Missing in Action Generation

I had an interesting conversation with our pastor yesterday. He's reading Goodbye Generation by David Sawler. Apparently the book explains why young people who have grown up in the church, so often abandon all connection with their heritage when they reach young adulthood.

I'm sure there is much more to the discussion than this, but one thing struck a chord with me in our discussion. Let me explain.

One of the points made in the book is that as young people experiment with the world and fall into sin, they feel more comfortable walking away from the church because, even when their background has been strongly evangelical and faith-based, these young people feel that they have not lived up to the standards of goodness expected by the church. Coupled with the feeling that they will be judged by other believers for their forays into the dark side, they simply stop coming to church.

That there are judgmental people in the church is an unhappy reality. Some people think of the church with a hotel mentality: nice people expecting to be waited on. In reality the church is a hospital full of people in various stages of recovery from their sicknesses.  But this wasn't the part that glued itself to the inside of my brain.

I thought back to all the years these drop-outs spent in Sunday School and remembered something that always bugged me about Sunday School curriculum. Even in evangelical churches where we teach and preach the gospel of salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ, we also instill a works mentality in our children from their earliest years. Our lessons are geared to telling them that they need to be "good," "obedient," "kind," and that God loves people who are all these things. We also teach that everyone is a sinner and that even boys and girls need to ask Jesus to be their Saviour. Most curriculum publishers produce materials more character-based than conversion-based so that they can remain marketable. That leaves us with a heavy emphasis on standards of behaviour.

Have we inadvertently and unconsciously taught something we never meant to teach? Have we taught that God loves us when we are good, obedience, kind, don't do drugs, sleep around, swear, or whatever and that if we fall into sin we no longer belong with all the good people God DOES love? Is there a disconnect somewhere between what we believe and what we teach, however innocently?

I'm still chewing on these questions. But to hear that 85% of our church young people who have made solid professions of faith in their youth, will opt out of church before they are 25 because they feel they don't live up to the church's "standards," is cause for concern.

I realize that there is a whole lot of room for misunderstanding here. I haven't read Sawler's book but if I understand what I've been told he is not saying that the church shouldn't be clear about Biblical standards. But what I think he is saying that our young people might be getting mixed messages about the relationship between those standards and salvation.

We do a lot these days to protect our children from abuse within the church context, but perhaps it might be a very valuable exercise to take a good look at what we are teaching our children, especially in those most vulnerable early years. The adjustments might be only a matter of language, or we might be due for a serious overhaul. The children were important to Jesus and none of us who work with them would want to fall under the condemnation of these words: "...if anyone causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" –Matthew 18:6, NIV.

The Kingdom can't afford a missing generation.


  1. "The Kingdom can't afford a missing generation." True! I believe this problem began with the parents and even grandparents of this generation.
    Much food for thought in your article. "The fields are white unto harvest."


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