How Low Will We Go?

After reading many books on the subject, I join with others in being concerned that we have possibly “lowered the bar” so much that twenty-first century American Christianity bears little resemblance to the first-century Church. In our heartfelt attempt to make a “shallow end to our pool,” to allow the masses an easier and smoother transition, we may have, unintentionally, stripped the Church of its power and depth.

    I have been reading a book entitled, “Almost Christian-What the faith of our teenagers is telling the American church.” I picked it up on a whim at the library and it has literally shaken my world. As a concerned minister and parent, I wanted to read about what American teenagers are saying when it comes to their faith because I know the majority are in big trouble.

    I had no idea I would be the one convicted.

    The author, Kenda Creasy Dean, using statistics from the National Study of Youth and Religion conducted from 2003-2005, builds a case on the spiritual lives of our teenagers. She hooked me from the first sentence! Although I have not finished the book, I highly recommend it. The chapter I just finished reading absolutely floored me. It is entitled “Mormon Envy.” She informs us that Mormon teenagers are the most “highly devoted” of all American religious teenagers. Appendix B- “Mormon teenagers are faring the best. In nearly every area, Mormon teenagers are the most positive, most healthy, the most hopeful and the most self-aware teenagers in the study. Mormon young people also showed the highest degree of religious vitality and salience, the greatest degree of understanding of church teaching and the highest degrees of congruence between belief and action.”

    Remember that the next time you make fun of one riding around on his bicycle.

    All I can ask myself is “Why?” Why are their young people consistently making good choices, living clean lives, going on missions, marrying and having stable families while “our” kids are dropping out of church like flies?

    Now, I am not here to get into a discussion about what Mormons believe or don’t believe. That is not my point. But if we had the time, we could talk about the many things that Mormon families and churches do to ingrain their beliefs and culture into their children. In fact, we could adopt many of their practices-not beliefs-into our own Christian culture and be much better off. Yes, I just said that and before you crucify me, read a book. None of our opinions matter much if the facts are not there to back us up.

    So, what is the difference? Is there an explanation as to why the Mormons are so great at passing on their faith and us regular non-denom and mainline peeps aren’t?

    I don’t know. That is way beyond my pay grade, intellectually and spiritually. I’m sorry but I don’t have the answer to one of the most pressing questions of the twenty-first century Christian church. I know you love me and think I’m smart and all but I do have my limits.

    But...let’s look at the data. IF, according to this National Study of Youth and Religion, Mormon teenagers are well above the average in nearly all areas, could it be possible that one of the reasons is because their church sets such a high standard for them? I mean, they are required to go to seminary every morning of their high school years-before they go to their regular high school!-to learn about the Book of Mormon and the church practices. The men are “encouraged” to go on a two year mission before they marry and finish college. What?! Add that to the restrictions on alcohol, drugs, sex, dressing immodestly, dating, media, etc. and it adds up to a lot of “thou shalt nots.”
    And we feel bad making our kids go to church once a week?

    Is it possible that lowering the bar so much has led to lowered commitment to and lower ownership of our Christian values? We all know the sales adage: “The more it costs, the more we will value it.”  Anything we come by cheaply is disposable and well, cheap. That’s why there are “dollar” stores on every corner. Spend a buck for something and it’s no big deal. Didn’t cost much, didn’t mean much. Has this attitude somehow snuck into the American Christian church?

    I am pretty sure I recall Jesus saying somewhere in the Scriptures something about “taking up your crosses” and “laying down your lives” and “the world will hate you because you belong to Me” and “those who endure till the end will be saved” and “those who despise their lives in this world will keep it for eternal life” and “sell all you have and give it to the poor...”

    Does that sound like Dollar Store Religion to you?

    How much are we giving in our relationship with Christ? He gave all. Like they say, “The chicken was involved but the pig was committed” to that breakfast you ate this morning. Jesus gave all, everything, His life. He was deeply committed. What are we? Do we call up God like a 9-1-1 operator when we need help in a bad situation? Do we put Him on a celestial shelf somewhere, as a pretty knick-knack gathering dust, that we like to look at every now and then while we go about our lives?

    Friends, that is not what Christianity should be! It is a passionate love affair, an arduous journey and an eternal hope. We cannot be ambivalent about God. As the Senator said in O Brother Where art Thou?, “Is you or ain’t you my constituents?” Do our friends know we are Christians? Do we act like Christians? Do we talk like Christians? You know where I am going with this...What walks like a duck? Quacks like a...

    I don’t believe we will see a significant change among our teenagers until the pulpit, the church and the family sees where we have gone wrong and immediately change our ways to fix it. The facts are plain as day. High standards and huge buy-ins are good;dollar store religion is not. What will we do? Will we continue on the path we are currently treading and see a generation of young people grow up not knowing right from wrong because we parents and pastors are too scared/busy/uninterested to teach them?

    I know it’s heavy but God please help us raise the bar!

After reading this, my son thought I should give some suggestions. I would love to but knew I was already running long! Please add your suggestions in the comments section and I will write another blog about this very soon.Thanks for your time!