A teenager’s relationship with a local church matters. Yet, many teens today, have become cynical about going to church (and even their relationship with God). And let’s face it, there are lots of forces working against students today that keep them from embracing the truth: peer pressure, parents who don’t attend church and aren’t actively in relationship with The Holy themselves, sports, massive amounts of school work, the media, drugs, parties, after school jobs, etc. Louis Mellado – a Spanish youth minister – has written about the similarities between the young Samuel and today’s Christian teenagers. Mellado has noted that some of the forces Samuel faced were similar … yet Samuel overcame them and did not remain cynical.
1. SAMUEL DIDN’T HAVE A CHOICE ABOUT GOING TO CHURCH
His mother dedicated Samuel to God before Samuel was born (1 Samuel 1:11). Samuel was not only taken to church, he lived there! Some of today’s teens seem to sometimes resent growing up “in” the church. But Samuel used it as an opportunity to embrace his religious heritage. In my seven years in youth ministry, I have seen this happen (both ways)! But, the on fire, all the time, at church whenever the doors are open students are (sadly) more difficult to come by. Teenagers are pulled in so many directions and are so overcommitted these days. Teenagers are not encouraged to even go to church. Some parents don’t want to “force” their child to go to church for fear that later in life they will “turn” from God for it. I’ve got news …. If you don’t get them here, I can’t introduce them to Jesus and teach them how cool that relationship is and how NOT to turn from it later. I can’t help them recognize how present and active God is in their daily lives and how any Christian topic could possibly relate to popular culture. I can’t introduce them to adults in our church who will mentor and love on them and affirm them. I can’t help them recognize what an important role they play in the kingdom of God. I can’t laugh with them, cry with them, worship with them, teach them or fellowship with them. I can’t introduce them to people whose lives they can impact (i.e. mission and service experiences).
2. SAMUEL GREW UP IN A SOCIETY THAT HAD FALLEN AWAY FROM GOD
Just read 1 Samuel 3:1b and you will know that God’s presence was rarely recognized in Samuel’s society. Was God not there? Absolutely not; of course, God was present, the people just missed it! Most of us do that everyday. Further, teens are naturally attracted to the world and all of its temptations and offerings. Because of this, as much as we church leaders and Christians do not want to admit it, in many ways we are moving to a secularized society and a post- Christian era. Perhaps teens feel they are on the outside looking in … which brings me to the next point:
3. SAMUEL GREW UP IN A CHURCH FILLED WITH DOUBLE STANDARDS AND HYPOCRICY
One example from Samuel’s day were Eli’s sons … just read 1 Samuel 2 to see their story. Samuel didn’t fall prey to this situation, but, as children become adolescents they are able to see and identify the weaknesses and mistakes of their parents, church leaders, friends, mentors, society. In my experience, this definitely leads to cynicism about the church and most of the rest of the world feels this way too. People love Jesus, but not the church. Oh, I could go on and on about this and how bad I am at it too, and the lessons I have learned, but that is for another blog entry on antoher day ...
4. ALTHOUGH SAMUEL GREW UP IN THE CHURCH, HE DIDN’T REALLY KNOW GOD
We know that from 1 Samuel 3. Samuel knew the Scripture and the songs but he didn’t know God. There is a difference in knowing ABOUT God and being in a RELATIONSHIP with God. So many times God calls us (just like he did Samuel) and we just miss it because we don’t know God’s voice.
Medallo makes a great point. We know Samuel was active in relationship with God. This is what prevented him from being cynical about the church. We know this because Samuel stopped keeping his distance from God. Samuel did more than just go through the motions. Samuel listened more than he questioned and acted more than he talked. What a great lesson for our teens today (and we adults)!