology–and thereby diminish its potential to effect reconciliation–by cluttering it up with any of these ten words.

Top Ten Prison Demands of Anders Breivik

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Anders Breivik is a mass murderer. On July 22, 2011, he bombed a government building in Oslo, killing 8 people, and then proceeded to an island youth camp where he stalked and killed 69 children. His goal was to get publicity for his anti-Muslim, anti-woman views. He was convicted of the 77 murders and sentenced to the maximum prison sentence Norwegian law allows.

Apparently prison is not to his liking. He is threatening to go on a hunger strike if the warden doesn’t meet his 12 non-negotiable demands. Among them are a larger gym, a comfy sofa for his cell and a replacement for the obsolete PlayStation2 on which he’s been forced to play his video games. The Washington Post article I read doesn’t reveal the other nine complaints, but this is my guess of what they are–with one more to make it an even top ten.

10. Dancercise class offered only three times a week.

9. Prison chef failed to graduate from Ecole du Cordon Bleu with high honors.

8. Valet leaves too many wrinkles when ironing hankies.

7. Inadequate supply of those paper umbrellas for pool-side Mai Tais

6. Wait staff persists in serving from the right and clearing from the left.

5. Broadband speed too slow (took an agonizingly-long ten minutes to download Shawshank Redemption).

4. Beaujolais is served at a nauseatingly warm fifty degrees.

3. Evening chocolate on the pillow is a prosaic Swiss variety, not Belgian prime.

2. Martinis are stirred not shaken.

1. Justin Beiber on the prison sound system!

DISCLAIMERS:

–Yes, I am aware that 77 murders are no laughing matter.

–Yes, I am aware that all prisoners–even convicted mass murderers–deserve humane prison conditions.

—-But, really. A sofa and an updated PlayStation? Part of accepting responsibility is working one’s way through the consequences of one’s choices.

Top Ten Things Never Heard in a Barber Shop

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If you’re woman–or a man under 50–you may never have set foot in an old-fashioned barber shop. What goes on in there? Would you like to listen in on the sparkling conversation? Go ahead, eavesdrop all you want; you’ll never hear these words spoken:

  1. Hey, those women on Fox News wear their skirts a bit too short, don’t you think? I mean, how do they sit down in those things?
  2. Oh, I don’t want to bore you with all the details of my prostate surgery. Let’s talk about something else.
  3. I really think this Obamacare thing is going to work, don’t you?
  4. Those Wall Street bankers don’t get nearly enough credit for pumping up our economy, do they? And why are they so underpaid?
  5. Football really is a pretty darned dangerous sport. My guess is that in 5 years we’ll be watching soccer on Sunday afternoon.
  6. Ford, Chevy–who cares? One’s just the same as the other.
  7. Isn’t the Detroit Lions front office just top-notch? Too bad their ball-players keep letting them down every year.
  8. Nancy Pelosi? We need more people like her in Washington.
  9. Have you tried that new Lean Cuisine?  Mighty tasty.
  10. Isn’t gasoline a bargain? $3.50 a gallon! How are the oil companies making any money at that price?