Parents: Young People Leaving an Overprotective Church

Paul Dean
Paul Dean
2013 23 Jan

Sometime back a survey from the Barna Group yielded six reasons young people leave the church. One of those reasons is that churches seem overprotective. Young people have “unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews” while being “prodigious [consumers] of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.”

We need to keep some things in mind. Because young people have unprecedented access to ideas and are voracious consumers of pop culture, if they are not given to analyzing those ideas, they are necessarily shaped by those ideas. No idea or trend in pop culture is neutral. Ideas and trends are rooted in worldviews. Of course, that reality is why parents must be diligent in giving their children a biblical worldview so that they may have the discernment they need when confronted by the larger culture. On the one hand, parents must protect their children until they are ready to engage the culture. But that protection does not consist of merely warning them of and keeping them from dangerous, cultural situations. Children must be trained to understand and operate in those situations.

Young people also feel that “Christians demonize everything outside of church.” We have to be honest and discerning here. There are things that should be demonized in the sense they are contrary to God and destructive on many levels. For example, it’s hard to see any redeeming value to a co-ed dorm given the fact that God created men and women to be attracted to one another, men’s sex drives are peaking during those years, dorms are filled with persons with differing moral positions, sex in that context is expected and even encouraged, and temptation is a very real and powerful thing. The gift of sex is reserved for marriage. We pray for God to deliver us from temptation. Part of His answer is His command not to put ourselves in tempting situations. A co-ed dorm certainly qualifies as ongoing tempting situation.

And yet we shouldn’t run to the extreme as parents often do and demonize sex. We should teach our young people the beauty, wonder, joy, and purposes of sex and motivate them to maximize their joy in this tremendous gift God has given us. Yes, that will require comparing the world’s presentation of it with God’s. Such a comparison should make them hungry, but also willing to wait for the finest dinner and all that entails rather than blunt that dinner with McDonalds on the way.

Teens also say their church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful.” Here are some serious questions: how analytical are you? What is the worldview being presented in a particular movie, piece of music, or video game? Do you take it all in without that analytical eye? Are you engrossed in things that God hates? And, how much time are you giving to these things? Or, do you have a knowledge of and love for God that sees certain movies, musical pieces, and video games as gifts from Him? And, because they are gifts from Him you discern which ones please Him and which ones don’t; you engage them all through the lens of Scripture; you keep them in their proper place in terms of time; and you love the giver more than the gift?

So yes, parents must shield untrained children in the early years and give increasing freedom as they get older and mature into young adults who are equipped to navigate the treacherous waters of our culture. Parents do need to demonstrate how faith in Christ does in fact connect to the fallen culture in which God has placed us for its good. It’s not merely about making it through to adulthood unscathed. It’s about engaging our culture, preserving what is good in our culture, and creating new and better cultural goods for everyone. On the one hand, young people should give their parents and churches a break if they seem to be or are indeed overprotective. On the other hand, parents and churches must recognize that we can’t win a war hunkered down in our foxholes. We have to train at the base, go on maneuvers, and then march into battle armed with the best equipment in the world: Christ, His truth, and the creativity He’s given us to bring His culture (kingdom) to bear in this world.

Check out our weekly, Q&A and worldview conversation with and for college students: University Connect. Follow and Like us on Facebook.