Friday, September 19, 2014

Why kids leave church: our dirty little secret

It's hard to estimate how many articles, books, and blog posts I've read concerning the topic of "why" children abandon church as they transition into adulthood.  People blame culture/peer-pressure, lack of quality youth programs, and the irrelevance of the modern consumer-driven church.  I have a sneaking suspicion the real reason is closer to home.

Each person is unique, and everyone has their own set of circumstances that shapes them.  This brief post cannot be exhaustive, nor can it claim to pinpoint everyone.  My opinions here are shaped by what I've observed in 20 + years of ministry, and may not coincide with your views.  My hope is, we can turn things around and make changes that will nurture the faith of future generations.

The first observation I will make has to do with Attitude.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to adults when their children have a bad taste in their mouths over church, when these same adults complain & criticize their local church.  I've seen second and third generation Christians nitpick every aspect of their church family, and then act frustrated when their children walk out the back door of the church.  Regardless of how nostalgic you are about your youth rallies and the glory days of church camp, you can't send mixed messages and expect your children to escape from your negativity.

My next observation has to do with Activity.
It's immature to expect our young people to be more involved or engaged than the adults.  I've taught Wednesday night classes, Sunday morning classes and everything in between at church.  Watching adults chit-chat and skip class or the worship service, while they expected their children to attend, used to irritate me.  Now it concerns me.  I see now the damage from the adults who "loved" their church, but felt too mature or important to attend the events they forced on their children.

Then, somewhere between Attitude and Activity, there are the adults who "take their toys" and go home when they don't get their way.  What message does this send home...?

But what about the mature believers who had great attitudes, were healthy, and were very active but still their children leave church?  Again, everyone has unique circumstances, so this post can't possibly explain what happens to everyone.  I will say, there are people whom I love and respect, but their children didn't embrace their parent's faith.  What went wrong?  Sadly, even when we do all we can as parents, there are always church squabbles and unhealthy leaders our children are exposed to, situations beyond our control that can do more harm than good.    

My guess is, more children become disillusioned with church because of what they see at home... if they overhear unhealthy conversations lambasting their church, if they witness hypocrisy in their parents, and if they see a disconnect in their parent's behaviors and the message.

We don't live in a perfect world, and we aren't perfect.  So what can we do?

For starters, show some grace to those you worship with.  Be more tolerant, and extend ample forgiveness to those you disagree with.  Guard your tongue and be careful in what you say about others.

Next, be honest about your inconsistencies.  Be vulnerable with your children.  Share your struggles, and take responsibility for your shortcomings without blaming others.

Finally, focus more on Jesus & imitating Him.  Sounds too simplistic, I'm sure.  I'm open to hearing your suggestions.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A topic I've never preached on...

(Last Friday's column, 8/29/14)

I have a confession, in over 20 years of ministry, I’ve never preached on gluttony.  It’s not that I’m opposed to being fit, nor am I ignorant on the dangers of gluttony.  By the way, how many sermons have you heard about gluttony...?

For most of my adult life I’ve been exercising in one gym or another.  When I was in my 20’s I competed in powerlifting; even though I’ve scaled back on the intensity of my regimen, exercising is still a big priority. In all my years of lifting, I’ve never really worried about slimming down. I know I need to shed a few pounds, but my friends reassure me by simply saying I “carry my weight well...”  For example, I have a friend who jokingly calls me “BB” which is short for “big boned.”   I’ve enjoyed weight training, but I’ve never had the discipline to diet.  To me, the key word to dieting was always, “Tomorrow.”  Well, tomorrow has crash landed.

Why is gluttony suddenly on my radar?  For two reasons.  

First, this past June I attended a Pastor’s breakfast hosted by Eastman.  Most of the speakers at the Eastman breakfast emphasized how Tennessee has a poor national ranking in our overall health status, especially our high rate of obesity.  As they were recruiting the help of the local church to encourage our community to eat healthier, Eastman’s Perry Stuckey delivered a passionate plea, seeking our help in guiding families to be more conscious of the choices we make in selecting meals and how we eat and exercise.  Eastman even had a representative from the Governor’s office to talk about the Governor's new initiative “Heather Tennessee” which is online at and next month they will add a tab for churches called “Small Starts @ Worship” too.

Secondly, I recently ended up in the ER -- I thought my ears were rupturing, my eyes felt like they were bulging out, and the top of my head felt like it was exploding.  My blood pressure was 196/113; that was high enough to make feel like I was about to die.  I’m no medical professional and I know hypertension can be from genetics, but I also know what I eat and how much I eat contributes as well.

I’ve lost 20 pounds within the last month simply by adding cardio to my regimen and by practicing (for the first time in my life) portion control.  I’d like to shed another 20 pounds -- I’m working hard to be prescription free if at all possible.  It is possible for us all to be healthier, but it won’t happen with magical thinking.  The effort is worth it though -- heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic health issues are scientifically tied to inactivity and overeating.

Though I’ve never preached on gluttony, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you my reading friends.  Gluttony is a sin, and like most every sin, it is misusing a good blessing.  Think of it like this, is money evil?  No.  When we hoard money and crave it, we call that greed.  Greed, stealing money, or the “love of money” is the sin, not money itself.  Is sex a sin?  No, sex is a wonderful blessing, it’s a gift.  When sex is disrespected through pornograhy or when we betray our spouse’s trust through an affair, that’s a sin.  Is talking a sin?  No.  When we lie or slander people, we misuse the gift of language by corrupting Truth.  

Ample and delicious food testifies to God’s love and care for us, “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17 ESV)  Also consider, “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 ESV)  The best way to show we appreciate a gift is to treat it respectfully and cherish it, not abuse it.  Gluttony is abusing one of God’s greatest gifts, food.  

Please consider exercising daily and the dietary choices you make; take control of your appetites -- don’t let your appetites control you, us, me.  Of all the people, we as believers should exhibit self-control since self-control is listed with the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:23.  I also want to be a better ambassador for Jesus; when people meet me and learn I’m a believer and a preacher, I have an obligation to represent Jesus well.  Fellow ministers who may be reading this & need to get healthier too, please consider: How well are we representing our congregations or reflecting Jesus’ influence by the shape we are in?