Over the last 3 months since the last magazine, a lot has happened. I’m kinda looking at it like the summer of enlightenment. The main thing that sticks out to me about it came from being at camp again as a leader. Being a leader at camp you grew up at is so cool, mainly because the relationships I have with a lot of the campers stay the same but I have more authority than they do, and all the perks of being a leader. Obviously, this comes with responsibilities and a few cons, like waking up earlier than the campers, cleaning up after them and having to act stern with them when I really can’t be bothered. But I wouldn’t trade it, because this year, purely through camp, so much was revealed to me in terms of The Collective, and general faith.
I had so many conversations with 14, 15 and 16 year old guys and girls from different parts of the country who were all going through similar (and often the same) things. They all seemed to have the mindset, faith wise, that it was all well and good at camp, (and they wanted to enjoy it while they could) but as soon as they had to go home, everything was gonna change. Once that camp bubble was popped for another year, they’d be exposed to a world they couldn’t deal with. In fact, they were almost worse off for coming to camp because they’d learnt something new about themselves while at camp that plays on their minds when they go back home. They were already anticipating feeling guilty coming back, which in turn was tainting their camp experience for this year. Not only because I knew the majority of the guys and girls I was speaking to very well, but also because I’d been in similar home situations to all of them, I immediately felt the big brother role to them, and from my experience in church growing up, my follow up question switched from ‘What about church?’ to ‘Isn’t church helping you?’.
Usually, I’d ask that knowing the answer to follow would be no. See, there’s an integral difference in those questions that these guys pick up on when it’s asked, and they decide immediately if they’re gonna open up about it or not. Asking ‘What about church’ is almost a condemnation; it’s like saying ‘Have you forgotten there’s a building of good people to help you through your silliness?’. It’s, for lack of a better term, patronizing. Very patronizing. It puts the blame on them for having doubt, guilt and genuine worry. It tells them that you should be more like those good, righteous, upstanding folks in church (That was your choice to read that as sarcasm). This started me really thinking. If we’re honest with ourselves, the issue here isn’t doubt, guilt or worries, the issue is the relationship between the church and struggling early/mid teens.
I had a very particular relationship with churches, being born into a large, vibrant black church and moving to a small & distinctly hidden white church at the age of 6, so the concept of church being fun or being a social event was (and somewhat is) a completely foreign thing to me. That initially put me off church, but going to camp and seeing that not only could christians be young, but cool at the same time put a battery in my back to really grow in faith. But going home would be hard because that wasn’t reflected in my weekly fix of faith. As it turns out, the size of my church directly impacted not only my faith, but how I understand and grow in faith now. For me, not having any other people my age at church helped me to actually focus on the Word when I went to whatever church we’d go to, and that’s a skill that can’t ever be understated. So guys, you’ve got to be thankful for the church that you’re in, regardless the circumstance, because it’ll build a skill somehow! But also, the intimacy of the church then impacted the relationship I had with the pastor and some of the adults. You’re never gonna be close with everyone at church or even gonna get along with everyone at church, but the fact that for the majority of my teen years I was the only teenager at my church meant that the adults at church understood me on a one-to-one They didn’t really ask me anything they knew I wouldn’t answer or want to talk about, and if they did they sussed out pretty quick that it wasn’t a topic I wanted to have a conversation about with them. But there were a couple of key things about my church at home that stuck out to me when I was talking to the kids at camp:
- My church took a genuine interest in me and my interests outside of church and, dare I say, faith.
- My church took me especially into consideration when planning events either for adults or younger kids
- My church actively prayed for me and my life.
Now, these aren’t things that I especially appreciated or even noticed as a 15 year old, but in retrospect it did for me what I feel churches aren’t doing for the majority of youth; paying attention. It seems like what churches seem to be hung up on trying to counterbalance what they perceive young people today to be by challenging their own struggling youth constantly with things they aren’t spiritually prepared for. For someone turning 13 or 14, they’ve grown out of sunday school, but they aren’t quite ready to stay in with the adults to hear the sermon. If they go into the talk with the adults, it’ll either confuse and scare them or go over their heads, and both can lead to falling out of faith. If they stay in sunday school, that leads to boredem and questioning the lack of progression, which leads to more doubt and possibly falling out of faith again. But because the Church loves to challenge their youth, they make it seem like it’s the teen’s fault for not understanding the sermon or not enjoying Sunday School (purely by not actually speaking to them, paying attention to them or encouraging them genuinely), when in actuality they haven’t had anything to supplement their sudden change in thinking that comes with the teen years.
Now obviously, a lot of churches do run youth groups, which are great. I mean, we’ve even been to a few as a Collective to perform and see young Christians, and it’s something I personally love doing. But the few youth groups I’ve actually attended just to attend have issues that perpetuate the already dangerous mindset the church holds. It’s essentially a dumbed down church with a few loose examples of striving in faith that can be kind of applied to their lives. The thing is, when a youth group isn’t youth run, at least partially, that’s where these problems come up, because if the adult is out of touch with the issues young Christian’s face, realistically what can they do or provide the young guys and girls with that’s gonna actually help them? We as a church have to have our eyes open way more to the teenagers. They’re the ones that are gonna take the Word out into their generation through schools, sports and any other kind of social group. But if we aren’t listening to them, how can we expect them to build a relationship with us to the point they feel comfortable speaking to us? And if they can’t build a relationship with us, how can we expect them to build a relationship with God when this world doesn’t want them to do that and the environment that supposedly does isn’t comfortable for them?
Obviously, relationship is a two-way thing, and to any younger christians reading this, we have to be more vocal in church. To someone. Anyone. Anyhow. Church is somewhere we can feel our most vulnerable, but at the same time somewhere where we can explain this vulnerability and, in our weakness, grow stronger in Christ through learning about Him. But if we don’t even open our mouths about real issues we face, how can we ever expect to feel any better? It’s a vicious cycle that the devil is waiting to take control of. So if you can, find anyone of any age and speak. That includes me and The Collective. Just speak what’s on your heart.
Older christians and people in church, we need to pray that this will happen, and when it does, pray some more, because we need to be prepared to guide these guys in Christ. And when we pray, let’s keep our eyes open too. Don’t just leave the prayer out of your mind and let God take care of it. Be active, be seeking the fruition of the prayer in these guys and girls lives. That’s the only way we’re gonna be united, through prayer and honesty. And from there, we’ll see these young Christians become greater than what we could’ve ever imagined, because we didn’t forget them, or the purpose that God’s given them.