>Europe is becoming more and more secular, and so is my original country of Australia. Over there, some beautiful old stone churches, now empty of worshippers, have been converted into boutiques or ice-cream shops. In the USA, where most people believe in God, young people are into sports, work, new clothes, I-phones, and fitness centers. But many young people do not go to church, and have no interest in organized religion.
An Australian called Andreas, about twenty, enlightened me as to the way many young people feel about causes. He told me that if a child falls in a lake while I was walking past, I would jump in to rescue the child without thinking of the damage to my new $500 western boots. But the odds are I would not send $500 to Africa to rescue a child who was dying of malnutrition. He said it’s because of distance, lack of awareness, and doubt whether the money would ever get there……easier to look the other way, and not think about it! When he told this story, I felt it pointed at me and possibly some of the pew-sitting people in the established church. In contrast, he implied that many young people these days are active in a cause, or searching for a cause which they don’t see in organized religion.
I was not too surprised to discover the same sentiment in a book written by the president of World Vision International, an NGO who for over 40 years has raised funds to assist people in developing countries with starving children and illnesses born by contaminated water**. In words that have a sting, Richard Stearns writes “A letter to the church in America”. He introduces this letter with the words “The modern church…. is comfortable, wealthy, and self-sufficient. We, too, blindly believe that we are prosperous because we are God’s ‘favorites’. And our deeds are every bit as ‘lukewarm’ as those of the Laodicean assembly”. However Stearns does make clear that many churches are far above the average in missions-orientation. One test I suppose is how often a pastor preaches about the situation in Sudan or Haiti and what his/her church is doing to assist the poor in undeveloped countries. If this only happens once a year, that would feel like a token effort, and not an important object on the church’s radar screen.
Yet one more time I was forced to confront this issue. A young man I know, called Dennis, goes to college in Kansas on a student visa. He is from Moldova, a very small and poor country in eastern Europe. When the Category 5 tornado struck Joplin, Missouri a year or so ago, he drove up there all by himself to volunteer a weekend of his time to help the city recover from the devastation. Then he volunteered another weekend later on. I still feel ashamed that I did not go, but instead sat on my butt in Albuquerque attending to my own “important” stuff. In Joplin, although not directly associated with a church, Dennis worked alongside church groups from Ohio and North Carolina. He told me “That is one example of how a church should work – to act when necessary, and to practice what they preach”.
So my thought is that Andreas and Richard Stearns and Dennis (inadvertently perhaps) are pointing a finger at me (and maybe the organized church of which I am a part). It forces me to think….. What are the causes that I and the church are embracing? Where are the causes within the church that young people want to follow? My conclusions are below, via my limited perspective, and I invite your comments (see the Reply/Comment box just below this blog topic).
The current perception of many young people: the organized church in some respects is like a country club for folks to share about their new cars, their kids, or the latest sports news. Yes they gather to worship God, but what are they doing to help the dire causes that exist throughout the world?
To change that perception: church members can learn to communicate with young people about larger causes (AIDS, drilling water wells in Sierra Leone, ordinary families being tortured and killed in Syria, and yes even recycling to conserve waste). To demonstrate our commitment to causes beyond the immediate fellowship of the church, we in the church could send the price of our new sandals or shoes to World Vision, or Doctors without Borders. That’s pretty easy. Or we can get off the couch and transfer our torsos to places like Joplin or New Orleans (hurricane Katrina), to show the young people that we believe in causes too, and it’s not just lip-service on our part.
We may not agree with young folks on all these issues, but we can ask their views, and listen with respect, and try to understand their causes. And anticipate that they in return will listen to our views on Jesus the Christ, the salt and light for this broken world. I apologize to my nephews and nieces in Australia, and to my grandchildren in Kansas and Texas, because with my tunnel vision I have not made a decent effort to do this.
PS: I think Michelle the coangel would agree wholeheartedly with Andreas and Dennis. I believe she would endorse the concept of sending the price of a new pair of shoes/boots to offset the fact that a child dies every 5 seconds from hunger-related causes, and a child dies every 15 seconds from water-born diseases**. Michelle would brush back her shoulder-length black hair, and smile and say “In the most serious context of life and death, you are indeed helping someone to hope”.
PPS: World Vision’s address is PO Box 70102, Tacoma, WA, 98481-0102
In the words of Jesus:
“For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed Me; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you ministered to Me; I was in prison and you came to see Me…..Truly I tell you in as far as you did it to one of the least of My brethren, you did it to Me”. (Matthew chapter 25, Amplified Bible).
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Probing the practice of Christian believers….
** “The Hole in our Gospel” by Richard Stearns.