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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is Church Like High School?

At annual conference, I called for "The Year of the Nones." You undoubtedly know what a none is, as the fastest growing religious population in the US, it's someone who marks "none" when asked what one's religious affiliation is. I am praying for the nones whose names were given to me at annual conference (2315 names) and I hope that you are praying for the nones in your life, too. I also hope you're using a similar method to encourage your faith community to pray for and learn from the nones in their lives.

My colleague, Bishop John Schol in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, made a video of his conversation with his daughter, Rebecca. Rebecca is a none; not necessarily disbelieving in God, raised in the church, and a wonderful human being (I've spent many hours with her and her twin sister). But she has some issues with the church! You can listen/watch the interview at:

But whether you listen/watch the interview, one of the insights I got from Becca was around the frustration that nones--young people in particular--have with the church. They believe that church people are too judgmental. This has been documented in many well-known books, such as UnChristian (Kinnaman) and They Like Jesus But Not the Church (Kimball). I thought I resonated with their concerns but Becca gave me a new insight, particularly a young adult insight that I hadn't thought about before.

Becca implicitly compares the church's judgmental attitude with high school. "High school follows you," she said, indicating that it has a continuing impact on young adults' lives. I don't know exactly what high school was like for her but my guess is that she and many in her generation have experienced more bullying, judging and negative experiences in high school than many of us who are baby boomers. There are so many ways to bully/judge each other in high school these days, including Facebook, email, and other social media. The pain of judgment, criticism, ostracism, name-calling, etc. is more recent and fresh, and easier to do than taking someone out and beating them up as was the usual means in my day (and not so frequent then at least where I went to school).

Yet almost diametrically opposed, Becca's seemed to have an expectation of a church as a group of "like-minded people." The church community as well as our general society is more and more diverse and not adverse to sharing one's own unique perspective. The church community needs to be a place where we can learn to live with each other in our un-like-mindedness in a way that is accepting of each other and in a way that teaches us to live, love and work with all those other people in our lives with whom we have un-like-mindedness.

WDYT? Is the church like high school, too quick to judge? If so, how do we live together in our un-like-mindedness in a way that helps us all grow more like Christ?


Lausten North said...

I’m not sure I agree that the church is becoming less adverse to sharing one’s own unique perspective. Perhaps, if you are comparing to 100 years ago. There are more study groups now, where people can express a wide variety of relationships to God and not all parents are indoctrinating their children with the standard theology. That’s good.

But when I tried to take that variety further up in leadership, I found there was less openness. So church is like High School in that the students are trying to figure what the adults are all about, what are they up to? There are some good students leading some of the good cliques and after school programs. As long as they keep their ideas confined to those small groups, everybody is happy.

Robert Kutter said...

I don't believe the church is like high school. As one who spent a career teaching high school students, I can agree that some teenagers can be judgemental as well as people who gather at churches.

I think of the church as a place where we can all go to unlearn our judgemental values and attitudes.

If the people of the church can't or won't offer that opportunity then they don't know their mission.

Lausten North said...

That is exactly it Robert. There are many people who don't know the mission. But why is that? If you attend meetings and read the articles in paper or the internet, many of them discuss increasing membership. Few discuss specifics of a mission. Fortunately we are also known by our works, and I am proud of what our little group has done.