In a recent blog post from author and researcher George Barna, he talks about how The Barna Group’s research has revealed that Christians lack strong commitment to ongoing spiritual growth. Writing from the perspective of Evangelical Christianity, Barna said that the people they surveyed often felt that their faith began and ended with “getting saved.”
Though Mainline Christian churches may not resonate with his more Evangelical language, the reality Barna describes should resonate strongly. How many times do people come to a church in order to get married or baptized without any real interest or commitment to a life of faith beyond that moment in time? How often to church leaders hear “I can’t come to worship because I have a … sporting event, a brunch appointment, a play date, etc.”?
In United Church of Christ churches, I see this dynamic manifest in how church leaders relate to young people, particularly high schoolers. For most of these young people, the ‘obligation’ of confirmation classes and Sunday school has gone away and their exceedingly busy lives take them in a million other directions – most often away from church.
Just as the expectations of sports, theater and arts groups and other clubs increase for these young people, the church most often responds by lowering theirs. In a desperate attempt to ‘keep’ them in the church, we do things like push back registration deadlines, sacrificing the quality of events, because young people want to see if something better comes along. Instead of having a frank, but kind conversation about the nature of Christian commitment, we just bite our tongue when another family says they’ll be missing worship again because of a traveling sports tournament.
Barna writes that Protestants historically and theologically emphasize having faith rather than doing works as the thing that ensures salvation. But, this shouldn’t mean that having faith is a “free ride into Heaven.” He goes onto say that if we have a ‘life-altering’ relationship with God in Jesus Christ, our lives should reflect that transformation in radical ways.
Lowering our expectations only succeeds in communicating that what we do isn’t all that important anyway. We produce ‘disciples’ who don’t know that a faithful life takes work and sacrifice. Living a life of faith is about the most important, difficult and joyful thing that any of us can do. Jesus didn’t lower his expectations and neither should we. Jesus called his disciples over and over again to give up everything and follow him. This call to faith and action is no small order to fill. But, it gives us what we (especially young people) need – a higher purpose that calls us to be greater than ourselves.