There is a wonderful book that I have referenced many times that speaks to the teenage exodus from the church and ways to help prevent it. The book is titled Going, Going, Gone by Jeff Schadt. I have used this resource to lead other youth and ministry workers through its main points. One of those points is in the area of teen discouragement. Teenagers are often bombarded with messages in their youth groups and churches of things they need to avoid. That list includes the all to familiar talks about sexual abstinence, avoiding drug use, and the like. Though there is nothing wrong with addressing these areas of temptation, all to often a vital component is missing in the education. They get the message of what to avoid but the lesson may fall short of what to do when they have already fallen prey to these sins. Many young people have a desire to please the adults in their lives especially their parents and youth leaders at church. Regardless of what may appear on the outside, most youth want approval from these individuals. When sin enters their life and they constantly hear warnings about falling to these sins, those who have already fallen to them enter into a spiritual dilemma. They may be tempted to hide these transgressions because they do not want to let their parents and leaders down. Another fear is that they will respond to this failure by giving in to the sin since they have already fallen anyway.
Schadt in his book illustrates this point by use of a triangle of discouragement. He describes the home, school, and church life as one big discouragement. The youth may feel they don’t measure up at school; can’t meet the expectations at church; and at home they feel every time that they are not perfect that they are a failure. Can you imagine what this guilt and sense of failure can do to a young person? No wonder many of them leave the church for a while. They just don’t measure up in any area of their life and they don’t need the constant reminders that they get at church. Do you see what these young people are missing in the messages they are constantly receiving? What is it that the church needs to make sure is clearly being spoken? The answer is GRACE. Grace does not imply that repentance is not necessary. That is not what is being said here. But these young people need to know that they can bring their struggles with sin to the church and that they can leave them at the cross and then move on. They need to know that we all have our messes in life but that that is what the cross delivered us from. We are not held captive to our sin. Youth today need a safe place to reveal their failings so that they can be restored. No more hiding. Everything needs to be brought to light in an atmosphere of love and restoration.
This is why we as adults need to share with these young people our own struggles and failings so that they can relate and see hope. This in no way lessens the need to live holy lives. It strengthens that command. We can run ourselves crazy trying to address every possible sin these young people can get involved in or we can teach grace and restoration and a sense of what it means to live in holiness. A young person that understands these things will not feel defeated by their sin. Their guilt will lead to repentance and their repentance will lead to restoration. But these young people need to feel safe to reveal their temptations, failures and yes even doubts to a church that will react with understanding. We need to journey with these young people and remember our own youth and help them in the transition. Not as one who has it all figured out but as one who is willing to make their own mess their message. This is one way we will hold on to them.