From Bad Kids to Big Influence and the Problem of Nice Church Kids


Researchers in Sweden have found a link between kids who get in trouble and kids who grow up to become entrepreneurs.

Specifically, they’ve found a link between people who are mischievous, as opposed to law-breakers, and those who grow up to disrupt the marketplace.

The authors of the recent entrepreneurship study plotted those activities against the likelihood that the kids would, as adults, start their own businesses. The result: More than factors like intelligence, creativity, and the parents’ socio-economic status, delinquent behavior predicted adult entrepreneurship. The authors argue that the findings support something called the “unruliness hypothesis,” the idea that the same restlessness, impatience, and allergy to authority that leads a kid to cut school and get high also leads him to start a photo-sharing network.


The Problem of Nice Church Kids

It’s been well-docmented that the church has a “nice” problem. Whereas the New Testament documents a group of rebels who reached the world by sticking it to the man, today’s  church tends to weed those people out. The rebellious kids rarely stick around for the long haul to become the pain-in-the-butt senior pastor.

Heck, the rebellious tend to leave as soon as they get a drivers license. “The church is for people who like to sit and sing and listen. That’s too boring for me.”  It doesn’t take long for a 15 year old to look at the church and realize that the local church is not leading them towards Nero’s lions. We’re too careful for chubby bunny, much less lions! 

Church leadership tends to attract compliant, team players

About 3 years into my training at Moody I realized that one of their goals was to force me to submit. If I didn’t play their game I wouldn’t walk across that stage to graduate. It didn’t matter how stupid or how unbiblical some of their program was, it didn’t matter that I could prove it– all that mattered was your compliance: A not-so-subtle hint of things to come.

Of course, Moody isn’t alone. I have many friends who had to learn this in order to get ordained by their denomination. It’s easy to turn your nose up at a place like Moody and say, “How could you go to a school that made you wear a collared shirt to class or didn’t allow you to go to movies?” But mainline denominations have their own hang-ups, like forcing you to go through training you’ll never use or take classes from a denominational school you don’t like.

It all teaches the same thing: Comply. Submit. Bow your head. Don’t take risks.

And it weeds out the rebellious. The risk-taker. Left brain wins over right brain almost every time.

People who become pastors read way more books about risk-taking than live a risk-taking life worth writing a book about.

Consequently, when people in the pews look at the lifestyle and personality of an officially recognized leader, that’s what they pick-up. “Oh, if I want to be _____, I need to act like _____.

The church needs disruption!

In the marketplace, when an entrepreneur pushes a new idea into an existing market, that’s called disruption. It’s rebellious. It’s risky. Most ideas don’t survive. But those who do change the entire game.

In reality, there’s virtually no disruption in the church today. Here are three disruptive things I can point to in the past 25 years.

  • Small group ministry – Believe it or not, there was tons of resistance to small groups.
  • Purpose-Driven Life – (and to a smaller extent, Purpose-Driven Church) Rick Warren’s books created a wave of disruption many ministries are still riding.
  • The justice movement – Before International Justice Mission (and a pile of others) emerged, the evangelical church had no voice in areas of justice.

Today we’d look at Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, or Gary Haugen and say… these guys aren’t disruptive at all! But when their ideas came forward, they were.

But, if we’re honest, there’s not a lot of disruption going on in the church. There’s a ton of soft innovation, but not a lot of disruption.

The question is: As a church leader, are you fostering an environment that cultivates critical thought? That runs with the wild ideas of the maverick?

Or are you pushing them away? Are you subtly telling them to take their risky preferences elsewhere? (Which might actually be creating disruption when those people come back with an attitude!)

Photo by Shahdi via Flickr (Creative Commons)






9 responses to “From Bad Kids to Big Influence and the Problem of Nice Church Kids”

  1. Lyn Loewen (@Lyn_Loewen) Avatar

    Great thoughts!! #pushtheenvelope #sameissuesatmycollege

  2. Hannah Adams Ingram (@sexyethics) Avatar

    As a teacher, my world was rocked when I read something about “self-affirming prejudice,” and our natural tendency to favor those who remind us of ourselves. If the church is ran by nice people, the nice kids remind them of their youth, and those kids might get even more favor. Usually, this isn’t even conscious. Maybe you already do this, but as a trainer of youth ministers, I bet there would be real space to discuss engaging and connecting with kids who do NOT remind us of ourselves.

    (In the classroom literature… it was even as subtly insidious as calling on students who were similar more often. I wonder how it could look in ministry? Maybe in choosing leadership teams? Activity/curriculum planning?)

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      I’d be really interested in learning more about that. If we do an Open Denver (working on a venue) I’m going to tap your shoulder about this. Youth workers DESPERATELY need to learn from educators.

      1. Hannah Adams Ingram (@sexyethics) Avatar

        Let’s talk more if that comes to fruition. I would love the chance to be involved because both causes are near and dear to me, and I’ve got training in both. Keep up the good fight. 🙂

  3. Michael Cabral Poubel Bastos Avatar

    I’m not a pastor and never want to be, I don’t believe it’s a profession you can choose and thus I stay far and clear from anything having to do with seminary even though I grew up in church all of my life. Some of the best pastors I know today came out of the world, this may be hard for many to believe but many of them got saved later on in life as adults which says a lot about the calling of God on an individual.

    They have a real story, a real testimony that doesn’t involve being the nice church kid who grew up, went to pastor’s school and is now fulfilling his life’s mission of reaching out to street kids. They are men who sinned most of their lives and but by the grace of God are not dead or in a ditch because of his mercy, I left church at 17 and didn’t really get saved until years later so I understand that mercy.

    My point in all of this is to say that maybe the problem here is not one of conformity or lack there of, maybe the problem here is one of choosing verses being chosen. We shouldn’t be hoping that our kids grow up to be pastors and youth leaders, we should be praying that they become anything but, it is a point of pride for most parents to say that their kids became the leader of a church and pride is a bad reason for anyone to enter the ministry.

    By all means send your kids to Christian schools, send them to Christian universities but keep them out of the official channels of seminary because many of those “Pastors” will probably never pastor a day in their lives. Instead pray for God to give them wisdom, pray for his mercy in their lives and teach them the stories of grace that God has had in your life and hope that they learn enough to have some of their own even in their future mistakes.

    Finally wait until they are called as adults but teach them the right way to live by example in the mean time, (No new testament apostle was ever called as a child, even Paul was said to be born out of time meaning he was probably a child when Jesus walked the earth but God waited) and if they are called test them on their reasons to make sure it’s from God and not from a need to please or conform.

    When God calls you to preach then you are the rebel, you’re not going to conform because your calling is not from Moody or any other earthly authority, I’ve been blessed enough to meet those kind of pastors and I can tell you the knowledge God gives them is beyond anything you learn at Seminary school, but it also comes through a lot of praying parents, grandparents, hardship and time.

    If a kid wants to be a pastor, it’s no different than him telling you he wants to marry his girlfriend, he’s too young to make that kind of decision now and may derail whatever God has planned for him if you don’t stop him. If he’s called by God then let God be the one to prove you wrong when he’s older and wiser.

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      Thanks for this comment. I’ll be interested to see responses as ma big chunk of my readership are people working at churches. And… like a lot of professions… they would like to think that their profession is admirable enough for their kids to follow in their footsteps, and of course a segment of them are children of pastors currently working as pastors. 🙂

      I don’t know if there is a “right path” into the pastorate. I think the longer I’ve been out of it the more willing I am to accept “it’s just a job.”

      1. Michael Cabral Poubel Bastos Avatar

        I’m not trying to discourage people that have made this their life choice, my point is only to those who are discontented or questioning their decisions and hoping to some how revolutionize their ministry. Do I think God can call someone to the ministry that is the child of someone in the ministry, absolutely and in many ways they may very well be there because of the prayers of their parents and grand parents. Yet it’s important that every profession look deep down at the motivations for why they do what they do, there is no right path to the pastorate, only God’s path whatever that may be. The signs though of God’s path are obvious as seen in the apostles.

        A true sense of purpose and conviction to teach and preach even when told to be quiet, a knowledge of the of God’s word that came from experiencing it in their lives and not from a book. How could Paul preach about the miracles of God unless he had experienced them for himself. I know people will disagree with me on this and that’s okay, but I’ve seen both sides of the fence here. I’ve grown up in dead and dying churches where the pastors or youth pastors are fumbling around trying to figure out what to do next. And I’ve worked in churches ministries where kids are bused in by the hundreds to hear God’s word and they come.

        The big difference between the two is the presence of God not only in the church activities but also in the convictions and ideals of the leadership. Church is not a corporation, we should not treat it as one where we have planning committees debating about strategy and tactics, God will give the vision and when we don’t have the patience and or the unction to let him choose it for us we end up doing it in our own power and that may have success for a while but dies down in the long run.

        The churches I’m talking about have been doing this exact same thing for 20 and 30 years without stopping or breaking apart, if you’d ever like to see this in action I’ll gladly welcome you to come out for an entire Sunday and see what I’m talking about.

        It was a humbling experience for me having grown up in a church all of my life, to see people who knew less about scripture than I did doing more for the cause of Christ than I had ever seen in almost 2 decades of “experience”. It’s not just a job my friend, it really is a calling, it’s just not one I think God has for me or most people, even the ones that think they do with all their hearts. The proof will always be in the physical evidence or the fruit as the bible says.

    2. Mike Lyons Avatar

      I can’t really accept the part about “By all means send your kids to Christian schools, send them to Christian universities but keep them out of the official channels of seminary…”

      First of all, I hate the whole thing where people send their kids to Christian schools so they can’t accidentally witness to some kid who has never heard about Jesus before. These parents focus on sheltering their kids from the world, when really we should be focused on going out into the world to be salt and light.

      Secondly, if you are deciding if and where your kid goes to college or seminary, your kid has no business in leadership. Period. Leaders choose their own college, their own path. They don’t take the one mommy and daddy told them to take.

      Finally, the “official channels of seminary” are just like almost everything else in life. They are tools. Whether you have a tool isn’t the issue. Whether you can properly use it is the crux of the matter.

  4. youthleadergina (@youthleadergina) Avatar

    Yes….disruption! The current disruption I am already getting yelled at (and un-friended on FB) is for speaking up against fear/shame based supervision polices (how we treat girls) and modesty rules (again, shame based youth ministry). My life would be much more “comfortable” if I just kept my mouth shut. But worthy causes involve risk.

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