As a follow-up to my recent entry, "The Top Ten Reasons Our Kids Leave Church" I wanted to post some more information on this subject hoping to learn more about why we lose so many kids.  

I think of my own kids and why they left not the Church (universal) but our church (Rio West).  And although Gabriel and Carmen are very different individuals, the common denominators include: same set of parents, same schooling (home school and Rio Grande Enrichment Studies), and same church (Rio West).  And in spite of being raised in a conservative and evangelical church, Gabriel now worships at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Byzantine Catholic Churchan Eastern rites congregation, and Carmen at Mars Hill, a neo-Reformed congregation. 

So, why are so many kids leaving Evangelical churches and going elsewhere?  There are many reasons, of course, but at the gist of it is a desire for a deeper spirituality, theology, historic rootedness, and so on.  The following insightful message is from The Christian Pundit, specifically the last three paragraphs of "Young Evangelicals Are Getting High" (you can read the entire blog @ http://thechristianpundit.org/2013/07/17/young-evangelicals-are-getting-high/).


The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.

But not all kids who grew up in American evangelicalism are jumping off into high church rite and sacrament: congregations that carefully teach robust, historic Protestant theology to their children are notably not losing them to the Vatican, or even Lambeth. Protestant churches that recognize their own ecclesiastical and theological heritage, training their children to value and continue it in a 21st century setting, usually retain their youth. These kids have the tools they need to think biblically through the deep and difficult issues of the day and articulate their position without having a crisis of faith. They know the headlines, church history, theology and their Bibles, and so are equipped to engage culture in a winsome, accessible way. They have a relationship with God that is not based on their feelings or commitments but on the enduring promises of the Word and so they can ride out the trends of the American church, knowing that they will pass regardless of mass defections to Rome. That’s not to say that the Book of Common Prayer is unbiblical in its entirety–far from it! It is to say that children raised in spiritually substantive and faithful homes usually find things like holy water, pilgrimages, popes and ash on their faces an affront to the means for spiritual growth that God has appointed in His Word.

“He cannot have God as his Father who does not have the church for his Mother,” said Cyprian, nearly two millennia ago. Perhaps if Protestant churches began acting more like dutiful mothers instead of fun babysitters, there would be fewer youth leaving their ecclesiastical homes as soon as they are out of the house.


I couldn't agree more!  We tend to think that making things younger, hotter, flashier, energetic, and so on will attract and keep young people.  And it will attract some, but it won't keep many.  It appears to me, therefore, that what we need in church--music, sermons, teaching and so on--is the best of the old and the best of the new, or put another way, freshly presented traditions.

This poem from a 20-something who describes him/hersel as a...

Scared of Hell. Walked the aisle. Said a prayer. Baptized. Felt some feelings.
Only recently learned how Law & Gospel are appropriately separated.
& have learned about the external Word and sacraments.
I am currently studying at the University of Arkansas. I’m 21.

says it best...

Dear Church, My Plea

We don’t want modernity.
We don’t want your empty promises.
We don’t want your self-help sermons.
We don’t want to find security inside of ourselves.
Stop telling me that Christ needs my commitment.
Stop telling me that I’m good.
Stop giving me new law to keep.
Stop idolizing youth.
Stop dumbing down the message.
Stop sugar-coating truth.
Stop feeding me donuts.
I need His body and blood.
Point me not to a prayer.
Point me to His Word.
Teach me His promises.
Teach me His Law.
Tell me I can’t keep it.
Tell me He fulfilled it.
I am a sinner. Just like you.
You tell me what to do.
& leave out what’s been done.
Care not about my entertainment.
Care about His message rightly proclaimed.
You give me a purity ring.
I need armor.
I need this message of reconciliation.
I need Christ crucified for sinners.
This news is good.
This Word brings life.
Rebuke this moralism.
Rebuke this mysticism.
If moralism is the message,
I don’t need Jesus.
If mysticism is the message,
I’ll get high on something else.
I’m done with this pretending.
I need solid food.
If my best life is now, I’m going to hell.
I don’t care about Friday.
I don’t care about feelings.
I’m a sinner like you.
I need Christ.
He brings life.
This fake smile’s getting old.
My Sunday clothes are wearing thin.
My heart is growing numb.
I’m broken by sin.
I need conviction from the Law.
& healing from the Lord.
My strivings are futile.
The Law leaves me condemned.
Please talk about sin.
Let your message be bloody.
Place the cross in the center.
For Christ, He alone is worthy.

Amen to that!  It appears to me, then, that we need to rethink much of what we do and teach in our Evangelical churches, keeping the best of our Evangelical tradition (and there's much of that) but also "...carefully teach robust, historic Protestant theology to [our] children," as the article notes.

Just food for thought...

 

God bless

CalvinCuban

In my most recent blogs I wrote about The Top Ten Reasons Our Kids Leave Church and More Reasons Our Kids Leave Church. In both of these I made reference to and copied verbatim from several other blogs/articles to this effect. My main point that the reason Millennials and Generation X’ers are dissatisfied with the contemporary American Evangelical Church is for reasons other than what is mostly talked about. What youth want is more genuineness, openness, honesty, freedom to discuss various and sundry issues (e.g., creationism, morality, politics, theology, history) without arriving at a conclusion beforehand. In other words, they are more interested in substance than style.  Furthermore, they prefer pastors who speak honestly and coherently (and dress appropriately for their age) than those who attempt to entertain them and wear skinny jeans.

A recent report from the Public Religion Research Institute and The Brookings Institution (http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2013-Economic-Values-Report-Final-.pdf) published on July 18, 2013 reveals how Americans of all ages view religion, politics, economics, society, and such. If you’re interested in a realistic perspective on this subject you should read this report. Yes, it’s 62 pages long but it does include lots of pictures (well, charts, actually) and you can access the parts which are of most interest to you. Parts II and III on pp. 25-47 are most apropos to what I’ve been blogging about lately. 

This time I want to quote from Rachel Evans, 32 year old Millennial, author, blogger, CNN special correspondent on religion, wife, and Christian:


Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.

Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …”

And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.

But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.

In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.

Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.

We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.

We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.

You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.

Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations. Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” So I don’t want to portray the divide as wider than it is.

But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.

Their answers might surprise you.


I want to make it clear that I do not necessarily agree with everything that the authors I’ve quoting from have to say. However, they do make some very important points which we should listen to. I fear that we often make assumptions about what it takes to keep and attract 20-somethings and 30-somethings which is well intentioned but often based more on our perceptions (i.e., our particular ideas of reality) rather than on the facts (i.e., real reality) and the truth (i.e., facts, goodness, beauty, etc., all rolled together).

We sometimes use 1 Corinthians 9.22, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some,” as a rallying cry and justification for applying certain techniques to attract certain groups of people. But I don’t believe that Paul is saying this here, that is, that a church should target any one particular group of people at all, whether that is based on age, culture, socio-economic status, race & ethnicity, or whatever. Rather, he says, that he becomes “all things to all men,” not “some things to some men.”

If a church—our church, even—would simply focus on Jesus Christ, “…the way, and the truth, and the life,” the One without whom “…no one comes to the Father,” (John 14.6), such a church will be healthy and growing, which is to say, it will attract to Christ peoples of all ages, cultures, socio-economic status, race & ethnicity, and so on. And such a church—our church, even—would do so by way of to magnifying Him, proclaiming His gospel, calling everyone to repentance, glorifying Him, preaching & teaching the word, living in accordance to His teachings, … and whatever else I’ve left out which Scripture teaches. 

God bless

CalvinCuban

Campbell’s Soup Cans,” by Andy Warhol, 1962

Happy New Year's Day!  Can anyone think of a better way to start the new year than with an academic (sort of) essay on labels?

I’m good with labels.  In fact, I see no liability with labels.  I have progressed through all three stages of change of attitude—tolerate, accept & embrace—with regards to labels.

Labels are perhaps the most utilitarian thing on the planet.  Imagine buying a can of green pea soup (yuck!) when you intended to get a can of chicken broth (great for making arroz con pollo!) simply because it was mislabeled.  Yes, labels are a most useful thing.

So why do some otherwise good Christians take issue with labels as they pertain to our faith?  The argument I hear most often is that labels (other than just plain “Christian”) are divisive.  But is this really the case?  For instance, most Christians I know are big proponents of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms.  The opposition claims that “guns kill people,” but gun enthusiasts respond that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  So, wouldn’t it then follow that “labels don’t divide people, people divide people”? 

But of greater relevance to me is that labels are inevitable even if no words are used.  It’s a fact of human nature that we label folks at first site by race, sex, age, beauty, weight, clothing, and so on.  And once we get to know the person we pile on—silent and not so silent—labels with regards faith, work, politics, education, etc.  Therefore, since labels are inevitable, it appears to me that it would make more sense to manage labels rather than to avoid labels, that is to say, to creatively and civilly use them with an end to promoting unity rather than settling for a default cause for divisiveness.

Take the doctrinal issue of Calvinism vs. Arminianism with regards to soteriology in particular (i.e., how a sinner is justified before God).  There are significant differences between Calvinist and Arminian doctrines in this respect.  Calvinism teaches monergism, that is, the redeemed were unconditionally and sovereignly chosen/elected by God for salvation and for reasons of His own.  Conversely, Arminians teach that justification is synergistic, that is, God sees through the tunnel of time and elects those who will choose Him.  These issues were divisive over a thousand years before John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius and remain so to this day.

But to simply say, “can’t we just call ourselves ‘Christian’ and let it go at that” is insufficient to bring about unity, not to mention, being a bit Pollyannaish.  Instead to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4.3) we will need to heed the previous verse, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” and to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3.8).  Let’s break this verse down into its five components:

  • Unity of mind” I understand this to mean that we will need to unanimously agree to the non-negotiable, indisputable or essential elements of our faith.  The Nicene Creed is a good summary of this.  Furthermore, Protestants can also agree to the five solas of the Reformation, that is justification is by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone, that Scripture alone is authoritative, and that all we do is for the glory of God alone.  Even if it’s just the Nicene Creed, that alone (pardon the pun) will grant us sufficient “unity of mind” to consider one another “Christian.”
  • Sympathy” Older translations such as the 1599 Geneva Bible reads, “one suffer with another,” and the King James Bible reads, “having compassion one of another.”  I like that better than just plain “sympathy.”  With respect to unity what this means to me is that we have to put up with one another because we are sinners alongside being saints.  Couple that with different personalities, likes and dislikes and you could end up with a toxic mix.
  • Brotherly Love” I see “brotherly love” as a matter of treating one another as though we were members of a family (which we are, of course).  Family members disagree on numerous issues and often irritate one another to the point of disdain, ridicule, and even contempt.  But at some point they will need to put their differences aside and accept one another because they are family.  Paul wrote about this in Colossians 3.14, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
  • Tender Heart” Here again I like the older translations.  Both the 1599 Geneva Bible and the King James Bible read, “be pitiful.” I take this to mean that we are to take pity on another as fellow saint-sinners.  Such pity leads us to agree with and live according to Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3.12-13, “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
  • Humble Mind” Four words best describe a “humble mind.”  Are you ready?  Here they are: “I could be wrong.”  Now, I cannot be wrong about the existence of God or of the Holy Trinity, the deity of Christ, the Incarnation, the Resurrection of Christ, the forgiveness of sins by Christ’s atoning work on the cross, and other essential matters of the Christian faith.  In effect, to deny the veracity of any of these doctrines is tantamount to apostasy and heresy; we must accept these things or we cannot call ourselves “Christian.”  With regards to other matters of the faith, however, I could be wrong.  These include (in lessening order of importance):
    • The five solas of the Reformation I mentioned earlier are not “Nicene Creed grade” (I’ll try not to drop too many metaphors on you), but are at a high enough octane (sorry) to be deemed essential for local church fellowship, especially someone in leadership (i.e., it would be difficult to locally fellowship with someone who believes or teaches that we are justified both by faith and works, or that Scripture is not the final word on matters of the faith). 
    • Drop down a notch and you arrive at issues such as the doctrines of grace (Calvinism), which at one was a major divisive point (or five points, to be exact) amongst Protestants but which need not be as I have learned from being a GCC pastor, which accepts pastors on both camps and those in between (the majority, please refer to my “A Question of Balance” post from March 27, 2013). 
    • But when it comes to matters lower than these, such as doctrines of eschatology or determining the will of God, or practices such as which movies are OK to watch, proper attire, and so on, we must ask for wisdom (James 1.5-8) and apply it wisely (James 3.13-18).  And we must grant freedom (Romans 14.22).  And no, I do not think I am wrong about that.

So, now that I’ve made my case I see myself as having the following labels pasted all over my body (using a can of Campbell's chicken broth soup as an anthropomorphism):

There!  I feel better now that I got that off my chest!

God bless

CalvinCuban

 

President Lyndon Johnson, State of the Union Address, January 8, 1964

Fifty years ago today (Wednesday, January 8, 2014) during his state of the union address on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, who became President less than two months prior after the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963, declared his War on Poverty.  So how's the war going?  Not so well, I hate to say.  Note the following chart on proverty rates from 1958 through 2012:

Here are some statistics on the War on Poverty which the chart does not indicate:

  • Total government spending on poverty since 1964 amounts to about $16 trillion.
  • The poverty rate has dropped from 19% in 1964 to 15% in 2012, a mere difference of 4%.
  • Nearly 22% of children live in poverty today; in 1964, it was 23%, a mere difference of 1%.
  • The proverty rate had already dropped by about 15% in the decade prior to 1964 (i.e., sans the War on Poverty) and was already sharply declining by 1964.

So it appears that rather than a resounding success, the War on Poverty has been or an abject failure.  But why?

Here's a question for you...  What is the single greatest cause of poverty in this country?  

a) Education

b) Culture

c) Crime

d) Unemployment

e) Single parenting

All of the above are causes of poverty, but the "cause behind the cause" is single parenting.  Consider the following chart:

Now consider this chart on income gaps ($15K annual) between married mothers who are the primary breadwinners and single mothers: 

I would assume that the gap would be even greater in families where the father is the primary provider.

My point is that instead of a War on Poverty perhaps we should declare a War on Missing Fathers.  Now, I am not advocating any legislation or government programs.  And I don't want to prescribe simplistic and ineffective solutions to what is a complex problem.  But single parenting, mostly the result of out-of-wedlock births, appears to be the primary cause of poverty in America

And behing every earthly problem there is a spiritual problem.  Therefore, I'm advocation for the propagation of the Gospel, the Gospel of the Cross, most definitely, but also the full Gospel of the Kingdom as the remedy.

I will have more to say on that in posts to come.  Stay tuned...

God bless

CalvinCuban

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler,” by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889

17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud,Honor your father and mother.’”20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10.17-22)

The Rich Young Ruler asked Jesus for eternal life.  Jesus responded that he should keep the commandments.  “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up,” he replied.  And then the story takes an interesting turn.  Jesus looked at him, felt love for him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

And we know the rest of the story.  Jesus tells His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”  Then He throws in a hyporbole by stating that It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  The disciples are dismayed and say, “Then who can be saved?”  Then Jesus comforts them with these words, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

I believe that it was precisely because Jesus loved him that He wanted to see Him in the kingdom, but tyhe kigdom can only be entered by faith in the King, and in this young man's case faith needed to be evidenced by trading worldy riches for heavenly riches.  But he was unwilling.

I find that the rich are often disparaged, especially today, and blamed for the plight of the poor, and I find that our government is complicit in this conspiracy.  But in this parable it says that Jesus loved the rich man and did not blame him for the plight of the poor.  He did, however, command him to give it all up, and in doing so he would benefit both the poor and himself.

I am writing this because of of an Op-Ed piece I read just a couple of hours ago in today's (Wednesday, January 8, 2014) Albuquerque Journal.  It's titled “The rich aren't causing poverty,” from the Los Angeles Times.  The editorial was written by Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles, who gives 50% of his salary to charities, and Eli Broad, who together with his wife, Edye, have invested billions of dollars to improve K-12 schools, advance scientific and medical research and increase public access to contemporary art.  You can access the entire article @ http://www.abqjournal.com/332734/opinion/the-rich-arent-causing-poverty.html.  Here are some highlights,

 

x