Two years ago, a young man named Jefferson Bethke released a spoken word video on YouTube called “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus.” Within a day, this video went viral. Person after person shared it, seeming to agree with Bethke's underlying assumption that while Jesus is good, the church – his church – is bad.
Bethke's sentiment is one that's extremely prevalent in our culture, which says it's possible to be spiritual but not religious; That argues instead of being the hope of the world, the church is, in actuality, irrelevant.
Knowing this, my high school youth ministry recently spent time wrestling with the question, “Does the church matter?”
As part of this discussion, we asked students to design their own church and investigated what Scripture says about the church (including that Jesus himself is it's head). We also asked students what they value about the church. Their list included the following:
- Adult mentors
- Dependable community
- Spiritual growth
- Love and support
- Our high school youth ministry
- Wisdom from adults
- Communion / baptism
- The presence of Jesus
- Shared beliefs
- Multi-generational experiences
- The Pastors & staff.
In addition to asking teens what they valued, we also asked them to articulate their hope for the church. One student said he hoped that rather than decline, the church would increase in size and influence. Another talked about how she hoped the church would be a community where all are welcome, where people who disagree with one another can discuss important issues and even learn from each other.
Ultimately, my goal for this night was for teens to leave knowing that while imperfect, the church still matters greatly to them and the world.
I think we accomplished this.
After all, at the end of the night, one student reflected on how much easier it is to be a Christian when you're part of a church family.
I pray that regardless of our age or whatever frustrations we might sometimes experience with the church, each of us would also come to realize the truth of this student's words.