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Tough love for a ‘progressive’ teen

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USA Today published an editorial Aug. 18 written by Stacia Datskovska, a 15-year-old high school junior from West Virginia. The editorial was titled “Churches could win back teens like me if they were more welcoming and less judgmental.”

Among other things, she suggested that “churches should offer more open-ended resources such as meditation, discussion groups and even nature walks. Let teens come to God in their own way.”

This open letter is my response.

Stacia, I commend your youthful enthusiasm as well as your boldness for being so willing to take a stand on such a controversial topic. Your passion was evident in your writing.

You’re right, the church does need to change, but not for the reasons you cite. Unfortunately, your logic is a reflection of the confusion surrounding many members of the millennial generation.

You start by telling us “the Christian church experience needs to start transcending the traditional and adapting to the times.”

Oy vey! Haven’t we already done that?

Our church services have transcended into spectacles of light, fog, sound, jumbotrons, eight-piece bands with four singers, and sermon messages guaranteed not to convict a single person that he or she ever needs to change.

Churches have put in espresso counters and cafes. Our Bible studies are little more than coffee klatches involving superficial Biblical insight.

We’ve been telling people for years that God loves them just the way they are – selfish, lustful, greedy, snarky, and everything Jesus isn’t – without challenging them to change. Look where our country is today.

The institutional church has turned a blind eye to lust and divorce as well as many of the very pressing needs of their neighbors around them. After all, as “seeker sensitive” institutions, they don’t want to offend anyone.

Losing lifeblood

Yet, people have been abandoning some churches in droves because the watered-down, powerless messages are leaving people just as lost, confused, addicted and ineffective coming out of services as they were going in.

The very leaders of the movement you advocate have started to flee that type of church. Why? Because that type of “Christianity” is nothing more than Sunday morning entertainment and socializing.

Organized religion has sucked the lifeblood out of genuine Christianity.

People are bolting from legacy churches, too, as you noted. The man-made rituals, programming and potlucks lack power to change lives.

When you look at it, most traditional churches wound up as powerless gathering places simply because they caved in to demands of younger generations many years ago to “make their messages relevant to the changing times.”

The problem with adapting to the times is that society is devolving before our very eyes.

There is no longer a common standard of truth. Having been encouraged to “discover your own truth,” the millennial generation is generally confused, angry, unmotivated, lustful and selfish. But so is Generation X and the baby boomers before them.

Why should we want to embrace those traits, and expand upon them?

A barrier to faith

You tell us “a barrier to faith is that Christians are hypocrites.”

Imagine that! A building full of broken people needing a savior and failing to live up to Biblical standards of holiness. I guess they’ve all been busy searching after “their own” truth.

If it’s so easy to live the sinless life that Jesus did, Stacia, perhaps you could show us the way?

The truth is that you can’t. You approach life from your own selfish agenda, too. You want the church to adapt to YOU. God tells us to be holy because HE is holy. We must emulate HIM.

Your generation will tell people, “This is who I am. This is how God created me. Don’t expect me to change.”

Yet the Bible tells us that we must crucify our flesh daily (Galatians 5:24) and even make our thoughts obedient to Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5).

During the two times a year you admit to attending church, it appears you expect it to be an experience of goosebumps, hugs and the never-ending encouragement millennials seem to crave.

Speaking of which, why does your generation need so much praise? Because nobody ever took the time to introduce you to your creator. Once you get to know him, you won’t need the flattery of others.

The mantra of inclusion

You say that churches need to “successfully embrace inclusive programs to draw a larger young audience.”

Rather than trying to be all things to all people, Jesus himself tells us to seek the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14) and make every effort to enter through the narrow door that leads to life (Luke 13:24).

That seems contrary to the idea of big tent inclusion.

In fact, Jesus said the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction. (Matthew 7:13). He wants us to separate ourselves from the world (2 Corinthians 6:17).

So, on one hand, we have Jesus Christ, the triune God present at the moment the universe was created, warning us against being too inclusive and too worldly.

And, on the other hand, we have Stacia, who is 12 years out of diapers, telling us that we need to fling the church doors open wide to embrace every conceivable lifestyle.

You’re right in that the church should welcome people from all backgrounds because we all fall short of God’s glory. Just don’t expect everyone to embrace and call “normal” what the Bible clearly condemns as sin.

A good Christian church will be patient in helping people grow into Biblical maturity. A horrible Christian church will tell people they don’t ever need to change and to just believe in themselves.

I wonder if Jesus were to judge the church today, would he punish it for abiding by a too narrow definition of holiness, or would he condemn the church for allowing too much worldly “wisdom” to dilute his Gospel?

Jesus ignored his opportunity

Like many people in society, you seem stuck on the alphabet soup of sexual confusion that is permeating the world today. It’s a stumbling block for many people who need a close, personal relationship with God. After all, I am sure you would suggest that everyone deserves to be loved.

They do. And Jesus really, truly does love them — warts and all. He still wants us to become better people and work to become holy.

I sense you believe that if Jesus would just be more Christian in embracing the plethora of sexual options today, then his church could be more relevant.

May I point out that sexual confusion was just as rampant during Jesus’ time as it is today. The Bible is full of those stories.

If there ever was a time for Jesus to embrace inclusiveness in that regard, that would have been the time to do it. But, what did Jesus actually do?

He told people, in Matthew 19:5-6, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’

He seemed to be taking a much narrower stance than you envision the church should emulate. In fact, Paul, Jesus’ chosen disciple to take his message to non-Jewish people, referred to homosexuality as “error” in Romans 1:27.

Why that is the case would need to be the subject of a different article. But, perhaps the reason anger, pornography and human trafficking is so prevalent today is because most churches turn a blind eye to the insidious effect of lust.

Who is changing?

You warn the Christian church of 1 billion people, which already survived 2,000 years of persecution, that it will lack a solid following within 10 to 20 years if they don’t “take a hint from progressive movements which are highly appreciated by many young participants.”

Stacia, it’s you who is changing and constantly evolving. God doesn’t.

If you were honest, would you agree that your opinions about issues that matter most to you today have changed drastically from the opinions you held when you were 10 years old?

I can assure you that what you think is important today as a 15-year-old will be vastly different than what you will believe when you’re 25 and a newlywed. Your opinions will change again when you’re 35 with kids of your own. And they’ll change even more by the time you’re 55 with grandchildren of your own.

But, God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8).

A prodigal experience

What you may need, Stacia, is a prodigal experience, like the lost son described by Jesus in Luke 15:11-24.

You may need to leave father’s house and try life on your own by relying upon your own wisdom, strength and understanding. I had to do that myself.

Then you can discover if your youthful idealism works, or determine if God’s way really is the best path to a successful, joyful life.

It’s your choice. God entrusted you with the ability to make your own decisions and to live by the consequences of those choices.

There is a right way of doing things, and a reason for doing so. There is a specific system and rhythm to life that is just as relevant in 2019 as it was 2,000 years ago.

Jesus wants his church to stand on those proven, unchangeable values and serve as a beacon for confused people searching for unshifting, absolute truth; not some social scheme that is true today and false tomorrow.

Stacia, I was exactly like you when I was 15 years old. Exactly!

If you let him, God will mold you and shape you to accomplish the mission he will call you to fulfill. You’re already a great communicator. I suspect that if you fully gave your life over to God that you could become a prophet to your generation.

When you discover the true purpose for your life – the one God specifically created just for you – you are going to enjoy amazing success.

Don’t give up on your pursuit of truth, Stacia. It really exists and that truth is as timeless as God himself.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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