Lutheranism In, Lutherans Out: A Higher Things Youth Conference Reflection
“At the risk of sounding quite insolently obvious, I shall say that if the Church is to make any impression on the modern mind she will have to preach Christ and the cross.”
– Dorothy Sayers
The same could be said of making lasting impressions on the youth of the church, especially when it comes to contending for and delivering the Christian faith (Jude 3). The word Lutherans use for this is catechesis. Now, by catechesis we must mean a lifetime of receiving the Word of God, participating in the sacramental life of the church, and believing, teaching, and confessing – not leave the catechism, Scriptures, and hymnal behind once you’ve hit made your confirmation vows. At its best, Lutheran catechesis centers on Christ crucified throughout our entire lives. Quite simply, this is what our youth need. More historic Lutheran teaching. More discussion and studies on current topics from a Christian worldview. More apologetics for the defense of their faith. More worship that points them to Christ and not themselves or the latest pop-Christian entertainment fads. In other words, our youth need what we all need: More 200 proof Lutheran doctrine and practice. More Word. More Sacraments. More Jesus.
It’s simple really. You put good Lutheran teaching, worship, and throw in some fun activities – and you get good Lutherans out. Good Lutheranism in, good Lutherans out. To be sure, some of our young men will be pastors and some of our young women will be deaconesses and they will all go on to serve in various vocations. But the youth are not the future of the church. They are the church, right now, already. From the moment they were baptized and marked with the cross and the water they were members of the body of Christ.
And this is why the youth board and pastors here at Redeemer have made going to Higher Things conferences in the summer (not to mention using their resources during the year) the highest priority for our youth. Higher Things youth organization provides the best in Lutheran teaching, worship, and fun for our youth and adults alike. Through conferences, daily devotions, online videos, Facebook, radio, and so much more, Higher Things is giving our youth a faith that they can grow into, not out of. And that’s what we spend our time doing here at Redeemer whether it’s in Sunday School, preschool, adult Bible studies or with our youth. Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
Over the past several decades protestant churches throughout the United States have been learning this the hard way. Studies have been done. Surveys conducted. Data has been re-studied and re-researched to the point of exasperating redundancy. Everyone agrees that youth and college students are leaving the church in large numbers. The problem, however, isn’t in the diagnosis, it’s in the treatment. The youth are leaving the church not because of too much Christian doctrine but too little. They are leaving not because of too much liturgy and good hymns, but too little. They are leaving not because the church is uncool but because it is too cool, too friendly with the world. If the church becomes too much like the world, why should our youth – or anyone for that matter – come to church? What’s the difference between going to the club on Saturday night and the rock band on Sunday morning? Honestly, not much and the club is probably more fun (and better music). If faith is a house, we’ve built them a house of straw and sticks. No wonder that when they get to the later years of high school or college that the big bad wolf of skepticism, atheism, and all sorts of other “isms” blows their house down. The church growth methods and trend setting ways of popular Christianity have been tried and found wanting and they have failed our youth. Too many youth are leaving the church not because they are overstuffed on good Christian substance, but because they are starving, or worse yet, the church has fed them a steady diet of sugar-fied Christianity which turns out to be a fantastic gateway drug to unbelief or, at the very least, an early exit out the back door.
No doubt you’ve heard the old cliché: You are what you eat. To an extent that’s true. The food and drink we put into our bodies affects our weight, cholesterol, metabolism, and so forth. The same is true for the Christian faith: you are what you worship and teach. The Christian teaching we receive, the spiritual food and drink we partake of, and the worship we are involved in all affects our spiritual diet and well being.
That’s why false teaching and self-centered worship are bad for your spiritual health; these things are also poisonous to our youth and it’s everywhere in our culture and sadly in our churches. Thankfully, there are good ingredients for our youth and families today. We don’t need to settle for the McJesus of fast food Christianity: Have it your way! Thank God for Higher Things and this year’s From Above conference, where we were reminded daily that we are God’s children, born from above in Baptism and fed by Christ’s Word and Supper.
This why the youth and adult chaperones spent four days in Tacoma, Washington at a youth conference this summer. Our youth are important members of the body of Christ. They need to be fed and nourished just like our other members, with the same wholesome word and sacraments we all need. At this year’s From Above conference that’s exactly what they received. The youth attended 14 worship services in 4 days, 4 plenary (meaning full) sessions and at least 7 breakout sessions on individual topics of their choosing. And here’s the best part of it all: they loved it. They ate it up. They wanted more and were actually disappointed we had to leave a little early to get to the airport.
Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? Letters to a Diminished Church. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004, p. 60.