Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I want them to thrive.

I'm not a big fan of kids. In fact, the little booger eaters frighten me. Even after 6 years of marriage bliss, the thought of having children makes me squeamish. I'm just not ready to trade my life of late nights out with friends, traveling the world, and generally doing whatever I want for one of constantly cleaning fecal matter and pretending to ignore cries more shrill than a screaming pterodactyl.
I always refused to hold babies, but Matt made me hold Reed.

Yet even against my loudest objections, some of my closest and most beloved friends have begun to have kids of their own. At first I thought they had simply failed to take the necessary precautionary measures, but to my horror I learned they are procreating voluntarily. While I am still bewildered by their motivations, I'm surprised to admit I've come to love their little ankle biters. Much to my chagrin, one of my new favorite pastimes is magically turning a cardboard box into a fighter jet that I help 2-year-old Reed pilot at Mach 2 throughout his house until his mom grounds us out of fear for her toddler's life. To make matters worse, I also have a church family that I cherish and care deeply about, and it's riddled with rugrats - and even scarier, teenagers! However, without fully knowing why, I've developed a strong desire to see these kids   succeed. And not just the cheap, get-a-decent-job-a-house-a-nice-car-and-a-moderate-amount-of-credit-card-debt kind of success, either. I'm talking about the changing-the-world kind of success. On the long list of things I want, seeing the children of my friends and my church absolutely thrive is right at the top. Yet I'm still wrestling with what the means for me, a childless guy in his late twenties whose biggest hobbies are pipes, firearms, whiskey, and extremely hoppy ales. Not exactly the recipe for a youth pastor.
Reed now at age 2

My friend Joe told me about a book he read recently titled Sticky Faith. The authors of the book did a study of the youth who grow up in the church in America, and got some shocking results. Of the kids who grew up active in church - going to church every Sunday, learning Bible lessons in Sunday School, memorizing verses at VBS in the summer, going to youth group, praying before every single meal with their families, doing all of that "Christian" stuff - 65% left the faith after graduating from high school. So if you have 3 kids and you're doing everything right, teaching them spiritual truths and leading by example as a humble servant of God, guess what - chances are only one of them will ever darken the door of a church again after getting their diploma. Something has gone horribly wrong - our model is broken.

The good news is 35% do stay in the church after turning 18, and those 35%'ers have something in common: they're all terribly boring...just kidding. Actually, the Sticky Faith study showed that the kids in the 35% each had 7 Christian adults involved in their life. Not co-parenting in their family and disciplining them, just involved in their life. When Joe was telling me this, I immediately started thinking about my already packed schedule, and how many kids I see every week sprinting feverishly around our church like squirrels on cocaine. "It's impossible" I told him, "there's no way we can get 7 adults for every 1 kid." "I don't care about possible - it's necessary" he responded.

While I struggled with how in the world we'd get 7 adults to be involved in the life of each kid, I started to remember all of the amazing adults who invested in me when I was growing up. Nelson Scott helped teach me how to play guitar, was always ready for a jam session at full volume, took me to concerts in Virginia Beach, and even convinced me to start playing in front of the church. Dave Faith was a postman who was also a roller coaster fanatic and could've been the third Blues Brother. In the summers during middle school, he used to pick me up and take me to Busch Gardens to ride coasters all night. On one particularly slow evening, we rode Drachen Fire 12 times in a row without ever getting out of our seat. (I'll never forget the first time he invited me after church one Sunday. When I started writing down my address so he'd know where to pick me up, he said "No need to do that - mailmen know where you live." I always loved his wit). Dave Hileman is one of the deepest thinkers I've ever met, and he always challenged me with what I believed. He didn't just answer the questions I had - he actually gave me more questions to wrestle with! I know that sounds counterintuitive for the man who baptized me, but for Dave, sowing seeds along the path was not an option - he would only use the finest soil, even if it required conflict along the way. I still think of him every time I read CS Lewis or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The truth is, I didn't have 7 adults closely involved in my life - I had closer to 20. They were all men who had careers, packed schedules, families and children of their own. Yet for some reason they all believed I was an investment worthy of their time, and for that I am extremely grateful.

I was having lunch with a coworker recently, and she told me the reason 65% of kids leave the church after graduating is because their parents had just brainwashed them, and once they got to college and got an actual education, they realized it was just a bunch of nonsense. While I appreciate my colleague's candor, I certainly don't think I was brainwashed (I know, I know, that's exactly what someone who was brainwashed would say, but hear me out). These men never proselytized me. Heck, they hardly ever even talked about God unless I brought it up. No, what they gave me was something far greater - a front row seat to their lives. I saw their faith in action - in the way they treated their wives, in the way they raised their children, in the way they handled disagreements. I saw it in the way they worked, the way they dealt with their vices, and the way they used their resources. And that gave me more perspective on a life of following Jesus than any other Sunday school class or church activity. In them, I saw true greatness, I saw adventure, and I saw them thrive.

It's taken over 10 years of maturing to fully appreciate what these men did for me and there are some I still need to call and thank profusely. In addition to that, I want my gratitude to shine through my actions - I want to be one of the 7 for a few of the kids in our church. I'm still struggling with how to do that, but my friends are helping me figure it out. My buddy Justin has the spiritual gift of basketball. He used to play for the almost-upset-Baylor South Dakota State Jack Rabbits, and every Tuesday, he shoots hoops with a few of the high schoolers at our church. I tried doing that, but found out I play basketball about as well as a politician   cuts the deficit - I can flail my arms around, but nothing ever actually happens. Instead, God has granted me the spiritual gift of a love for Taco Bell. Last week, I took a few of the guys who were as disinterested in basketball as I was to try the new Doritos Locos Taco, and great conversation abounded. No, I didn't follow some formula to proselytize them, I just encouraged them to thrive. Still, I hope, and I believe, Kiere and Alejandro will be in the 35%.
What I'm listening to during this post: "The Fighter" by The Fray


  1. Found this via a recent reddit post. Though late to the party I just wanted to say I found this a great read. Well written and gave me a few things to think on :)

    I'm not sure how the whole finding more time for the younger people in your church family turned out for you but I hope it went well!

  2. It’s funny, but as a parent of three children unfortunately my three, well two for sure have fallen in the 65% and I pray daily God will bless them with His Spirit and open up their minds to see Him. We plant, God Calls.. in His timing, for the best and good of all involved.
    . My seventeen year old son is still on the fence. He goes to church at times and chooses to stay home at times. But the times someone at church shows an interest in him. or even a slight interest he seems to become alive. He wants involved but only if there is someone one, some one of the 7 who would show some sort of interest. He won’t ask for it or admit he even needs it.
    It’s nice to see that you understand this dilemma. I pray God inspires us all to not only step out in faith helping strangers but also for stepping out in faith and helping any sheep that are near the fence or any that are actually lost. May God use us to be His hands and feet as He shepherds His flock.