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Losing my religion

I just returned from speaking to the student body at Columbia International University. My topic: “God made you for greatness.” When you talk to a large group like that, you see that young people are very different than they were even a generation ago. Young people aren’t tuning in to talking hea…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I just returned from speaking to the student body at Columbia International University. My topic: “God made you for greatness.”

When you talk to a large group like that, you see that young people are very different than they were even a generation ago.
Young people aren’t tuning in to talking heads like me in the same way they used to.  R.E.M.’s hit song Losing My Religion (video of the year in ’91) may have meant something personal to Michael Stipe, but for many, it was an anthem describing their attitude toward faith as their parents practiced it.

This poses an interesting challenge for the ministry I run, AIM. We take young people to other countries, expose them to poverty and sometimes danger, and help them to grow. We’ve become excellent at this and take thousands every year. But what young people want and what their parents want often look different.

Recently, two fathers of solid participants told us that their daughters reported excessive bad language and some secretive drinking on their team. The fathers are disappointed in our program and I have to ask myself, “Where did this come from and what does it mean?”

Unfortunately, I think this behavior is representative of some broad trends among young people that have leached out into our programs. Yes, we can address the symptoms by better policing our standards, but that won’t get at the underlying causes. Too many parents are oblivious to this sea change in the youth culture.

I asked my own twenty-something daughters where this comes from and they told me the following, “Our generation sees that their parents’ way of doing religion is broken. They don’t want to turn out that way. It’s very important for us to be authentic. So, the cussing, drinking and tattoos are small ways of rebelling. We may not know exactly where we’re going, but we know where we don’t want to go.”

It’s sobering to hear that. In my 20 years of discipling young people, I’ve never seen anything like this trend. How will we respond?

Well, for one thing, AIM doesn’t mind admitting those young people who have lost their religion, so long as they’re looking for the real Jesus. On the other hand, if they’re more interested in their rebellion than Jesus, then it’s sayonara.

Comments (11)

  • I was in a dorm room once and saw a bumper sticker that said “Anyone but Bush!”

    I think this shows the attitude you’re talking about. They don’t have an answer, they just know what they don’t want.

    The ironic thing is that because they don’t know what they’re looking for, they won’t necessarily know when they see it…

    I know they’re looking for authenticity, but how will they know when they see it?

  • I can handle swearing or drinking or tatoos – but all three? That’s just way over the line (I’m being a little sarcastic if you can’t tell).

    Seriously, I have sympathy for the parents and students who are involved (and for you). I pray for wisdom as you deal with the reality of life and the truth that our sin nature is alive and well on the mission field as well as in the church.

    I recently heard a story about a Michigan church who wanted to minister to the homosexual community by bringing them into the service and there was an uproar among the membership. The question was asked, “Where do we put them?” The pastor wisely answered, “Right next to the rest of the adulterers and drunkards who already attend”.

    Stopped them in their tracks.

  • I have a deep cry within my heart to minister to today’s youth. I work at a Christian school, where I am always amazed at how much easier it was to teach in the public school. The cultural Christian students have been there, and done heard it all – they are hard to reach. They have been exposed to so much hypocrisy, that they are not able to tell truth from fiction(in more than literature). I think we reach them by honestly presenting Jesus Christ, the one who can save them from the mess. I do not teach become a Christian and “poof” you’re instantly healed, delivered, and no more problems. I tell them that Jesus works with you over your lifetime to save you. Also, I teach the difference between forgiveness and repentance. With this authentic life Christianity – I teach holiness and submission to Christ for true love, joy, and peace. My students say “Mr. P is hard, but we trust him, because he doesn’t lie, and when he sins he admits it and asks forgiveness, and wants to repent.” These youth today are teachable…however, we must first be taught by and submit to the Holy Spirit on how to reach them…just as he teaches people to reach us. I love ’em!

  • In dealing with each idividual prodigal I would encourage you to speak to the greatness that the LORD has called each of them to.Remembering this is a season of stretching and shaking.I believe the LORD also watches us when we deal with rebellion within our ranks.I thank the LORD for spirit guided ministry leaders!! I am praying for those who walk in disobedience and am reminded thats all of us.Yet I know Jesus wants a pure bride.

  • ….and the “blame game” goes on.

    Seth, you and your orgnization can only do so much. Whose to say that God won’t and doesn’t use these “rebelling” participants to make a difference?

  • amen – i like the “Right next to the rest of the adulterers and drunkards who already attend…”

    I’m one of those 20 somethings – I’m selling out for the kingdom. I don’t know how that’s supposed to play out. And, I may find out 10 years from now that I missed it. But partly for me, I’ve got to reject religion to figure it out. And, I know that I desperately love Jesus, and he’s okay with me being in process.

  • I believe what’s true of parenting is also true in following Jesus. If we say, “I’m NEVER doing what THEY did,” we end up guilty of the same thing in some form or another. So if this is how we reject hypocrisy, we become hypocrites ourselves. Rather, Lord help us to forgive and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Jesus is pure, holy and glorious. It’s not just what we do FOR Him, but Who He is IN us. Letting the flesh hang out is not being REAL. Letting Jesus shine out is being REAL. I’m cutting across the flow here, but where is “and that’s what some of you WERE” (I Cor.6:9-11)? Where is “reflecting the Lord’s glory”? (2 Cor16-18) We don’t see so many people in our culture coming to the Lord because our lives are not that different. Doesn’t this go back, Seth, to what you said about our identity?

  • Hi I’m sorry but I stumbled across your site by accident whilst searching R.E.M’s Losing my religion and read your comments about “the youth of today” and your statement “20 years of discipling young people” and feel that within your own liturgy you have identified exactly what the young people of today are trying to lose.
    Its not religion as in a God ascribed faith its the Dogma to maintain prescribed ways of life that no longer apply in the modern world and the hypocrisy of adults that openly preach morality but in their own insidious ways are less accepting and forgiving than any child to another that they want to lose.
    Stop seeing the young of today as the prodigal sons needing to return to the fold and look at yourselves steeped in Dogma and non acceptance of Human development, if god had not intended man to develop, experiment and move forwards the bible would end at genesis.
    It is not Faith that the Youth has lost, just faith in the elder generation that has betrayed their future and sold it for their own gain to maintain the status quo and to pass on power as THEY feel it should be, not as god intends it to develop.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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