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August 16, 2006

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Thank you Chris and Sarah for the excellent interview. I will refer lots of students and professors to the book this year.

Interesting to see a post from Brian McLaren on Leadership Journal's Out or Ur blog today about the same thing
Family Faith Feud: Why are young adults not finding their places in their parents’ church?. I submitted a comment on there referring people here.

If I had a question for Sarah, it would be this: What are the unique issues that students who attend Christian colleges for when looking for a local church during and after college?

Grace and peace,
andy

Andy Rowell
Taylor University
Department of Biblical Studies and Christian Ministry
Blog: Church Leadership Conversations


That is an insightful question, Andy. Christian college students face a niche set of challenges that correspond with living in and not simply attending a Christian community.

Let’s start with one central area that stands out from my research/observation.

Christian college students must develop a filtering system for determining whether various types of Christian expressions are bliblical, valid, and healthy.

In many cases, Christian college students spent childhood shaping their faith to meet the expectations and definitions of Christianity emphasized by their local church (or by their parents). In college and adult life, however, they will be exposed to a wider variety of Christian community and expression. A chapel speaker will inevitably interpret a passage of scripture different than their home pastor, a professor will choose a theological position different than their parents, fellow students will express their faith in more or less charismatic, intellectual, social-justice oriented, or relational ways than their peers from home.

The constant need to compare and contrast, to sift and filter all the information and experiences will sometimes feel overwhelming. Some students may react judgmentally, inciting division with those who differ from their hometown version of the faith. Some may become relativistic, accepting anything and everything anyone claims in the name of Christ as equally valid before God.

Because of this, I think colleges should sink significant energy into helping students develop filtering systems. I.e. Into teaching them how to test opportunities and ideas based not JUST on their hometown experience or their college experience, but based on God’s overarching interactions throughout history.

Helping students examine their surroundings using the principles in Scripture, the witness of tradition, the role of mentorship, the promptings of the Holy Spirit, etc. is far more useful than encouraging them to adopt a professor or student development staffer’s passion of choice. I.e. If you familiarize a student with the emergent movement, for example, they will be prepared and willing to succeed in emergent contexts. If you familiarize them with more time-worn principles for discerning God’s hand in a variety of movements, they will be prepared and willing to succeed regardless of time or place.

College campuses are often scaled-down samplings of the global Christian world and its variety. Which is exciting for you! You, and other faculty/staff at Christian colleges, perhaps have one of the most ideal opportunities to see a potential breeding ground for confusion/disillusionment become opportunity to resolve differences/achieve unity. I pray these opportunities develop all over Taylor.

(As a sidenote, I attended your Taylor Leadership Coference as a college student and my uncle--Scott Raymond-- recently began working at Taylor Ft.Wayne.)

Sarah,

It probably goes without saying that spiritual abuse and the misuse of spiritual authority has wreaked havoc in the modern institutional Church. It's certainly understandable that many twentysomethings stay clear of anyone or anything that smacks of "spiritual authority."

Completely ignoring biblical principles regarding leadership is probably not the answer, but either is the egalitarian notion that every person's "way" of pursuing God, being a disciple, and "being" church is equally valid, regardless of bibliohistorical merit and irrespective of what other believers may think. Sometimes this takes the unspoken position of: "it's my own damn faith and I can practice it however I damn well like, and don't anyone tell me otherwise."

How can twentysomethings grab hold of this tension and affirm their own need for biblical leaders in their lives while avoiding leadership excesses and the sort of egalitarian ridiculousness that keeps them as islands unto themselves?

Chris, just yesterday, an eighteen year old friend directed me to a related Jimi Hendrix quote: “I'm the one that has to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.”

I suspect many of my peers’ reactions to this quote would capture the spiritual tension you reference. People of all ages, but particularly twentysomethings, tend to reject those who infringe on their freedom. They want to pursue spiritual growth at their own pace and according to their own comfort/yearning. Some of this may reflect a healthy desire to avoid adopting practices/beliefs they don’t truly "own" yet.

However, as you say, the consequences of embracing reckless freedom that has no boundaries, guard rails, or outside direction can clearly develop into a spiritual collision course. If we abuse freedom, thinking that no one should have the right to confront us or instruct us, then we may unintentionally do things that inhibit our freedom in the end. If we get caught up in destructive life cycles, for example, it takes away our peace of mind which prevents us from enjoying our freedom. We become prisoners of our own dysfunctional lifestyles. We lose the very thing we were trying to protect.

As followers of Christ, there are ways to protect and exercise individual freedom in spiritual growth without abandoning all input.

Wise Christians will check their approach to spiritual growth, and other faith ideas, against the safeguards of Scripture, Christian tradition, prayer, and community. If a person is trying to seek God or live out his ideals in a way that is consistent with the Biblical passages about Christian gatherings…and if their aims do not conflict with other Scriptural instruction…then it is appropriate for them to claim “freedom” in trying to express their faith as they see fit. In summary, our quest for freedom must be an informed quest, not a blind one.

If you don't know what freedom is--as defined by God--you will never find it.

Sarah,

I especially liked how you put this:

"If a person is trying to seek God or live out his ideals in a way that is consistent with the Biblical passages about Christian gatherings…and if their aims do not conflict with other Scriptural instruction…then it is appropriate for them to claim “freedom” in trying to express their faith as they see fit."

And many twentysomethings (and 30 and 40 and 50-somethings) are doing just that (as Barna and others have pointed out so well). This is not a threat -- despite what some "church folks" might think, and I for one am thrilled to partner with and learn from Christian brothers and sisters who are passionately following Christ outside of traditional, institutional expressions of Church.

Again, thanks for all you're doing to help draw more attention to why younger adults (and older ones too) are leaving the institutional Church, disillusioned and disheartened, as well as pointing out that there IS abundant life in Christ outside of traditional congregations.

Blessings,

Chris

Thanks, Sarah! Like I said above, I'll try to tell people about your book. :-)

Sarah,

I enjoyed the interview, but haven't read your book yet. A kind of ongoing question with me is how does one live in the world but be not of the world. So I wonder how do the twentysomethings that you come into contact with interact or deal with friends or co-workers and others who challenge the very existence of God?

Shalom,
Bro. Bartleby

Twentysomethings are probably more comfortable engaging people with opposing religious ideas than some previous generations. In one regard, this is a positive skill set developed due to growing up in such a transparent and diverse culture. But in other ways, twentysomethings are perhaps such faithful drinkers of others' worldviews that they eventually lose their sobriety and cannot clearly discern truth for themselves.

Personally, I have encountered very few Americans who seriously debate the existence of God. A 2003 poll by Harris Interactive found that 79% of Americans claimed to believe there is a God, and that 66% are absolutely certain this is true. (Granted, the version of God they claim to believe in may be very different from the Biblical God we seek to follow).

However, many people debate God's principles and choose to live apart from them, which creates unhealthiness.

We could talk for hours about avoiding that unhealthiness and yet penetrating it. And I am a learner alongside you in the process.

Part of my own ability to succeed in this aim depends on my level of awareness. If I learn, for example, to recognize when I am emotionally drained and more prone to failure, I can choose to distance myself from potential spiritual health risks at least temporarily. Sometimes, I simply resolve to return to people or situations when I have more stability and energy to give.

It is also helpful of course to be able to honestly assess my weaknesses. If my personality or my life stage lends me to be weak in a specific error, I live by the mantra of "Error on the side of health."

Hey Sarah,

I am starting an internship at a church in a week. What can I do to be sensitive to the disillusioned? What themes are important that resonate with the twenty-somethings.I hope to get your book soon.

It still seems that the most beautiful answer is an even more beautiful question.

I'm so pleased with where this book found it's start, and with what many of us are doing to exploit the questions we're all asking to the fullest extent – to bring living beauty and startling hope in the word.

Dan Wilt
Prof. Of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies
St. Stephen's University, NB
W http://www.ssu.ca/icews
B http://www.danwilt.com

Thanks so much Chris and Sarah. Appreciated the interview very much.Look forward to reading and reviewing the book from a New Zealand perspective when I'm able to get a copy.

Take care

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