Church Leadership

To go deep, you have to go wide

Photo by ??’ via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our students so quickly dispatch their faith in early adulthood.

As I’ve read Sticky Faith, Almost Christian, Christians Smith’s research, and played host to the Extended Adolescence Symposium last week I’ve been taking it all in and trying to figure out “why.”

Why is it that so many students walk away from their faith in early adulthood?

And I can’t get away from this: The Jesus we present is often times shallow, weak, and boring. He’s easy to walk away from.

It’s not that following Jesus is any of those things. It’s just that we present him that way.

I think a lot of young adults walk away because we are shallow, weak, and boring.

They are thinking deep thoughts about important things, they are reading Joyce and Emerson and wrestling with the Pythagorean theorem while we spend countless hours debating the merits of pop-culture Christianity. We care more about Rob Bell’s glasses than we do why Jesus is allowing hundreds of thousands of children to starve in the horn of Africa. We care more about next week’s worship set than we care about what’s happening on their campus.

Our students are learning from their own experience that if you want to go deep on things you have to go wide– and they look at us and see us trying to go deep on things we aren’t very wide about.

  • They observe we only read from people we already agree with.
  • They observe we only listen to vantage points we are likely to already hold.
  • They observe we are only stretched intellectually unintentionally.
  • They observe we are avoid big theological questions.
  • They observe we seek training and education for our limited scope and see little value in getting outside of our discipline.

I’m struck by the reality that most high school sophomore’s have a more mature reading pallete through their literature classes than the average pastor.

A sophomore is reading Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Arthur Miller, Twain, F. Scott Fitzerald, Maya Angelo… to name a few. The average pastor is reading Francis Chan, a couple of commentaries from the same theological spectrum, and a book about leading small groups.

You might have an MDiv but you’re looking pretty intellectually thin next to a 15 year old getting a C- in British Lit. 

We make a mistake when we try to simplify the Gospel. We make a mistake when we try to dumb down what Jesus is saying to what we think our students can understand. We make a mistake of trying to neatly wrap up a Bible lesson into 3 easy-to-remember points.

Because our students know life isn’t that easy. They expect an infinite God to be infinitely deep and infinitely wide. And what they see presented from their leaders lacks both.

I think the thing I’m wrestling with is  the reality that students aren’t walking away from Jesus necessarily. They are walking away from the cheap, easy,uninteresting, anti-intellectual, shallow, weak Jesus we have presented them in high school.