Brief review of Beware of Christians

As I do from time to time, I browsed the “New Releases” and “Recently added” sections on the Netflix site last Friday. This is always a very sad time, and I don’t know why I continue to subject myself-and my wife-to such sorrowful futility. Like going again to check what’s in the fridge, even when you know there are no more snacks left-but you just check for the sake of checking, I go through these hopeless motions every so often. Always with same results. 

After realizing nothing offered any promise, I decided to check on other sections. For some reason I browsed the “Documentary” section and saw Beware of Christians. I had seen it before and thought the title was captivating enough. So I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did.

The documentary comprises 4 college students really investigating what Christianity is all about. They know what their pastors and parents have told them about the bible, but they want to remove themselves from their current setting to see what really lines up. Armed with some bibles, video, and enough to clothes to get them through a month or so, these young twenty year old’s take an honest look at their own hearts. 

They stroll through a number of different countries focusing on a different issue in each place. Materialism, sexuality, persecution, alcohol, all get their fare share of air time. At each locale, the group picks a theme scripture verse or two regarding what the bible really teaches against the backdrop of each local post-Christian culture. 

But they find themselves more encouraged than discouraged. They see Christian foreign exchange students, and hear a European witnessing about Jesus to ballerinas. They come across people apathetic to the gospel and hypocritical Christians, yet come across one who articulates justification by faith alone. They interview the equivalent of an American idol finalist who is voted off the show fans learn he is a virgin. 

They are college students, so they are goofy. They literally slap each other and steal post cards meant to be sent to a girlfriend. But they are open, honest, and non-judgmental. 

Much is there to commend this documentary, but I will highlight two things.

1.) Church  
Normally a quest to find out what Jesus is “really like” and what he “really says,” foolishly takes place in isolation from community and in separation from a local church. While these kids sought to get away from the normal religious expression of American Christianity for a season, they do emphasize being a part of A local church. They actually condemn church hopping! How refreshing.

2.) Prophetic Students?
Churches need young folks to be part of a church body. They think differently, and that’s often good, even if it makes “aging” folks (I’m balding and graying, so I feel qualified to say “aging”)  uncomfortable. They bring energy, enthusiasm, and honesty. The younger generations are far more open and whereas our older generations are much more guarded. Younger folks often ask the question: should we really be doing church this way? Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes no.

Students in high school and college will say things that are clearly nutty, and their authenticity may be more a product of popular philosophy than a belief in the power of the gospel. That’s why a church needs both young and “aging.” 

But I found myself, a 35 year old pastor, being very challenged by these twenty somethings. I know that they don’t have jobs yet, and wives or kids. But these kids called me to pursue Jesus more passionately than I am now. College prophets. Make sure you put yourself in the path of both young and aging Christians. They former might make you feel uncomfortable, but then again, that’s what prophets do. Be glad for them.  

Corn Maze, Youth and Adults, and Now and Later

This past Sunday afternoon, Redeemer, went to the Corn Maze at Cooper Farms in beautiful historic Milton, WV. We combined both Sr. High and Jr. High youth groups and allowed families to bring their children. As a result we had over 40 human beings who came together to fellowship and find their way out of the maze. For the 2nd year in a row, my group was last. Whoever said, “Teach the children, and let them lead the way…(I know it was Whitney Houston)” definitely didn’t have the Corn Maze in mind. After we finally made it out, someone snapped this picture, which shows most of the folks involved. Again, because we were so late, some folks had already headed home or to Pizza Hut to save seats.
It was one of those days, outside of us getting so lost (although that was what the young girls in our group actually wanted!), where things just seemed to click. The weather was gorgeous, conditions were “brochure” and we had all portions of our congregation represented.
The latter encouraged me just as much as the warm day and cool breeze. 
It is vital that youth do not ONLY separate and do their thing AWAY from everyone else. While they do need to develop and deepen their faith in community of folks their age-they spend most of their days with people at school their own age-they can’t ONLY spend time with people their age. Age specific youth groups and Sunday School, or Christian Ed (that sounds so much cooler, doesn’t it?) correctly supplement the gospel which is to be fleshed out and talked about at home. But youth need more than regular youth group and parents. They need community. They need to be immersed in a community of brothers and sisters, as well as fathers and mothers in the faith.
One of the reasons why MANY youth leave the church when they are older is that they have NO relationships with adults. According to Essential Church by Thom and Sam Rainer, one common denominator with young adults who never left the church was multiple adult relationships. A YoungLife friend of mine echoed the same sentiments. They need godly adults in their lives. The more the merrier. Not just a youth leader or two (those are important-they really are), but a number of adults.
I believe youth need to have THEIR time. But if we only give them THEIR time, and take them away from the rest of US who are no longer youth, then we will ultimately be doing them a disservice.
Simply isolating them from the rest of the church may help them “beat the streets” for a season. But will they return if there is no connection outside of youth group? I don’t think we need a study to see that. They’ll find new friends who don’t go to church. They’ll find entertainment somewhere else. If they go to church as a college student, and are simply looking for a youth group type experience, they won’t find it.
Some college basketball coaches experience a zero% graduation rate. I won’t name names. It’s not that big of a deal for them, as they figure at least it keeps them off the streets. I’m OK with that. But when it comes to the church, our goal in discipleship is someone maturing in Christ (Col 1:28-29). It’s not simply to keep them off drugs for a while. Our goal is bigger because our Savior is bigger and offers bigger things for us. Our goal in youth ministry is that they walk with Jesus NOW, and LATER when they leave the home and connect to a local church. Now and Later.

I’m not diminishing the need for peer relationships. I think some folks really do. I don’t. Those relationships are extremely important. But I don’t want to see Redeemer diminish the need for adult-youth relationships. That’s why I appreciated the Corn Maze so much. Maybe next year I’ll go with a different group and not get so lost. But I guess that’s part of why you pay 6 dollars to get in….