I am off this weekend for a retreat with 50 Junior highers and leaders for our bi-annual Confirmation retreat. This great group of young people are finishing up a ten week class preparing them to write a statement of faith and join our church as members. This weekend, I will be hanging out with them with basically three messages: 1) We are all members of one another. 2)This is your church, too. 3) I am your pastor and not just your parents' pastor.
One of joys of my church is how deeply connected our youth and young adults are with the rest of the congregation. We are becoming a genuinely multi-generational church. I also know that many, many churches in our culture today would do about anything to have either 50 kids even hanging around their church or anything near that amount of people joining their church at all. I don't take lightly that we are in a wonderful season of blessing in our church and I feel the responsibility and joy of being a steward of that blessing very deeply.
Further, the joy is all the more for me because this group of junior high students includes my son Brooks and his friends. I have known some of these kids since they were in preschool and now I get to be with them as they prepare to join our church. It is a real rite of passage moment for both the young people and their pastor (who is also a parent of one of the young people!)
I mention this for two reasons.
1) To ask you to please pray for the weekend. If the "children are our future" then I want them to become more deeply committed to Christ and the body of Christ for both their good and the good of the future of the church.
2) I am profoundly aware that we must continue to make disciples and not just church members and attenders. It's not enough to get people to "show up and join up", we all must continue to "grow up". A recent article in Christianity Today magazine points to the amount of self-deception reported by Christians when asked a simple question like, "Did you yourself happen to go to church this past week." According to the article, the Gallup people have been asking that question for decades and the answer is always the same: about 40% of Americans say that they have, in fact, been in church that past Sunday. But when that self-report study is matched up against church reports of attendance, the number of actual people in the pew is closer to 20%. So, 1 out of every five people in the poll are lying about being in the pew. Embarrassing really and sad, too. But what else do we make of that?
For me, this is a most interesting issue. At exactly the time that many people are saying that church membership and attendance are increasingly irrelevant, there is still within our culture a great deal of internal pressure (the poll is anonymous) to be church goers. Parents encourage their teenagers to join the church, teenagers at our church are encouraging their friends and we see our numbers swelling as a result. People want to be in church, and think that things like worship and church membership really are important, even if they aren't living up to their own, even stated, intentions.
But, people like George Barna have rightly pointed out that the difference between good intentions and good discipleship is often quite large and made worse by our own tendency to think we are doing better than we are.
So, while understanding and hopeful by even the desire that many people have to be a good church folk, I recognize that there is still much, much more to do with we want our church's on fire with genuine renewal. Who knows? Maybe, this future generation are the "little children" who will lead us.