My hypothesis is simple. Since adolescence is a cultural phenomenon and the church is called to create culture for redemptive purposes, maybe the church can turn the tide on adolescence elongation in our society over the next generation?
Factor #1 Sociologically the window of time known as adolescence is continuing to widen. Culture simply gives children a longer time to mature to adulthood. This creates a need for adolescent ministry to stretch from about 10 years old to about 25 years old. Fifteen months ago I posted some solutions to fight the elongation of adolescence. At the current pace, if nothing is done, adolescence may last 25 years by the time next week gets here.
Factor #2 The church is largely unprepared to help kids walk through the stages of adolescent development faster. With the roles of identity, autonomomy, and affinity to be accomplished before an adolescent is seen as an adult in our culture coupled with churches completely in denial that they can do anything about these tasks… and Christian parents completely whipped by professional adolescents who demand to be cared for deep into their 20s… we can see how the church has become part of the problem of elongation of adolesence in our culture with no real solutions.
The Amish solution. The Amish do one thing really well. They maintain adult members like crazy! Rather than having young children get baptized and join the church before they are ready to make an independent decision… the Amish encourage a period of running around and jumping… Rumspringa. When an Amish child enters Rumspringa the parents literally allow (encourage?) them to run around and do whatever they want. Explore the world, however they define that. Parents hope that their kids will come back to the faith… and many do… but they also reliquish control over that process, allowing the child to chose the faith themselves. Later, when they come back to the faith they come back in full knowledge of what they are walking away from and in full knowledge of what they are committing to.
Oh! We evangelicals do much the opposite, don’t we? We would never want our kids to sin! And strangely, some of the most committed followers of Christ I know are also some who tried out the other side of things and came running back to the cross!
Evangelical Rumspringa. One indictment of the church in Hyde’s Dedication and Leadership is that we don’t call our people to dedicate themselves to the church. (He compares dedication in the church to dedication to communism.) Hyde argues that our standards of leadership are too low which leads to an utter lack of true commitment to the cause. To further Hyde’s indictment, we ask for a commitment to the faith before people are cognitively aware or capable of making a rational decision.
This leads me to wonder if there is wisdom in giving our students entering college permission to do what they already are doing… but with a stronger purpose. Right now, we expect nothing out of college students. They are involved in churches, even on some levels in church leadership, but once they hit college we allow them to hit the pause button on their faith development. What if we did this more intentionally? What if we said, “Take this time off to go out and run free. Explore some stuff, chase your hearts desire, experiment with whatever you want to experiment with. But make me this promise that on July 1st after you graduate from college you will come talk to me about your faith. At that moment you will decide if you really want to follow Jesus and commit yourself to the cause or not.” This would test our definition of the sovereignty of God, wouldn’t it? For Calvinist, this would test our definition of predestination, wouldn’t it?
A Secret Revealt… We already do this practically. I know some people were offended by what I just wrote. In effect I just said that the church should give young Christians permission to sin with the hope that they will come back to Jesus. My argument back is that we are largely mislabeling our kids Christians when they are not truly dedicated to Christ in their hearts. They may have made a one-time commitment… but largely we know we are failing to develop a faith that lasts a lifetime in youth ministry. Christian Smith labeled what most kids in our ministries believe as Therepeutic Moralistic Deism. And every researcher agrees that youth ministry, as we know it, largely fails.
What I am asking is [not proposing, by the way]… Is there value in telling our kids who “don’t really get it” (e.g. about 90% of the students I’ve invested in over the last decade) to take a little rumspringa in college and lets talk about giving your life to Christ on ______?
As a confessional evangelical, my worry is that we’ve falsely assured some people who have confessed and been baptized that they are “saved for life.“ I worry that this isn’t really true as they may have not really understood the Gospel at all. I wonder if we merely coached them to say and do what we wanted them to do… and somehow assured someone of their salvation falsely? I wonder if an emotional decision made in middle school is enough?
How can this impact culture? Well, if that theory worked in college… maybe we could start backing down the length of time before we ask for that adult confession of faith? Back it down from 22 to 20? Then maybe move it into high school in a couple decades? Right now… in practice we largely don’t want people involved in ministry until they are married with kids! And for many… that’s 30 years old or later!
Thoughts? I know I’m on the edge of being labeled a heretic here. Keep in mind these are merely propositional thoughts and not proposals for your ministry.