Walking away

there have been a lot of studies over the past decade or so,  that have tried to answer the question of why so many young adults are leaving  (or have left)  the church.

recently i read a couple of them here and here that helped give some definition and put into words some things i have been wrestling with for a while.

it’s no secret i have spent the majority of my life helping young people come to grips with their faith.   but the sadness  i feel when i think about how so many of those kids  struggle with their faith after they leave the youth group is sometimes pretty overwhelming.

although i work hard not to beat myself up over their decisions…i can’t help but think we (i)  have let them down.   this is not therapy for me.   it is not my attempt at martyrdom.   i just think there’s just some stuff we need to own up to…and begin to aggressively address,  or what’s bad now is going to keep getting worse in the decades to come.

over the next few months,  usually on fridays,  i want to deal with some of the issues that keep pushing people away.

let’s just go ahead and deal with the mother of all reasons that people,  young and old,  criticize the church and walk away.  church people are just a bunch of hypocrites.

what a wonderful,  catch-all,  explanation for what’s wrong with the church.   and i’ve listened to church people get pretty defensive over this one…sometimes in a smug,  superior kind of way.   i’ve spent a lifetime watching people grow  protective,  and even cynical,  about this criticism.

nobody likes being accused of being hypocritical.   even if we are.

so here are some thoughts about hypocrisy…from a recovering hypocrite:

hypocrisy,  by definition,  is acting.   it is putting on a show.   it is covering up the real person that we are…and pretending to be something we’re not.   it is saying one thing and doing another.   it’s going through the motions on the outside,  but being something totally different on the inside.   how dare we be offended when someone accuses us of being exactly who we are!

because we are hypocrites,  we are left with three options:

one,  we can keep pretending.   and young people will keep seeing through us.   and it will keep being offensive and it will continue to push people away.

two,  we can try to stop being hypocrites.   now really,  this is a pretty good option.   i would even recommend it.   jesus certainly does.   but there is a problem with this option that won’t go away.   we’re not perfect.   there is no way we are going through life with perfect motives and consistently perfect behavior.

so i recommend the third option.   why not just go ahead and admit that we are imperfect,  hypocritical people who are deeply in need of help?

why not just go ahead and stop pretending we are spiritually superior to other people?   why not admit that we have fears and crutches and questions and doubts?   why not admit that our personal lives are messy and filled with inconsistencies?   why not just admit we don’t know everything…don’t have all the answers…and don’t always have our act together?

i believe in our attempt to be light in a dark world and be messengers of hope for the hopeless,  our message gets constantly obscured by our unwillingness  (or unawareness) to admit that we are simply like everyone else.

i don’t think we mean to,  but we often talk and act like we are better than others…like we are spiritually superior…like we are just a little cleaner and a little nicer and a little smarter and little purer and cut above those who don’t believe what we believe and those who won’t do what we expect them to do or not do.

like i said,  we ought to stop being hypocritical.   we need to conform our character and behavior more and more to the life and example of the one we claim worship.   (that’s another post)

but maybe we need to start growing more comfortable with remembering who we are and that we are nothing without the grace of god.   and maybe that’s a message people…especially those that recognize our hypocrisy as well as we do…need to be hearing with greater clarity.


2 thoughts on “Walking away

  1. This question implies more people are leaving the church now than in the past and your response Mike assumes people are more hypocritical now than in the past. I know you don’t believe that to be true but hear me out.

    If hypocracy was truely one of the major reasons why people are leaving the church more frequently now then the past we must assume peoople in the past were less hypocritical. We know that’s not true. What I think is possible is that people were better at hiding their hypocarcy in the past than today. You know go to church on Sunday, singy hymns, give money and go home and beat your slave. Our hypocracy was acceptable because our culture in the past was more homogeneous. Our bigotry was generally more acceptable. I believe our current culture doesn’t allow us to hide our hypocracy because our value system is being challenged more frequently by those who don’t share the religious perspective. But this doesn’t really answer the question very well does it?

    I think I can say with confidence people want to be affirm and accepted. When this happens the degree of hypocracy declines within a community and the gospel is allowed to flurish. How do we accomplish this? Well thanks for asking. We can only accomplish this if we REALLY take Jesus at His word and spend our energy examing and working on removing the plank in our eye rather than worry about the speck in someone else’s eye. When we do this we don’t have the energy nor desire to place a “heavy burden/yoke” on someone else and it frees us to focus our attention on Jesus.

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