Thinking Out Loud

November 23, 2018

I Kissed Dating Goodbye: The Survivors Speak Out

So again, when I posted a piece on Tuesday about the upcoming documentary film based on the variety of experiences of readers of  I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I had no idea that the film was actually going live online in a matter of minutes. I quickly signed up to watch I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and here we are just a few days later returning to the topic.

What I wrote on Tuesday was about the notion that even though an author changes his or her mind on a previously written book; it doesn’t guarantee that readers will want to travel on that same journey. The line, “I think he’s wrong now;” has, honestly speaking, haunted me all week, and I’ve found myself seeing that person differently all week.

Joshua Harris’ wife: “It was a good book; well, I don’t know if I can say it was good book; it was a well-intentioned book.”

Harris talks about being thrust into the spotlight, and into the pastorate, at a very young age. But at the same time, he got married about a year after the book’s printing, and at a personal level, had moved beyond the tension implicit in being single. For the record, he didn’t kiss his wife before the wedding. The doubts about the book came much later.

Harris: “For a long time I was afraid to re-examine the book I’m best known for.”

I originally thought the book and this subsequent documentary was going to focus on the challenges of adopting the courtship model as opposed to the dating model. But really, much of the documentary is focused on the Purity Movement with programs like True Love Waits.

Christine Gardner: “What I found fascinating was the Evangelical church using sex to sell abstinence.

The film contains many Skype interviews with readers from around the world reflecting how the book helped or hurt them.

Harris: “A desire to make a message as effective as possible could actually mislead people.”

One thing that Joshua Harris notes is the importance that was placed on the book at the time, and the potential influence it would have if the book was given to you by a parent or a pastor. In those situations, there was less likelihood of being able to challenge the premise of the book.

The book also created a number of “weird” situations in churches and communities which were considered normal, and thereby caused any other type of situation to be considered abnormal.

Harris: “In trying to fix the problems of dating with the model of courtship, we created a new set of problems.”

Thomas Umstattd Jr. (to Harris): “The reality is the marriage rate in the church has dropped significantly… We’re just not getting married as a generation… You were not the only person writing on this topic; you weren’t the only person writing popular books on this topic.  I think what happened is, you had the best title.”

Umstattd sees the formulaic approach of the courtship model as being no different than the prosperity gospel.

Activist Elizabeth Esther: “It was held up as, ‘This is the gold standard by which you should live your life.’ It was kind of a money-back guarantee. If you do it this way you will have a marriage that is happy and fulfilling and have mind-blowing sex for the rest of your life…”

Joshua Harris then embarks on a study of how things work now, in the world of dating apps and hookup culture.

Harris: “Neither the strict rules of courtship, or the rejection of rules in Tinder meet the deepest longings of the human heart. Both of these extremes seem to share an exalted view of the role sex should play in our lives.”

Even though it’s a documentary, I run the risk of filling this page with spoilers. (I’d love to see a published transcript.) I wouldn’t want anyone who is interested in this to miss out on watching because I summarized too much here. I’ve hit some highlights from the first 45 minutes of the 75-minute film.

There is archival interview footage interspersed from the Canadian 100 Huntley Street television show. In the last half, Harris goes on to interview author Dale Kuehne, author Debra Hirsch, author Debra Fileta, and author Dannah Gresh. The latter surprised me — I’m familiar with her books — insofar as the great kinship she has with Harris in terms of also re-examining the purity emphasis of her writing and seminars.

Gresh: “We use the word purity as a synonym for virginity. It’s not. Not in the scriptures. I work with girls all the time who are virgins, but they’re very impure.”

The book definitely put a large number of young people into some very awkward situations because of the expectations it raised. As the film asks, what if your views on sex and relationships at the time you were 21 were used to shape an entire generation of Christian kids? Millions of kids? I can’t imagine being thrust into that role.

I’d probably rethink some of it when I was older and had more life experience. And more wisdom. 

Harris: “Coming to a place of seeing dating as healthy was a big step.”


• Your journey to buying the DVD or watching the film for free begins at this website. You’ll be emailed a code which will allow you to view the documentary.

I never discussed the movie production itself. The cinematography, the sound, lighting, scripting, pacing etc. are all first-rate. Producer/Director Jessica Van der Wyngaard is to be congratulated on an excellent project.

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November 20, 2018

When a Christian Author Has a Change in Thinking

For over 20 years, I’ve spent a minimum of two days per week in a Christian bookstore which my wife and I own. We’ve seen books come and go for reasons other than the normal life cycle of publishing. We’ve heard of authors having affairs. We’ve learned of writers who have adopted a position on an issue which makes their publishing contract untenable with their publisher. We’ve seen testimony and biography books where it was revealed the story would have been suited to the fiction section.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris is unique. The author asked for the books — there are at least three related titles that I’m aware of — to be withdrawn when the current inventory is exhausted. He feels that the book is not a helpful or healthy approach to boy/girl relationships before marriage and has worked with a documentary filmmaker to give voice to the readers who found taking his approach harmful and counterproductive. That documentary releases online today!

This does not for a moment change the minds of some people. There will be pockets of mostly conservative people throughout North America — the book’s primary audience — who will continue to follow a courtship model for their sons and daughters, which is often associated with the idea of early (young) marriage.

But it’s different when you discover you know one of them.

A longtime friend asked me to order two copies of Harris’ book for him. I know this person well, and while he’s not exactly an ultra conservative, he does take a traditional stand on some things. I asked if he was serious. I thought maybe it was a bit of a joke, or a test to see if I was aware of recent events. I explained that the author had withdrawn the book, though copies are still floating around.

He replied, “I think he’s wrong now.”

Didn’t see that coming, though in hindsight it’s not unthinkable. I just wonder what Joshua Harris would say to that? The idea that he had it right and has now been sucked into some liberal vortex.

In the end, I think both Harris and my friends need to follow their hearts, though it concerns me that some people felt it took their lives in a direction where they waited for their Prince(ss) Charming to come along and then he/she never showed up. It took away the opportunity to be proactive.

But are Millennials proactive? Many have cocooned into an online world where dating apps offer their only hope of making that opposite-sex connection. Should Helicopter Mom and Helicopter Dad be stepping into the situation setting up a courtship scenario with the future in-laws? 

On the other hand, some of the kids my friend works with are not from Christian families. There is value in the group activity situations which avoid the pressure of 1:1 evenings, but it is these very activities that Millennials seem to find uninteresting. To his credit, my friend works in trying to create environments which can involve these very kids, but once they attend, they need to know that it might be on them to take the initiative to connect with that person across the room.

Also, Joshua Harris didn’t know any Millennials when he wrote the book 15 years ago, in 2003. (He was in fact home-schooled and admits to not knowing much outside that milieu.) Some would argue that we need his model more now than ever. But some of the people who were the book’s collateral damage interviewed in the documentary would say we need less of that school of thought.


More info at I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye

October 22, 2018

Superstore on NBC: Not a Family Shopping Experience

Filed under: children, Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:50 am

Both of my part time and summer jobs all through high school and university were working in a department store. This covered a period of more than seven years. Later, my wife and I opened a retail store of our own, which later became a chain of three stores.

Retail is something I get.

So since it premiered, I’ve been watching the TV show Superstore on NBC.

I think the show is, overall, well-written. A few times, it has raised issues worth discussing.

I also accept — no doubt with reluctance — that television scriptwriters are always pushing the envelope; always seeing how much they can get away with. I harbor no illusions of returning to the days of Make Room for Daddy and Leave it to Beaver and Andy of Mayberry. I’m not the type of person to get into Moral Majority-styled rants about the filth on TV and calling for networks to cancel shows and everyone else to boycott sponsors.

Thursday night’s show included two scenes which had parts censored. The first was an audio ‘bleeping’ of a word completely ascertainable in context. The second was a visual ‘pixelation’ of a woman raising her t-shirt to show her bare breasts to a man. This second one actually occurred twice.

To repeat, this is the state of broadcast television in 2018.

However…

This program airs at 8:00 PM.

I don’t get why NBC schedules this at 8:00 PM.

I don’t understand how NBC continues to get away with showing this at 8:00 PM.

U.S. network prime time begins when locally produced or locally acquired programming ends at 7:59 and runs to 10:59 before local news. The first hour, from 8:00 to 9:00 was once called “the family hour.” And yes, I know that kids today see far worse on the internet.

However…

I don’t get why NBC schedules this at 8:00 PM.

I don’t understand how NBC continues to get away with showing this at 8:00 PM.

And if a family with young kids is sitting around watching television together, and scenes such as the one I described — and these are not the first instances of this I’ve noticed — come on the screen, I would think the situation in the family room or living room is just plain awkward.

March 22, 2018

Marriage and Marijuana: When the Rules Change

Changes in the law are often viewed from a variety of vantage points.

I often wonder what happens when someone who has done prison time for pot possession thinks as they see state after state making weed legal. Or the person who was persecuted by family or friends for their homosexual cohabitation watching gay marriage legalized.

I realize that most of the people reading this fall into neither category. You may not directly know people who do. However, such individuals would have a rather different perspective on changing legislation in various states as well as Canada.

The end result of what pilots call a “graveyard spiral.”

Then there are those who will simply use this as an example of how society is going downhill; to use an aviation term, the graveyard spiral of society. It’s great sermon material if you want to get people revved up; what Skye Jethani would call pandering to the Fear-vangelical mindset.

But there’s another viewpoint I was considering today: The youth.

In particular, what does all this look like from the point of view of a child who is too young to smoke weed and too young to enter into a marriage relationship?

In some ways, it sends this message: If you wait long enough it — whatever it is — will eventually be made legal.

I know you’re thinking, ‘Yes, but some things are absolutely wrong and not subject to discussion.’

Really? Take the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” and then consider euthanasia, abortion or (for some) even war itself.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness.” What about lying where it is expedient, or situation ethics, manipulation of statistics, or the popular term today, fake news?

Again, I’m not talking about the “moral decay” itself, but about the appearance all this must present to young people who see nothing as absolute. Rules regulating behavior and lifestyle appear as in flux or in transition with no fixed reference points.

I’ve noted elsewhere on the blog that rules are often created at one time or for one group of people or in one particular place; whereas principles are timeless and transcend the limits of who they apply to or where they apply. The rules derive from the principles.

So in a world where alcohol is in common use, the addition of marijuana to the recreational mix may not appear to reflect a change in principles, but a kid or young teen doesn’t know that.

To children and youth, as things are subject to constant revision and updated legislation, all bets are off when it comes to whether anything is truly wrong.

February 19, 2018

When the Cries Bring About Change

Heather Booth is a professional book editor. On the weekend, she tweeted out a rather remarkable story and I quickly sent the link to several people I know who are connected to major media because I wanted to help “get this story out there.” Then, on Sunday morning it occurred to me that Thinking Out Loud is also media, maybe not major media, but instead of asking others to share this story, I could be part of making it happen.

I have a thing to say about growing up after tragedy. When I was a senior in high school, seven of my classmates were killed and 24 injured. It was an awful day full of fear, confusion, and pain. Press swarmed. News helicopters hovered overhead all day filming footage of the carnage.

Nothing made sense. Over the days and weeks that followed, we went to vigils, wakes, and funerals. We openly wept in the hallways. People who had never spoken before embraced, clinging to each other. We felt broken.

People said the things that are being said now. “I put him on the bus and sent him to school. He was supposed to be safe.” Classrooms were rearranged so the empty desks weren’t a constant reminder.

Time passed. We started living with loss, but we still startled at the noises that reminded us of that day. We were now people that THIS had happened to.

More time passed. I did the memorial layout in the yearbook. By then, our shock and raw pain had changed to anger and questioning. Why did this happen? What went wrong? Whose fault is it? Investigations, we learned, were ongoing.

A federal official said, “The thing that upsets me most–we teach our kids to learn the importance of accountability. In this, there was a failure of accountability by a number of organizations.”

And then, things changed.

29 recommendations were made by the NTSB and implemented from the local to federal level. Because this wasn’t a shooting. It was a train hitting a school bus. One train. One bus. Seven deaths. 24 injured. One year. 29 changes for 16 organizations.

And as kids, here’s what this meant: we saw something awful happen, then we saw adults support us, then we saw them make change happen to keep that awful thing from ever happening again. Now, I’m an adult who grew up having seen adults fix things.

Think about the worldview we create for youth when their awful experiences result in nothing but hand wringing and despair. Thoughts and prayers. When a tragedy hits that’s far more deadly and far less accidental than what Cary-Grove High School experienced in 1995 and nothing changes?

What kind of lifelong scars do we inflict on youth when the adults who are there to protect them don’t force change in the wake of preventable tragedy? What kind of foundation do we lay when their world breaks and no one fixes it?

I don’t care which avenue you pursue to change the scourge of gun violence against youth. There are plenty. Pick one. Do something. Call your reps. Donate. March. Volunteer. Vote. Force the issue. Empower teens. Don’t let them down. Make change happen.


Story reference:

Chicago Tribune: October 30, 1996.

To repeat, “One year. 29 changes for 16 organizations.” Changes were made to ensure that this type of thing would never happen again. Adults responded to protect children. Need we say more?

I am not aware if Heather has a particular faith-connection or if she does not. I felt this was worth sharing today irrespective of our usual considerations.

February 9, 2018

Growing Up in a Strict, Ultra-Conservative Christian Home

This is a review of a book. Its inclusion here does not imply endorsement.

On Wednesday, I read a 390 page book in a single day. That’s somewhat unusual for me, but the weather, some really great writing, and a fascination with the story combined to make this possible.

Rapture Practice: My One-Way Ticket To Salvation by Aaron Hartzler is his true story. It is published by Little, Brown & Co., not Hachette’s Evangelical imprint, FaithWords, though in my opinion it comes oh so close to fitting in there, especially the first two-thirds. That’s probably why it took me five years to be aware of this 2013 title; that and the fact it was marketed as a Young Adult memoir. I’ve missed being in the target audience by many decades.

We first meet Aaron as a four year old, being groomed for the role of church play actor; though as he grows up, it’s a different type of acting which captures his attention. There are are short scenes from his early school and summer camp experiences, with most of the book taking place in his high school years. It is in high school he really starts acting only the role he is playing daily is one of a church kid who is at odds with the ultra high standards and beliefs of his community and especially his parents.

He’s placed in a Christian school, but his interest in popular music proves too much for his ultra-straight parents and as punishment he is placed in an even more conservative Christian institution. But the punishment in many ways backfires, as these kids seem to have more after-school freedom than anything at his prior school, some of them without having to employ the cover-up tactics that Aaron finds necessary…

…The book is a wonderful time capsule of Christian culture in the 1980s including some things I had forgotten such as Sandi Patty’s divorce and Amy Grant’s admitting that she visited a topless beach. It’s also a reminder of backyard Bible clubs, dressing up for Sunday services, guest missionary slide shows, Pioneer Girls & Boys Brigade, purity rings, and denominational talent contests.

While Aaron is raised with corporal punishment, when he gets too old to spank, his parents disciplinary method of choice is basically shaming. Honestly, this is hard to read, and enduring this with him means I’m often rooting for Aaron instead of his parents. I keep feeling that any choices Aaron made in life — and the book stops many years shy of its own publication date, but I did some further research* — happened because his parents forced him there…

…More remarkable is that I got this book in a load of bargain titles from CBD. Yes, Christian Book Distributors. I can say with confidence that this item totally escaped their usual vetting process, and as it turns out is currently not listed at the site. Nonetheless, I’m glad I got to read it. It may be marketed as Young Adult non-fiction but I think parents should read it as a cautionary tale.

No kid should have had to grow up in that culture of shame.


*There are some reviews online for this book which contain what I consider a giant spoiler, including some editions of the book with a different subtitle also containing that spoiler. I think for me it was more important to let the book take me there rather than begin with some aspects of the story a foregone conclusion. If possible, look for the book with the cover above. The other subtitle was a publishing blunder.

 

January 20, 2018

Strengthening Our Marriage versus Strengthening Our Kids

We have a Christian parenting conference happening in our town in April.

I couldn’t help but think how rare this is when compared to marriage conferences. Of course some of this has to do with what’s happening in Christian publishing.

For example, name a marriage author. You might be able to do so readily, but for those not familiar with the world of Christian books, let’s make it easier: Name a bestselling Christian book on marriage.

You may have listed:

  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
  • Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
  • His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley
  • The Love Dare by Stephen Kendrick
  • As Long as We Both Shall Live by Gary Smalley
  • Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat
  • Before You Say I Do by Norman Wright
  • Power of a Praying Wife/Husband by Stormie Omartian
  • Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud

Now do the same for parenting.

[Crickets]

The books exist, but naming top sellers is more challenging. Furthermore in the case where the books are part of a brand or a series, you almost intuitively know that for all its success, Power of a Praying Parent probably doesn’t do as well as the wife/husband titles; or that Boundaries with Teens or Boundaries with Kids doesn’t do as well as Boundaries in Marriage or Boundaries in Dating; at least not in my experience in the field.

The conferences feed off the success of the books.

Apparently we’re at least five times — or maybe even as high as ten times — more willing to pour into our marriage than we are to invest in our kids. Perhaps we’ll purchase Christian resources for them, but we don’t necessarily want to take the time to improve our parenting skills or learn from the stories of others.

Just because you can’t name the books or authors doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The online store at Focus on the Family is a great place to find out about parenting resources — as is their daily broadcast — and you can see the various categories of parenting helps at this link. (If you Google ‘Best Christian Parenting Books’ you’ll find other lists, but I refuse to link to people who are just shilling for Amazon. Try to buy local or from ministry organizations if at all possible.)

And just to save you asking, the conference speakers coming to our local community are Jim & Lynne Jackson, authors of Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart. I hope people will want to invest in their kids to the same degree they might had the church chosen to host a marriage conference that weekend. I have faith they will.


I realize that with the word discipline in the Jackson’s book title, some of you are probably thinking of a case of parenting advice gone bad that we covered here and here a few years back. Knowing the church sponsoring this, and knowing the publisher, you needn’t worry.

 

January 18, 2018

Blogger’s Book Better Late Than Never

Flipping through listings of future publications in the “Religion” category, I was surprised to find a spring listing for a book from Christian blogger Jamie Wright. Though there’s nothing showing on her blog since August of last year, being The Very Worst Blogger would be an appropriate addition to her collection of “worsts.” I wondered if people would remember her after all these years.

Like the blog, the book is titled The Very Worst Missionary and is being distributed by no less than Penguin Random House. With an April 3rd release date — just after Easter — the book will appear under PRH’s Converge Books imprint, a parking place for anything Christian that’s edgy. Yeah, they got that right. Totally candid, brutally honest, and wonderfully transparent.

Earlier today I browsed this blog’s archives for references to Jamie Wright only to find too many indexed to follow up on all of them. But this should give you an idea; a 2013 piece on being the parent of three teenage boys, simply titled Sex.  [Warning: Explicit language.]

…I believed that sex was the best thing I had to offer the world. It was the only thing about me worth loving. And I learned, too young, that I could leverage sex to get what I wanted. My female parts had become my greatest asset.

Then I found my way into the Church, 19 with a baby on my hip, and while I lingered on the outskirts of the Christian bubble, guess what I learned… I learned I was right! Apparently, even God was super concerned with my vagina, and where it had been, and what it had touched. Apparently, my genitals were like a portal that led straight to my soul. I had been muddied – and everybody knows that once you muck up clean water, you can’t unmuck it.

It took me a lot of years and a lot of conversations with God (and with people who know more about God than me) to understand that everything I believed about my own sexuality was built on two huge lies.The first comes from our culture, and it tells us that sex outside of marriage isn’t a big deal.

The second is from the Church, and it tells us that sex outside of marriage is the biggest deal of all the deals ever.

One allowed me to give it away freely, convinced I would carry no burden. The other forced me to carry a spirit crushing load.

Both are complete crap.

Now that we’ve shocked a few of you, for me the real gold to be mined in Jamie’s blog are some pieces she wrote on short-term missions, as seen through the eyes of full-time career missionaries in Costa Rica; like this 2012 piece, Hugs for Jesus:

…We ended up shooting an impromptu interview with this group of college aged youth, who’d come from all over North America and Europe. We asked them simple questions like who they were, what they were doing, and what they hoped to accomplish by giving out hugs on the streets of Costa Rica. I can say they were at least able to tell us their own names with confidence – beyond that, it was obvious that none of them was really sure why they were here or what they were doing. One girl even admitted that she wasn’t even a Christian when she arrived in the field, and that her Mom had signed her up (As a missionary! On a missions trip!!) without her knowledge.

We asked them, “If someone accepted a hug and was so moved by said hug (and subsequently knowing that Jesus loved them) and they wanted more information, what would you do?”

And they weren’t really sure.

So we helped them out with a suggestion, “Would you, y’know, maybe refer them to a local church?”

“Oh, yes! Yes. For sure. We would refer them to a church.”

Cool. Which church?

“Oh. Costa Rica has tons of great churches.”

OK. Do you know what any of them are called? Or where they are?

“Well… No. But, they’re everywhere around here.”

Oookaaay… Do you go to a church here? Like, a church that you could invite people to attend?

“Um…yeah. Hey, you guys? What’s that church we go to? Like, on Sundays. What’s it called again?”

So you don’t even know where YOU go to church?

And then, a leader came up and tapped her watch and said, “Sorry to interrupt, but we’ve got to go do… a…thing…” And then they split.

Jamie Wright

A little later that year, after quoting Luke 10 where Jesus sends out his version of a missions team, Healthy Short Term Missions? Do it Like Jesus, she noted:

Where Jesus appointed, we take volunteers.

Where Jesus sent pairs, we send herds.

Where Jesus admonished for danger and quiet humility along the road, we opt for vacation destinations and loud self-congratulations.

Where Jesus asks to be bringers of peace, we often bring chaos.

Where Jesus designed an opportunity for a disciple to lean into a new family, learn a new culture, and serve under the head of a household (who best knows his own need), we march in with a plan and the resources to git’er’done – completely missing out on the gift of being “a worker worth his wages”.

What if the original picture of “short-term teams” was meant to show us this valuable step in the process of discipleship, where we can learn dependence on God, love for others, and how to serve

And what if we’ve taken that picture and turned it into a billion dollar industry, creating dependence among the poor – not on God – but on the ourselves, damaging Christ’s image in the world, and missing the point entirely?

That’s the type of thing I’m looking forward to see reach a wider audience this spring. Whether or not I’ll get to review the book here, I don’t know; I have no contacts at Converge Books.

But I’m also looking forward to the first type of writing we quoted first. That’s what Jamie is all about. And that’s why I think she’s the very best missionary.  


Publisher marketing:

…As a quirky Jewish kid and promiscuous punkass teen, Jamie Wright never imagines becoming a Christian, let alone a Christian missionary. She is barely an adult when the trials of motherhood and marriage put her on an unexpected collision course with Jesus. After finding her faith at a suburban megachurch, Jamie trades in the easy life on the cul-de-sac for the green fields of Costa Rica. There, along with her family, she earnestly hopes to serve God and change lives. But faced with a yawning culture gap and persistent shortcomings in herself and her fellow workers, she soon loses confidence in the missionary enterprise and falls into a funk of cynicism and despair.

Nearly paralyzed by depression, yet still wanting to make a difference, she decides to tell the whole, disenchanted truth: Missionaries suck and our work makes no sense at all! From her sofa in Central America, she launches a renegade blog, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, and against all odds wins a large and passionate following. Which leads her to see that maybe a “bad” missionary–awkward, doubtful, and vocal—is exactly what the world and the throngs of American do-gooders need.

The Very Worst Missionary is a disarming, ultimately inspiring spiritual memoir for well-intentioned contrarians everywhere…


Sharing the Sriracha bottle left to right: Nadia Bolz-Weber, Sarah Bessey and Jamie Wright at a Meatball Bar (whatever that is) in early 2014. I thought the only progressive Christian female writer (at the time) missing was Rachel Held Evans. (It’s amazing what you find in your photo file.)

 

January 15, 2018

Another Reason the Kids Aren’t at Church

Looks like nearly half of the 15 kids in this class are on their way to a ‘perfect attendance’ award; leading some Children’s Ministry directors to suspect this image is more fantasy than reality in many of our churches.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Sunday School classrooms were adorned with attendance charts with stickers applied for each Sunday kids were present. Today, those charts would be rather spotty as church attendance has suffered greatly over the past 20 years.

Back then we also were graded on a weekly point system with points applied for:

  • being present
  • being on time
  • bringing your Bible
  • bringing some money for offering
  • knowing the memory verse
  • completing the lesson in the “quarterly” (often done in the car en route to church)1
  • staying for “big church” afterwards

The Christian Education (CE) curricula of those days weren’t perfect, perhaps; but over a 3-4 year cycle we were exposed to the major body of Christian literature. Today I’m grateful to be Biblically literate2 and especially for the verses committed to memory, something harder to accomplish as you get older.

So why aren’t the kids showing up more consistently these days? In past writing and discussion I’ve always isolated two reasons:

  • Sports: Sunday morning and midweek programs for kids and teens is taking a major hit because of scheduling of competitions and practices involving soccer, baseball, swimming, gymnastics and for those of us in Canada, hockey.
  • Shift Work: Families with a single vehicle find it impossible3 to get to church if someone has to work a Sunday morning shift (or is coming off a midnight shift).

However, in a discussion last week with a CE specialist — today sometimes referred to as a KidMin specialist — I realized I was completely overlooking a significant factor.

  • Custody Arrangements: When spending the weekend with one parent, church is part of the package, but the other parent doesn’t attend, so on those weeks the kids don’t get to connect.

I asked this person how many children in her program would be affected by this, and she said, “20 percent; adding, “I have kids for whom I’ll put some extra weeks of material together for them to take home, knowing I may not see them for a few weeks.”

(Related: If you missed our 3-part series on divorce, guest-written by a youth ministry specialist, click this link.)

We don’t have room to get into this here, but statistically, if the male parent takes the kids, there is greater likelihood of the children continuing to attend church as adults.4

Either way, not only do the kids miss the benefits of the lessons presented, but they also miss the more consistent contact with their church friends, often the only Christian friends they have. By the end of my junior year in high school (Grade 11 for my Canadian readers5) my friends were largely church friends, not school or part-time-job friends. If weekend services are missed, but they get to a solid midweek program at the church, much is redeemed, but the same factors (shift work, custody, and especially, sports) play havoc with those as well.

Then there is the issue of blended families. One parent may wish to take his children or her kids to church on Sunday morning, but the other kids weren’t raised with it. Just as water seeks its lowest level, I think you know that this might easily end up with the church-raised kids wanting to opt out for whatever reason.6

With the divorce rate showing no sign of changing, this is going to continue to be a challenge facing the church at large.7 You can’t have teens leaving church who were rarely there to begin with. 

If yours is a traditional family, encourage your kids to build friendships with those whose attendance is sporadic because of any of the three issues mentioned at the top of the article and then offer to pick up these kids and drive them to church yourselves.

 


1 If the church could afford the lesson books for each kid. Our church did for awhile, but we used a 6-point evaluation system, and I’m not sure which one in the list wasn’t included. Today, the cash cow for curriculum developers is VBS, and I suspect that many churches pour a lot of their CE budget there, instead of on weekly lesson workbooks.

2 Somewhat Biblically literate, that is; please don’t challenge me to a Bible trivia contest. For some reason I do not fare well at those.

3 Even if the parents weren’t attending, getting the kids to Sunday School was easier when there was a church bus available. Today, the phrase ‘church bus’ is a bit of an anachronism.

4 Focus on the Family did this research in the 1990s, I think. Extrapoloating from this, I’ve developed a theory that it’s equally important for kids to have memories of the male parent reading. (Related, see this item re. Bill Hybels’ ‘Chair Time’ concept.)

5 The American system of ‘freshman, sophomore, junior, senior’ is now under attack because of the men in freshman. To non-Americans, junior would tend to imply the first year of high school or college.

6 In some middle school and high school communities, it isn’t cool to go to church. But churches such as North Point have created curricula that the kids and teens find to be the highlight of their week. They can’t wait to get there each weekend.

7 For more about the impact of kids being shuttled back and forth between custodial parents, check out the 2008 Abingdon title, The Switching Hour.

 

January 13, 2018

Growing up in Church: A Common Thread for Child Celebrities

If you’ve ever held a hymnbook in your hand, played on the youth group worship team, or sung in a church music production, you are at a distinct musical advantage compared to the other kids in your class. Doing school drama productions, singing in a couple of middle school choir things, and playing in the school orchestra all certainly furthered my musical education, but going to a large and musically diverse church enriched that education tenfold.

Sometimes more is caught than taught, and that was definitely true in my case. I played in the church orchestra and was pianist for the college and career youth group. The church was the first in Canada to broadcast on television, and regularly did major theatrical-style productions ranging from contemporary to operatic. I also learned about sound, lighting, make-up, camera-blocking, stage set-up, mixing paid musicians with volunteers, and learned about the relationship of all these superficial ingredients to the ultimate end: the communication of a message or story.

BelieberIn the competitive entertain market, such training would put someoune at a distinct advantage. So it’s no surprise that Justin Bieber and Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne and so many others all grew up in church.

Sadly, while they learned a lot about music, they didn’t always fare so well when it came to being prepared to “handle the darts of the enemy.” (Ephesians 6:16) However, I don’t want that remark to appear judgmental. Kids that grow up too fast in the music, TV or film industry face all manner of temptations. Many hit fame too young to have really taken ownership of their faith, let alone grasped the dynamics of spiritual warfare. UK Classical singer Charlotte Church — raised Roman Catholic — said that young female artists were “coerced into sexually demonstrative behaviour in order to hold on to their careers” 1

So the same faith heritage that helps them make it to the head of the class of aspiring singers — perhaps even plants the seed of that desire somehow — isn’t fully developed enough to help withstand the pressures and the success. They got to hone their craft musically, but missed a lot of the warnings, admonitions and proverbial (literally) advice about life in the real world, in fact their careers led to a season of skipping church entirely.

There’s another dynamic to all this also, and that is the what happens when the kids in question have already made a public confession of their faith, or have identified with a church. That was the case originally with Miley Cyrus, but you look at her career in general — and some music videos in particular — the first thing you think about is not the Fruit of the Spirit. When people reach that point, their denominational affiliation becomes more of an embarrassment to the church or pastor than anything.

Next, there is the issue of what happens to the Christian kids who are simply fans; the teens who buy in mostly because of the common faith link they think they have with the actor or musician in question, only to have that belief in that pop star dashed when they crash, as they seem to almost always do. While I’m too old to be star-struck, I always had a personal admiration for how Cliff Richard carried is faith and his fame, but later on, elements of his personal life have forced me to temper that support.

Finally, all this is also a parenting issue. Many of today’s superstars that grew up in church went there because their parents took them. Avril was raised in a Christian school environment about an hour east of where I’m writing this. Justin’s mom has been interviewed on Christian talk shows and had a biography published with Baker Book Group; what did she think as she watched his 2012 arrest reports on television?

So in conclusion? I don’t have one. Each time a new kid on the block scores a number one hit song or a box office smash, we all simply cringe waiting for the inevitable train wreck to happen. There are exceptions, like when child star Angus. T. Jones in the TV hit Two and a Half Men went so far as to stand up to the TV industry and tell viewers to stop watching2, but those exceptions seem few and far between.

I guess we pray.

And if we have kids of our own, we make Justin’s career a teachable moment. Yes, he’s making a much stronger faith identification, but just like the tattoos that don’t come off, or the compromising pictures which will always be on the internet, some damage has been done. 

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be rock stars.

1AdTV
2This blog Nov 27/12

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