I wrote this blog post surrounded by knotty pine walls, bunk beds and bedspreads made of outdoorsy fishermen fabric. I’m speaking at a women’s retreat at Camp Buckner near Burnet, Texas. (By the way…that is pronounced “burn it.”) Come to think of it, given my culinary skills, I should probably be mayor of this town!
One of the ladies here forwarded me an essay her grandson had written for his college application. She said the essay reflected what Jim had written in his last booklet, “How To Change Our Culture.” Her grandson’s essay was excellent, and the last sentence was especially profound. This young man, aged 17, has a message that every church should consider.
The essay topic assigned was: “Describe a setting on which you collaborated or interacted with people whose experiences and/or beliefs differ from yours. Address initial feelings and how those feelings were or were not changed by this experience.”
The young man wrote: “One particular Wednesday night, for a change in scenery, I decided to go to the church that the majority of my friends go to. Hosted by the largest church in town, and not my church home, the youth program I attended is the most popular. Many kids, like me, are from other denominations, defecting from their own church. Many of the students participate for reasons other than religion. Youth is more of a social hour. Even under this pretense, I was still surprised by what I experienced.”
I was particularly interested in the young man’s choice of words. “Defecting from their own church…social hour…participating for reasons other than religion.” I still wasn’t too bothered, however. It is fairly normal for teenagers to want to be where other teens are hanging out. The next paragraph described what he saw at this popular church’s youth service:
“The attention-grabbing video played as everyone hurried to their seats. It was a voiceover of a movie about the life of Christ, which gave Jesus a nerdy voice with which he mocked his disciples and contradicted every pure, holy image I have ever had of him. I became confused as the entire youth congregation laughed hysterically throughout the video. When I had walked into the building earlier that evening I had thought I was entering a place where people worship Jesus. But they seemed to be making fun of him instead.”
The rest of the essay describes his confusion, his disappointment in the service and then his choice to not judge those at that church for their choices. He voiced what is the acceptable and popular opinion of his generation. He wrote: “After discussing the event with people closely involved with this popular youth group, I realized there are many styles of worship and fellowship, and reminded myself that tolerance and mercy is the answer, not judgment.” My friend’s grandson didn’t choose to make tolerance the main point, however. It was his following sentences where I found an essay for our day…one that each of us should read and consider.
The essay continued saying, “It is understandable that this church wants to be fun and wants to pack the house. However, Jesus’ goal in his teachings was not to impress his audience, but to communicate truth to those who were genuinely seeking it. In the end we all worship the same God and ultimately I do not necessarily believe that the way this church chose to portray Jesus was a lack of respect. Perhaps they felt they have such a close relationship with Him that they could poke a little friendly fun. My opinion, however, has not changed, and it is still difficult for me to attend that youth group.”
I have to admit, I was cheering his words. I have often said that, in Scripture, when a person has a personal encounter with God, they usually fall to their faces in repentance and awe. Their first words describe their own unworthiness compared to the Lord. There is never a “lack of respect” and there is always a sense of reverent worship.
The young man ends his essay with a line that compelled me to crank up my computer, in my Buckner Camp bedroom, and write this blog post. The essay ends by saying, “People should not leave the church because the church is no longer cool; they should leave the church when the church begins to mirror the rest of the world.”
“And a teenager will lead them.” Sometimes I worry about the trends I see in our church culture today. And then I read something like this essay. God has always had his prophets…and he always will. I think I just read an essay from one of them.