On Tuesdays I’ve been writing about my faith journey. I apologize that many of these first entries aren’t very positive. I’ve reflected in the past few weeks on feeling persecuted as a kid by other Christians for not believing everything they did and I also recalled the experience of being used as forced political labor by my Christian school. But, I’m just giving you the real story–and there is a necessary descent in my narrative. Bear with me. Just so you know, it gets worse before it gets better, even if I can tell you, as you no doubt have deduced, that it does get better for me, eventually. [If you would like some faster hope–go here for now] Ok, back to the story….
In high school I began to believe two things:
1) If God existed, then he was of the transcendant sort–one that didn’t really interact with this world.
2) The Church that was the representative of God on earth was largely irrelevant.
I think the second came before the first, as it usually does. It is much easier to confirm one’s suspicions of an irrelevant God when his church is irrelevant for you first. I’ll talk more in coming weeks about some of these deconstructive days in my belief about God–don’t judge me too quickly on that–remember, I’m speaking about my 17-year old theology–but for now I want to tell you about my teenage view of the Church.
Teenagers are more fickle with beliefs than hummingbirds are with flowers. I flitted about–a buzz of activity sampling all sorts of thoughts and passions, with characteristic nonchalance and lack of conviction. I’m not sure anyone ever nailed me down on what I believed. All I knew is that church was “lame.”
My buddy (who I’ll call Kenny) and I would sit in the fourth row of church every sunday morning–and most Sunday nights. The youth minister had all of us sit together in that area. Our parents were Christian workers, so it was expected that we would go; I’m not sure if we ever tried to not go. Kenny and I were ballers, and likewise NBA freaks–and we loved to talk about professional basketball players. Kenny invented a cool game where we would draft NBA players, which we would list out by position and cost-to-draft, on the back of offering envelopes we found in the pew. With a Hymnal for a writing surface, we would sometimes draft mock teams 3 or 4 times in one sermon.
The reason we did this was that we couldn’t care less what was happening in the service. Never once in all the years we were in those serviced did we ever find something that drew our attention. I honestly only remember one thing the pastor ever said–and it was a throwaway comment about getting better gas mileage if you went slower in your car. Duly noted.
This season in my life started a 5-year journey of thinking that the church was largely irrelevant. No, let me correct that… I still believe that. The church is largely irrelevant to the lives of most people. Unless you’re in the “in” crowd and know what everyone is talking about, it doesn’t make any difference. Of course, I was in the “in” crowd–and it still didn’t make any difference. And I had the advantage of going to larger churches that had full time youth pastors! Of course, in 7 years in two church’s youth programs I had 6 different youth pastors. I had a teen girlfriend in my life for a longer season than I had one of those youth pastors in my life.
You might say that the church must be irrelevant; that the church is anachronistic by its nature–that it is rooted in tradition for a reason. You might say that the Church isn’t to chase trends and try to be “relevant” because by doing so it waters down the gospel.
All I know is by the time I was 17 church just made me shrug. It was no big deal. And I was at a crossroads. For some reason my whole life I had wanted to go into the ministry. I wanted to be a pastor when I grew up. I was “called.” Which made no sense, because I thought church was irrelevant.
As I entered college I would work very hard to try to make church relevant for me and others. That seemed the only salvation. I would use the irrelevance I felt as fuel to a fire of change in the church. Then after that, when we moved to Boston, I gave up on making church relevant–and began to give up on a whole list of things.
More on that later.
So, what’s your take? Was Church relevant to you when you were a teenager? Why or why not? Should Church be relevant to 17 year olds? How?