Boring Our Youth To Death—Or To Just Go Away

Hopeless romantics unite!

I come to you a la Sally Field standing on a table holding up a sign in all directions to rally the willing (what did it say?  'Unionize Now', or 'Unite', or some such).  It is my sad misfortune to inform you that there is a movement afoot to systematically disparage the musical stylings of one Barry Manilow.

(I knew that would get your attention)

I am aghast.  I heard it myself on the radio the other evening.  It was our weekly Friday night date night for Sandy and me and I was doing what any caring, sensitive, romantic husband would do while his wife was shopping in the mall.  I was sitting outside in the parking lot in my van, listening to the radio.  (Hey, it's not like that! She likes me, she really likes me!)

The John Tesh program was on our local Christian music station and in one segment, the tall blonde Adonis-like Tesh read a piece about some hamlet or village in Australia having a problem with kids–teenagers–loitering around public properties.  Their solution?  Pipe Manilow tunes over loudspeakers in some of their favorite haunts and hang-outs, the idea being that the music is soooo boring it will drive them away, or just plain loony.  (Hey, I've been listening to Manilow since 1976 and it hasn't affected me one bit, although it used to drive me crazy for a decade or two wondering who Linda is–but, with some crisis counseling and painful family intervention, I finally got past that; I'm six years and eight months sober now)

But I digress.

It seems that in another not-so-long ago era and place they tried it with Bing Crosby croonings and it worked, so why not give this a go?  Pray tell, am I that old?  Barry is boring?  Oh, thou fickle infatuations and shifting winds of pop culture. 

All this has got me wondering: has the church become a sending-away agency of our youth as well? According to some rather odious statistics, young people from evangelical homes are leaving the church in droves after high school graduation (see article:  A staggering 70 percent?  And pollster George Barna says that a paltry four percent of America's youth classifies themselves as evangelical Christians, which is down from ten percent in 1995.  A prevailing reason that many youth give for this trend is that they are frankly bored with church.

I ask you: is it the hymns that bore them?  Forty-five minute sermons?  Which is it?  I would like to venture another theory.  What if it was neither?  What if, for the sake of argument, a goodly sum of high schoolers are eyeing the exit doors of our churches because they have yet to see the good that our sermons, songs and creeds are doing in the lives of their parents? 

You've probably heard the illustration that if a way-future team of archaeologists dug around in our church's left-behind archives, what clues might they uncover about our civilization?  "These were a sincere and religious people," they might surmise, "but over time their values were shaped more by the exterior culture that surrounded them.  Perhaps this syncretism explains its end.  There were no distinctives to distinguish and nurture its survival…"

Not so long after Joshua and the elders of Israel who had brought Israel into the Promised Land had passed from the scene, a generation lived and died not knowing of its own heritage of place and prominence in the world.  Gone were the stories and successes tying them to the Great Story and Grandpa's ramblings about yesteryear were ignored by and large by a people who lived in the shadows and afterglow of "another time."

Barna says of THIS generation: "…less than one out of ten churched teenagers has a biblical worldview.  The result of their involvement at a church is that they can recite some religious facts, they made some friends, and they had fun.  That's wonderful, but we also find that most of them have neither accepted Christ as their Savior nor altered the basis on which they make their moral and ethical decisions in life.  For most teenagers who have spent years attending church activities, their faith is not integrated into who they are and how they live.  Most of the young people who claimed they developed an understanding of the Bible that enables them to make decisions based on biblical principles show no evidence of using that understanding in relation to the core beliefs and lifestyle choices that we studied…" (emphasis mine)

In other words, to amend a coined phrase, "they may've been stirred a few times but not changed."

It's been said that children don't do so much what we say, but they will do what they see.  Are we so foolish as to look at our kids and say, "what's wrong with them?" all the while not realizing they are watching us as we talk a good game but when it comes to taking sides in matters of eternal importance, more often than not, they see us doing deals and signing our contracts with the world.

Maybe our generation is like Manilow tunes in the ears of the young, or, or, maybe even like Charlie Brown's teacher ("wa-wah, wa-wah, wa-wah"), and while they'd like to stick around to hear the punchline, they just as soon's walk away.  They just can't stomach the dissonance and annoyance of good words but bad music.  I don't know, what do you think?

Then there are those youth who have front-row seats to heaven's symphony (minus the 'phony') and they still head for the exits where just beyond them lie the fast cars and wide avenues of Vanity Fair


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