“Huh???” That was my response when, as a young college student, one of my campus pastors told me that “all human beings worship.” In my naivete, I wondered how one could worship when they weren’t a follower of Christ. But when the pastor explained that since all human beings are created by God to worship, we all wind up worshiping something. I got it.
Knowing that all human beings are created to worship is knowledge that serves us well as parents and youth workers. We can be assured that even when our kids worship things other than the one true God who they’ve been designed to worship, their worship of something reveals that their hearts are ultimately hungry for heaven. Yes, their worship is misdirected. But that also means that we have a great opportunity to point them to the One they are hungering for!
I was reminded of this recently when I read about the data recently released by the Pew Research Center and Trinity College in Connecticut. Spirituality is still a conscious pursuit for many millennials. That’s the good news. What’s discouraging is the fact that a growing number of millennials are rejecting traditional Christianity for a variety of pre-Christian and pagan religious practices. Of particular note is the rise in practitioners of Wicca, something that I initially encountered first hand back in the early 1980’s when I was living in Salem, Massachusetts. The researchers say that by 1990, there were an estimated 8,000 Wiccans in the United States. Now, there are estimated 1.5 million practicing witches across the United States. . . which is more than the 1.4 million members of the mainline Presbyterian Church. . . which happens to be the denomination of my youth.
It will be interesting to see what factors have combined to contribute to this shift. Here are a few worth pondering. . .
First, there’s the hunger and thirst for power. It’s not that Christianity is a faith void of power. We know that it is rooted in allegiance to the sovereign God of the universe! But I do think that we’ve offered a less-than-compelling witness to the Christian faith through our generally lukewarm and wishy-washy way of following Jesus. It’s no surprise that kids would gravitate towards spiritualities whose adherents center their lives upon, as opposed to just an “add-on.”
Second, there’s the dumbing-down of faith in our churches and youth groups. Perhaps we’ve worked so hard to effectively market faith to the masses that the faith we’ve marketed is somewhat incomplete. If we are building community marked merely by presence and numbers and we aren’t taking kids deep into the timeless truths of God’s Word, the cultural narrative will wind up drowning out the biblical narrative, and we will be left with nothing to be committed to. What we present to the world in an effort to avoid being off-putting, actually becomes off-putting.
Third, there’s a growing commitment on the part of Christian parents to activities other than Christian nurture. Youth workers are consistently lamenting the loss of kids to sports, academics, music lessons, and other extra-curricular pursuits. All of these things are good and valuable things to pursue. . . but when these pursuits take the place of opportunities for Christian nurture, it’s not surprising that interest in the faith will decline. One youth pastor recently shared that of the 500 families in his church with children between the grades of K to 12, church attendance now sits at an average of 1.8 Sundays a month. We have to wonder what else is not happening in terms of the Christian nurture of kids in those homes.
Fourth, our millennials have grown up in a world that emphasizes commitment to self rather than commitment to deity. Trends like narcissism and expressive individualism discourage allegiance to outside authorities and truth claims. With many alternative spiritualities encouraging personalization and self-rule, we shouldn’t be surprised at their attraction.
All this to say. . . youth workers and parents. . . be encouraged. Augustine once said that “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” Your kids are included in this number. And until they seek to be filled by the only One who can fill the hole in their souls, they will keep working to fill their hunger and thirst with alternatives. This is why your presence, work, and persistence is so, so important!