December 2, 2020

iMonk Classic: A God-Shaped Void? Maybe Not.

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
from May 2006

Nevertheless, young people do not feel disenchanted, lost or alienated in a meaningless world. “Instead, the data indicated that they found meaning and significance in the reality of everyday life, which the popular arts helped them to understand and imbibe.” Their creed could be defined as: “This world, and all life in it, is meaningful as it is”, translated as: “There is no need to posit ultimate significance elsewhere beyond the immediate experience of everyday life.” The goal in life of young people was happiness achieved primarily through the family…The researchers were also shocked to discover little sense of sin or fear of death. Nor did they find any Freudian guilt as a result of private sensual desires. The young people were, however, afraid of growing old. – Article in the London Times.

“I am a deeply religious nonbeliever…. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.” -Albert Einstein

Romans 3:11 — No one understands; no one seeks for God.

• • •

A few months ago, I noticed a mosque had appeared in suburbs of a community I drive through several times a year. It was the first visible reminder I’d seen that I was no longer living in a Bible belt culture in which the Christian faith, in some form, was dominant.

I’ve lived most of my life submerged in the world of churches, Christians, Biblical language, and the Christian worldview. As I’ve moved into the second half of life, I’ve become aware that I need to separate myself from the Christian culture that has dominated my life, and to look closely for where my own assumptions are deeply embedded with the concepts, presuppositions and categories of the spiritual/intellectual/social/religious environment that surrounds me.

As part of my journey to deconstruct this evangelicalism I’ve lived in, I have consciously attempted to appreciate the thinking and experience of those who do not share my Christian faith. This process has been difficult, because the “house” of my personal experience is completely furnished with the furniture of a Christian society, church language, Biblical presuppositions and the basic beliefs of the Christian community.

One of the incidents that began this journey was a simple observation by a student. “Steve” had been at our Christian school for several years, and had never made any outward steps of faith. He wasn’t very verbal about matters of faith, but it wasn’t hard to tell he had thoughts he chose to keep to himself. One day, in a class discussion about a recent chapel message, Steve spoke his mind. I can’t quote him, but it was something very much like this:

“Why do Christians always say that you can’t be happy unless you are a Christian? It’s insulting to a person who isn’t a Christian to be told that they will never be happy without Christ. I’m not a Christian, and I am happy most of the time. I am happy with my friends and they things I enjoy doing. I don’t want or need Christianity to be happy.”

To quote the hanky-waving lady in the local African-American church….”Well……” So should we argue this point? “Steve, you just don’t know what happiness is. Trust me. You have no idea how happy I am compared to you.”

This post begins with a quote from a London Times story that was interesting to read. Seems the Church of England is trying to find ways to tap into the spiritual interests of England’s church-abandoning younger generations. After extensive research, the conclusions were not at all the expected.

  • There was little interest in God at all.
  • There was little interest in heaven, spiritual matters, or even life after death.
  • What was meaningful to the young people interviewed was life, family, love, work, relationships and the enjoyment of this world. They were comfortably, happily attuned to this world. Spiritual tattoos aside, they had little thought of much beyond what their senses or experiences presented to them.

In other words, Augustine’s famous “God-shaped void” didn’t make its expected appearance in anything near the numbers expected. Those with interest in some aspect of non-Christian, alternative spiritualities were often simply engaging in the enjoyment and exploration of culture, social groups, symbolism, trends and/or their own this-worldly curiosity and preferences.

Several months ago, I told many of my friends that when I turned off the “Christian stream of consciousness” in my head and just listened to the young people I work with, it was quite obvious that most of them had no interest in God at all. I mean no interest in God at all apart from practical, pragmatic results in very “this worldly” matters. Of course, the problem is that I’m simply not taking this into account in much that I do. “Now turn in your Bibles to Obadiah, and let’s pick up where we left off last week in our series on “Major Moments In The Minor Prophets.”

I do hear about God. I get those Bible questions and the questions that go along with a Christian school full of kids made to go to church and forced to adopt the values of their families. Occasionally someone will ask me about an unbelieving relative who has passed away, but I have never seen anyone truly disturbed about their own relationship with God or worried about what God thought of them. Exactly like the young people in the Times article, there is almost no interest in spiritual things. The great majority of interest in “God” or “the Bible” or “religion” comes down to wanting to know how this might make life here and now more interesting, satisfying or pragmatically effective.

I don’t meet people concerned about sin, and my crowd hears about sin all the time. When I have question and answer sessions, I hear church kid questions and a bit of curiousity about this and that. I’ve begun to realize that when a Christian begins talking about a Biblical story or text, the vast majority of the people I know see these texts having absolutely no relevance to their lives at all. These are things Christians talk about. A Christian giving the meaning of a Bible passage is like a student of the red-winged woodpecker explaining its habitat and habits. If he/she weren’t making you think about it, you would never think about it.

We talk about hymns or choruses like God cares a lot about this. People who aren’t part of church culture know that God isn’t caught up with hymns or choruses. We talk about this church or that new teacher, and these things are very important to us. They fill up Christian television, radio and web sites. Our friends outside of the Christian aqaruium look at us swimming around and think we are funny, odd fish. So concerned with what we think is real, but which they consider meaningless or just a story to try and make you act like someone wants you to act.

The people I know are consumers, not seekers. They consume entertainment, movies, personal events, possessions, experiences and relationships. The idea that God has a claim on them is comprehensible, but virtually meaningless. What they want and what they need is in this world, and is not on the other side of a prayer. (I wonder if “Seeker Sensitive Churches” might consider “Consumer Friendly” as a better name.)

Of course, such people look at those of us who are Christians as very different from them. We tell them our story. We explain the Biblical message of salvation. We describe life with Christ. We talk about “knowing God” and “worshipping Jesus,” and they hear us. They may admire us. They may sometimes feel we have said something very valuable. (A recent sermon series on marriage created a lot of interest by our students because it talked about some things they care about.) But if we talk about “your need to accept Christ,” we might as well talk about “your need to wear elk horns and walk in circles.” They give us our meaningful rituals, but they don’t want to be told they need the ritual as well.

I recently commented on the BHT regarding an evangelism method used at the “Thunder Over Louisville” event during Derby Week. The “Joe Photo” ministry takes free pictures of people at public events, then gives them the option of hearing a Gospel presentation when they download the photo. I do not object to the desire to share the Gospel. What I object to is the sales technique of capturing interest with a less than fully disclosed agenda. Christians in America have become well known for approaching people with any number of “baits,” that are designed to create the space for a presentation about Christianity.

Perhaps it’s just my personality, but I resent indirect sales approaches. If the phone rings and someone says they want to give me a CD, but I learn that the free CD is actually going to be a prelude to a 3 minute presentation on life insurance, I’m irritated…and insulted. If I truly believed that someone, for example, needed to send their children to our school, I would provide straightforward information, and I wouldn’t approach them in a way that baited, then switched, or attempted to buy openness with gifts or promises.

Why can’t we just talk like human beings talk to one another?

It’s as if we don’t believe non-Christians can be talked to on their own terms. We have to pull them into our presentation; into our “script.” They have to become the subject of our questions. They must be the dummies and we must be the ventriloquists. Evangelism training, preaching and apologetics must create some kind of a “subject” willing to allow, hear and answer the right questions. “Canned” presentations seem to be primarily about the Christians need to dominate a conversation. These all betray our fears that we may not be able to control what is presented or the conversations that might follow.

Atheist debater Brian Flemming puts the following “Statement of Beliefs” on his website (HT to my personal psychiatrist):


I believe it is possible that Jesus did not exist.

I believe there is no evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ that dates to the time of his alleged life.

I believe there are no written eyewitness accounts of the existence of Jesus Christ.

I believe the names of the Gospels were added well after their composition, and there is no good reason to believe that these names correspond to the original writers.

I believe there is no good reason to believe that any of the Gospels were written by disciples of Jesus Christ, or that any eyewitnesses to Jesus were involved in their composition.

I believe the Bible is not infallible. I believe it is common for religious cults to make things up.

I believe it is common for religions to influence each other, and for young religions to be derived from older religions.

I believe that any claim can be part of Christian tradition and also be false.

I believe that no figures such as “God” or “The Holy Spirit” or “Satan” performed any supernatural actions that had any significant effect upon the formation of early Christianity.

When I read this, I find myself wondering what the typical Christian school would do with a student who articulated these beliefs clearly and with support? What do we do with people who have thought it all through, know the score and say “Fraud?”

Let me suggest what would happen at many schools or churches: This would make many Christians angry. It would intimidate. It would frighten. Parents would call. Emails would say “Do you know…” Many Christians would not want another “evangelist” presenting another “gospel” with the potential to convince. This student might be labelled “disruptive” and “too controversial.” It wouldn’t surprise me to find some- not all- of the Christians dealing with such a student lobbying for his removal from the environment.

I say this not to be hurtful toward Christians (some of whom would never respond like this), but to simply ask if we are aware to the extent that we insist everything outside of our belief systems conform to our own thoughts, presuppositions, concepts and beliefs? Most of us are desperately afraid of any kind of conversation or relationship that puts us in the position of allowing unbelievers complete and total respect. We avoid the kinds of conversations that put us in the position of being “evangelized” or, even worse, simply told our message doesn’t matter at all.

Notice the way that a film like The DaVinci Code makes so many Christians uneasy because of the “errors” that will be promoted. The fact is that DVC has taken the conversation about Jesus away from Christians, and thrown it into the culture, where anyone can say what they want. This, of course, is torture for many Christians. We are not in control. Someone else has the floor, and we must put up with it. We’ve had our say, and the audience is bored.

No wonder so many Christians- especially preachers- shout a lot.

Now, for the irony. Scripture tells us that if there a God-shaped void, we will rarely see or encounter it in obvious ways. What we will see is a race numb and dead. A planet of people refusing to think about God or think about God except in idolatrous- self-serving- terms. A world of people who see no more relevance to the Gospel than to a thousand other things that make absolute no sense or have no claim upon a person at all.

In this sense, I affirm completely those who say that our evangelism be modeled on New Testament principles of the work of the Holy Spirit:

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 — Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. (2) But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (3) And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. (4) In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (5) For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (6) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

This is what must happen, and if it doesn’t happen, nothing else matters.

At the same time, I am amazed at the hostility many of these same Christian friends have to the notion of having extended, equal and fair conversations with unbelievers. In affirming the necessity of a spiritual operation on the mind and heart of a person, and the importance of making Christ the central focus of saving faith, we are not told to do nothing but preach, and to preach only in the way, voice, content and forms that we are comfortable with. The call to be a witness or a missional communicator is an invitation to incarnation and Christlikeness in motive, method and message.

If we take seriously the unbelief of unbelievers, then we pray, share the Gospel and do so in a way that is completely incarnational. We do not make them into projects. We fully humanize the process of evangelism, and we take unbelief seriously.

At this point, I can’t recommend enough that every person who sees a need to retool evangelism in the postmodern culture study the ministry of Francis Schaefer. Schaefer was a master of what it means to engage a culture and the persons in it with all the respect, love and humanity that the Gospel should bring forth in Christ’s witnesses. One of Schaefer’s worthy interpreters is Jerram Barrs, and his book The Heart of Evangelism is must reading.

The God-shaped void is absolutely there. It is the HUMAN PERSON! But it is not a void…it is someone made in God’s image, a person loved by God; a person for whom Christ did all his mediating work. This person and their beliefs (or lack of beliefs) are not a threat to us. We do not need to manipulate or control them. We can allow them to have their life, their journey and their experiences. We do not need to demand anything of them for us to present/represent Christ to them.

Yes. Today’s young people are bored with God. They are not “seeking” God at all, but are living on the hardened surface of a fallen human experience, seeking to make sense of what is incomprehensible apart from Christ. We cannot “create” interest apart from the work of the Spirit. Our calling to be witnesses is not to approach the world like cattle to be herded, but as persons to be loved in the way God loves this fallen world through Jesus Christ. We live in a generation and time dead to God and alive to entertainment and a consumer mythology that promises and delivers meaning through stimulation and amusement.

Christ has become the servant and savior of such a world. We live in that world, fully human, fallen, redeemed, rescued, living and hoping in the new creation. How do we speak of these things? It’s a question we must keep answering fearlessly.


  1. Dave Burkum says

    I miss Michael Spencer!

  2. Well, I have two reactions to this article, which is quite well written and thoughtful and chock-fulla excellent questions, and thoughts….IMHO.

    First, these people exist all over the western world, and not all of them are young. They are not “bad” people, they just don’t seem to hear the call that is so loud and insistent to all of us. I really don’t know why…..many have never been exposed to christianity well lived, and others have seen and rejected the whole idea. I feel sorry for their loss, but as RC I feel that God is the only one who can call them to Him….unlike many other denominations who feel that evangelizing and getting these folks into the fold is THEIR call from God.

    Second, as someone of more mature years, with a lot of life experience, it would not surprize me if SOME of these younger people hear God’s call later in life, as the only answer to the horrid pain and loss that is part of life. (Even if, for some, this is “only” the loss of youth and beauty!)

    When the deep and empty cry of “Why” or “Why ME” or even “Is THIS all there is to LIFE?” is sent out into dark at three in the morning, the answers tend to be limited to listening to God, depression/suicide, or covering it all over with some sort of addiction that causes oblivion.

  3. Jack Heron says

    There’s a lot in this piece. Here’s some disjointed thoughts while I mull it all over:

    I’ve seen a dozen polls on religious ideas among the young in the UK. Some repeat what the Times one Michael uses says. Others say quite the opposite – that young people are very interested in the *questions*, but highly sceptical of the ability of churches to answer them. A lot depends on how you ask the question. “Are you interested in God?” will get a more negative reply than “Are you interested in the soul?”

    I used to infuriate a lot of Christians back when I was an atheist. Not because I was combative (on the contrary, I liked Christianity), but because I was knowledgeable. I had heard it all and didn’t believe. Some people took that as a personal affront, in a way they didn’t take loudmouthed ignoramuses as an affront.

    I don’t think I’m any happier now than I was before my conversion. I don’t think I was more stupid then, or more ignorant then. I’m different, and it’s difficult to qualify how, but I can’t look back on my experiences and say “There. *That* was what I didn’t understand before”.

    Pointing out that a life without God is emptier than a life with Him is almost tautological, but also pretty pointless. I mean, if someone doesn’t believe in God, what point is there telling them that they’re missing out on Him? It’s like me trying to persuade you that your garden would be so much better with a unicorn in – it might well be true, but you’re not going to be convinced to go out and get one.

    If non-Christians find our ideas useless, is that their fault? We, after all, claim that they’re world-changing, so their apathy is a challenge to our ideas, not to theirs. Maybe we should be listening to Mr Miyagi: “No such thing bad student. Only bad teacher”.

    • Interesting points , i don’t talk about religion when i’m around other christians , it just never goes well. I’m usually the question asker in the group , and i ask the exact same questions as non-believers or i point out appeals to “special pleading” etc , so i thought it was best to just shut up. Another problem is when christians think of our views as blatantly obvious or that somehow 5 billion people walknig this earth are idiots , not saying such beliefs about people are the norm within the church , but it happens often. And i agree us young people(i’m 16) are interested in these large questions , but often the church(to be specific the megachurch in town) gives fairly pat answers without any nuance. For example i have two friends who both lost there faith at summer camp , it was in the midst of other people crying during worship and all sorts of emotions running as people found there faith again or were “getting close to God” , while these amazing things were going on , unfortunately there simple questions about the christian faith went unanswered. Camp to them was basically “wretched urgency on steroids”.. i’m rambling again.

  4. I think this just might be my favorite Michael Spencer article.. or top 5 at least. It is true that us young people are quite comfortable. I live in a small mennonite town ( they make up the vast majority) , so there are of course lots of of young energetic christians , but even with there rigorous bible study & church activity , there is still a sense of comfort & isolation from everybody else. Everybody is always SHOCKED by the thoughts of people from other religious traditions(or no religion) , and they must quickly be corrected. It’s like there is some kind of fear of being challenged or really wrestling with faith.

    a few thoughts for the moment , i don’t know if I made any sense 🙂

    • Also i’m a chronic doubter , so dismissal of uncomfortable questions , always has me scratching my head.

  5. Christiane says

    I look at the young in the military and at their service . . . I look at the young who volunteer to help animals who are suffering . . .

    I see something there that is not ‘cynical’ and it gives me some hope.

    Maybe the young are not going to be satisfied with the hypocrisy of older ‘Christians’ and by saying that EVERYONE knows exactly what I mean.

    Maybe the young have watched ‘LOTR’ and the Narnia Chonicles in film, and have seen very well into a theo-logy that honors goodness, but not ‘pretense of goodness’ that hides out in middle-class comfort zones among like-minded people who all watch FOX News . . .

    Maybe the young are better off than we know. Maybe WE are the ones who are in more trouble and somehow unaware in our own denial of it ?

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Back when I was in-country in the Seventies, I heard about “The God-Shaped Hole in Everyone’s Heart” all the time.

    Now, I tend to think of it as a near-universal Evangelical folk belief, probably related to their tunnel-vision on Conversion at Any Cost.

    • Actually, it from one of the ancient fathers of the church…..but I am sure it has been re-used!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The term may have been coined by one of the ancient fathers of the church, but these days the only place you hear it is in Evangelcialism, in close connection with Wretched Urgency Witnessing.

        • I didn’t know that….I have heard it for ages in my mostly RC circles.

          Oh, and I did my homework, and this is a mash-up of statements from St. Augustine and Paschal.

  7. What a great article and a great re-gifting to the body of Christ in pulling it out of the archives and letting us hear Michael’s voice again. thank you. there is so much to chew on, so much to remember, so much to repent of …

    I think part of the picture here in the west is basically the fulfillment of what God said to Israel. That is, God said what would happen to Israel, and it has now happened to us in Western societies that have so much of this world’s riches. Israel was warned, and we have forgotten that the warning to her is true for all the people of God in every generation.

    When we forget from where our bounty comes, we become satisfied with lesser things and give no thought to God. Is this not why God warned Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 6:12 “take care lest you forget the Lord.” see especially the context of verses 10 and 11.

    thanks again for reposting.

  8. Kelby Carlson says

    I don’t have a lot directly related to the article to add, but this is certainly interesting from a student’s point of view. I would agree with those who believe it is largely how one frames the question, but also that the Christian culture is still self-insulated enough that calm, open and intelligent nonbelief scares us a little when we encounter it. (I’d like to say I’ve made it past that, but I think if I had I’d be reading more atheists.)

    There’s another way in which the “God-shaped hole” concept gets misused, in my opinion. I have heard people in unhappy situations–people looking for companionship, for a way out of a malaise of some kind–who are also active Christians reassure themselves by saying “well, I just need to seek after God more, to fill that hole in my heart that nothing else can.” While seeking after God–and, of course, doing one’s best not to construct idles in God’s place–is always worthy, something about this strikes me as almost gnostic. It seems that by saying this we are saying that human desire, or depression, or unhappiness aren’t “real” or don’t matter, and that if we could only fill that “God-shaped hole” everything would be okay. I believe this fundamentally denies the already/not yet tension we live in as redeemed people, and i also believe that we cannot fill our hearts with God–through Christ and the work of the Spirit, he must fill us with himself.

  9. I remember this original post very well. I had just come to the same conclusion before reading it.

    And what about the God-shaped void that believers experience? Like where is God in time of trial or trouble. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

    • beakerj says

      I would love to see some discussion on this here at iMonk…what if after years and years of trust and service your expectations of God’s love and presence are utterly confounded by experience?I almost had to leave the service this morning when God being close to a young woman with cancer came up…God is close to the broken hearted? What if that’s not your experience, what if believing in God makes things worse?

      • I know there are discussions on this in the iMonk archives. It is also my experience in large chunks. I liken the psalmist to a blues singer. You know, you can’t sing the blues unless you’ve lived the blues.

  10. As a young Christian, I’ve certainly felt the pull of these same things as others in my generation. What’s always kept me going back to my faith is twofold. First, the intellectual side. I am firmly convinced of the factual truth of Christianity and its bold claims that I believe are solidly backed by the evidence. I can’t live with the cognitive dissonance of walking away from the faith that I know to be true simply for the sake of living a more convenient lifestyle. Many misguided young people believe that truth is relative, but I think that is absolute nonsense. Truth exists, and we should try our best to find it.

    The other half is based on taking a ‘big picture’ view of the world. I know this sounds harsh and judgmental, but in many ways young people today are shallow, lazy, short-sighted, and irresponsible. Most are more concerned with getting some stupid iPad than wondering what happens after you die. Few consider questions such as the endless cycle of seeking validation from their friends, relationships, and jobs. Few care to address the underlying spiritual problems present in the world beyond trendy hipster pablum about fair trade organic sustainable coffee beans. Jesus is the only answer to these things. Only God’s kingdom can give us hope when we’re disillusioned with the screwup politicians who run the show. Jesus’ words reassure us when we see suffering and injustice in the world. The water Jesus offers quenches the thirst that a hot girlfriend, a new car, fame, or a high-paying job can only temporarily alleviate. I agree with the “Jesus-shaped hole” sentiment, but it’s little more than a Christianese buzzword that is too unclear to be helpful.

    This needs to be how we engage the world. We need to take the gospel to them and show them how it applies to every sphere of life. But we also need to bring people to look below the surface opiate of entertainment, technology, and comfort. I think the Western church has, by and large, failed at both of these.

    • > The other half is based on taking a ‘big picture’ view of the world. I know this sounds
      > harsh and judgmental, but in many ways young people today are shallow, lazy,
      > short-sighted, and irresponsible.

      Sounds spot-on to me. But can we blame them? Amongst the “older” generations there is a serious shortage of shining examples. Older people seem to feel that the young should be impressed with them. That they are not – this should raise some questions.

      > Most are more concerned with getting some stupid iPad than …

      Have they seen a credible alternative? At least novelty is distracting.

      > Few consider questions such as the endless cycle of seeking validation
      > from their friends, relationships, and jobs. Few care to address the
      > underlying spiritual problems present in the world beyond

      Have they been provided with a framework from which they can address those questions?

      I’m down with being very harsh in the evaluation of the current youthful generation. But they didn’t arrive where they are alone. Notice the pandemic of stay-at-home adult-children, and the chronically under-achiever male (topic of many a postulation in the main-stream press). I see both disinterest and a general malaise; especially among the many [at least here in the USA] who do not enthusiastically embrace the entrepreneur-as-hero meme. I see a large contingent of the youth who seem inclined to “drop out”. They aren’t just disinterested in God / Religion, they are disinterested and disillusioned with just about everything.

      Who’s fault is that?

  11. I really like this post. I was reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

    “But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. FOR WHAT HAVE I TO DO WITH JUDGING OUTSIDERS? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”

    My entire lifetime spent in evangelicalism has been characterized by the polar opposite. We have judged outsiders with zeal, but we have left the House of God in ruins. May the Lord open our eyes.

  12. humanslug says

    Maybe the church’s journey through Western Culture is about to come full circle. Since the time of Constantine, we Western Christians have been presenting and promoting the gospel from an assumed position of cultural and intellectual superiority — a position that has been traditionally backed up by a Christian state, a politically powerful church institution, or (more recently) the prevailing weight of public opinion. But over the past few centuries, we’ve seen either the gradual decline or the outright collapse of those cultural power bases we once created to bolster our “superior position.”
    What we’re seeing in this generation of young people is that our last cultural prop — prevailing public opinion — is slipping through our fingers faster than we can think of new trendy ways to attract people into the church.
    In a generation or two down the road, American Christians may have the honor of presenting the gospel to a culture that almost unanimously regards it as absurd, backward, and foolish — much like the pagan Greco-Roman world viewed that strange new cult of crucified Jewish criminal worshippers back in the first century.
    It would be truly sad and ironic if the faith that first grew and flourished on the blood of martyrs is finally ignored to death by a disinterested culture.

  13. I was involved in youth ministry for roughly a decade, mostly involving post-high-school college age. That was some of the best memories I have.

    This is a true article, most of ‘the students’ were completely disinterested. And I mean *disinterested*! They came because of some gimmick, parental pressure, or (it has to be said)… to meet boys/girls. The [hopefully] short speech was something one sat through politely. A [hopefully] brief interruption to the good stuff.

    ‘the students’ were callous, self-involved, and, to be blunt, ignorant. Often times they were simply cruel. And for many of the most privileged these qualities were amplified and reached a quality beyond their years – although often well hidden behind a veneer of ‘quality’. Generally, they acted a lot like people. People who looked good, didn’t need to sleep much, and were very… to be blunt again… horny.

    They were also, not infrequently, pretty amazing. When freedom (which is a large part of youth, unsaddled by other obligations) meets willingness it can be awesome. What I learned is that they are disinterested, but a large part of that is they think [or know, possibly correctly] that the leader/pastor/whatever doesn’t have anything relevant to say, or is – like most ‘older people’ – a coward. I saw ‘students’ get interested, at least stop and consider. But that happened when the leader/pastor/whatever got honest and talked about the real impact of being callous, self-involved, and ignorant. So many of these students knew they were those things. They were all those things, but they weren’t stupid, they weren’t incapable of self-reflection, they weren’t without self-doubt. But a canned, slick, polished approach was, as they say, “epic fail”. Even years ago the ‘the youth’ were already completely surrounded by canned, slick, and polished. You have to start with relevant, you have to start on their level (which isn’t all that hard, it is pretty much the older person’s level, we just don’t look as good doing it and need more sleep).

    When the ‘good christian girl’ opened up to the group about how she always felt superior, about how she didn’t want to hang out with the ‘public school kids’. When she talked about how messed up that feeling was to a group of mixed church / non-church ‘students’ – channels opened. It wasn’t a gimmick, it was someone being honest. Honesty won her the right to be heard. [certainly these kinds of things can be staged, but that just won’t work]. She was talking about something everyone knew was there but wouldn’t acknowledge. Even if you didn’t accept her, you respected her.

    When in the ‘guys group’ one of the older seminarians talked about how he got into pornography in high-school and how he felt that affected his relationships with women, and then his marriage. That could have blown up in his face. But he got *respect* and I never heard one of ‘the students’ mention it except in a whisper to another guy [which usually went something like “that guys ‘for real'”]. I remember that session clearly. Even I thought “he’s talking about what???”. It was really awkward. There was a fair amount of squirming. But when he talked about seeking righteousness, a pure heart, and how grace made it possible to live a life more worthy of his God and his family… nobody spaced our rolled their eyes. Everyone new that pornography and ‘related-activities’ was pervasive; but they only talked about it as locker room humor – here was a guy who didn’t make them seem funny at all.

    When people opened their homes for students who got really ‘messed up’ or just needed someplace to stay. Others noticed. Often quietly, but they noticed.

    Sure, I know, (I can hear the pastor’s lecture) these things weren’t a clear presentation of “the gospel”. But they were clear presentations of the fact that ‘the church people’ where (a) human, like you and (b) they really cared. If it doesn’t start there it won’t go anywhere, “(b)” matters a lot, because salesmen don’t care [he wants you to buy]. The recruiter doesn’t care [he has to meet his quota]. Even if someone makes you a bit uncomfortable, the realization that they care goes a l-o-n-g way. People listen to people who care. But caring is expensive, risky, and uncomfortable. When they here about some grander vision of what life could be, what it might mean, from someone who cares – and takes what they themselves say seriously – it can take root. The “god shaped hole” is not innate, but it can be contagious.

    Sadly, while *people* are often surprisingly willing to undertake expensive, risky, and uncomfortable endeavors – organizations don’t do “expensive, risky, and uncomfortable”. Organizations like slick, sleek, and clearly presented.