Pastors are becoming more and more concerned about the loss from their church ministries of young adults, particularly those who grew up in their ministries only to leave the church without moving out of the area. Some leave the church of their youth to attend another church while others leave their lifelong church but do not attend another church. They simply stop attending church services altogether.
Another concern is regarding young men who enter the gospel ministry as self-identified independent Baptists but abandon their identification, cooperation, and involvement with theologically conservative Baptists to affiliate and fellowship with other groups entirely. While it may seem on the surface that these are separate problems, and they may be separate problems, I am not convinced the two are entirely unrelated. Why are they leaving, be they young adult church members or younger men in the ministry? This is the question for my present musing.
I will leave it to you to uncover the documentation that hides the truth that adolescence is a relatively modern invention conjured up by the “social scientists” that was used to justify an alteration in child rearing associated with advances in technology that enabled the upwardly mobile to enjoy more and more leisure by doing less and less parenting. If you are diligent, you will find it as I did some years back. In short, adolescence is the time in a person’s life when he enjoys adult privileges without being burdened with adult responsibilities. No one gets away with such nonsense without parental complicity. Such was not experienced by Ulysses S. Grant during his childhood, when he began to run his own farm around age eight or nine. Neither is it anything like either of my grandfathers’ experiences when they both began to function as full-grown men before reaching their teens. My maternal grandfather became the sole breadwinner for his mother and many siblings instead of entering third grade. Such was a time when adults understood that childhood was preparation for adulthood and to that end childhood was not seen primarily as a time to “let kids be kids” so they could spend the day playing, but as a time to help the family survive while acquiring the skills needed to survive as an adult in a difficult and challenging world.
What, pray tell, does this have to do with young people leaving churches and young preachers abandoning the movement they formerly identified with? A great deal, I think. For something more than a century churches have engaged in an approach to ministry never before seen in the Christian faith, with parents likely insisting on adopting the new and untried approach as they were influenced by social scientists who suggested solutions for the problems arising from having more and more leisure to occupy their kids. What was this new approach to ministry? There were a number of innovations, but I choose to focus only on church ministry. It is called youth ministry, and it is an astonishingly unjustified innovation as typically practiced that lays waste to the biblical model of fathers and mothers training their children to be successful adults. Youth ministries are usually those questionable ministry adaptations whereby pastors too often assign the youngest and least experienced member of the pastoral staff to deal with those who in any other era would have the status of young adults. Such staff members are frequently thought to be qualified for ministry with adolescents (though adolescents do not actually exist because the category is an invention) because they have a degree in youth ministry (which usually means they have less theological and biblical training than those who seek degrees in Bible or Pastoral Theology). The effect of this not well thought out decision near the beginning of the 20th century was to gradually remove the influence on young people of their God-given parents while adding the influence of the not God-given youngest and least experienced member of the church’s pastoral team. I will address the problem of laying hands suddenly on a novice for responsible gospel ministry responsibilities at another time.
Another development of this adolescence as a substitute for adulthood inclination is the whole idea of Bible college. I attended Bible college after graduating from engineering school, so I have a bit of a perspective. What is a Bible college anyway? Who attends Bible college? Are Bible college students children or are they adults? Granted, some Bible college students are married and some are veterans (I was both), but most are single recent high school graduates who do not really know what they want to do with their lives. The reality is that most Bible college students are treated as though they are neither children or adults, or as if they are both children and adults. Are you not a child if your goings and how you spend your time are not your own decisions to make? Are you not an adult if you no longer live at home, unless of course you are enrolled by your parents in boarding school? Is that what Bible colleges are, boarding schools pretending to be colleges, with children enrolled as students who are passing themselves off as adults? I am not an enemy, but a very experienced gospel minister asking questions that deserve serious consideration and well thought out answers. The fact is, Bible college students (unless they are married students living off campus) are some hybridization of adolescence, which again is an invention. I am not suggesting that Bible colleges should be eliminated, only that they should more clearly reflect the Biblical approach to training someone for the gospel ministry instead of treating someone like a semi-child who is a semi-adult. U. S. Grant was a full-fledged adult by the time he was ten years old. My grandfathers were both full-fledged adults by the time they reached their teen years. Those men were not so unusual for their time, a time before a group of anti-Christian social scientists invented the concept of adolescence.
To consider both aspects related to this adolescence issue, I am not suggesting that pastors or Bible colleges eliminate all age-appropriate ministries to the young. However, I do think in my musings that more attention should be given to treating the young as either children who need to grow up or as young adults. Away with this notion of adolescence, having adult privileges without adult responsibilities! Turn your ten-year-old out into the street? Don’t be absurd. I am only suggesting that you train for adulthood, encourage adulthood, expect adulthood, and increasingly demand adulthood. Is your child enough the adult to make his own decisions, prioritize his own affairs, pay his own way, arrange his own sleep and work schedule? If not he is probably too immature to go to college, any college, including Bible college. And if Bible colleges are fearful of treating young adults like anything but children, perhaps recruiting kids while they are in high school by young women who suggest during telephone conversations that they would like to be the naïve boy’s friend if he enrolls is not the best approach.
Could it be that our young leave our churches because they are striking out in their own sinful ways to be adults? Are our young “leaders” drifting away from familiar movements because they want to leave adolescence behind and become adults, something they should have accomplished long before they entered the gospel ministry? I am not suggesting that departure is right, for either the young person who grew up in church or the pastor who chooses to identify with another group. I am only suggesting that one factor in this complicated sequence of events that results in people leaving is that they are not being treated like adults before they leave.
Just as Paul was not the enemy because he told the Galatians the truth, I am no Baptist preacher’s enemy because I ask questions. When I was designing satellites back in the 1970s, I quickly learned that it is good to ask as many of the hard questions you can think of addressing before you begin to fabricate the bird. Once it is built problems are far more difficult to solve and expensive! And what the necessary question is not addressed until a faulty satellite has been launched, making it too late to fix? Some of these kids are, in my opinion, evidence of hard questions not being asked until it is too late.
Please consider writing your opinion on this important matter from your perspective.