I recently read Addie Zierman’s book, When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over. I adore Addie. She writes with such warmth. And though there is a slight difference in age between us, our stories are very similar. We both grew up fully immersed in the Evangelical life.
I could relate to the rituals and cliches of growing up in church. I could relate to the camps and mission trips. And I was all about my youth group friends and youth group crushes.
I could also relate to the disillusionment in my faith I experienced as I got older.
I was sprinkled as a baby, born again when I gave my life to Christ at church camp, and confirmed as a teenager. And I never missed a youth group activity, retreat or mission trip.
When Petra, Newsboys, WhiteHeart, DeGarmo and Key, Audio Adrenaline, and Jars of Clay, hit the radio waves in the ‘80s and ‘90s, that was all I listened to.
The band that rocked my world was DC Talk. Their first cassette (yea, I know, I’m old!), Heavenbound, was the first of its kind. It wasn’t just Christian rock, it was Christian rap! Finally, as a teenager, I could listen to the type of music I loved! And my parents approved.
I was really bummed when in 2000, Toby McKeehan (TobyMac), Kevin Max, and Michael Tate decided to break up and pursue solo careers. According to Wikipedia in 2002, the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music called DC Talk “the most popular overtly Christian act of all time.”
Along with DC Talk, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, and Sandy Patti were also my favorites. Many nights I could be found in my room belting out Sandy Patti songs like, Another Time and Another Place or We Shall Behold Him.
What I remember looking forward to most about youth group were the boys. It was about who was hooking up with who. And youth group retreats were a hotbed of raging hormones.
Aaaahhhh, the magic of the Evangelical childhood.
It was the emotional rush of that last night of camp around the campfire. It was the spiritual high at concerts and during youth group worship. It was the mountaintop experience of summer camps and mission trips that kept me spiritually floating on air. As a youth in the church, Christianity, was one emotional or spiritual high after another.
When I left home and went to college, however, the highs ended and real life kicked in. The faith of my childhood and the world I later encountered were not in sync. They didn’t seem to fit together. They were like two positive ends of a magnet. So I did what most youth group graduates did, and left my faith behind.
Matt Bays expressed similar disillusionment with the faith from growing up in the church in his book, Finding God in the Ruins.
In time it would seem as though we’d all been given free tickets to The Greatest Show on Earth, and then when we arrived, nothing. No popcorn or lions. No ringmaster with a long whip strapped to his side. No trapeze, no high dive, no clowns, and no one being shot out of a cannon. Before we were saved, the preshow was exciting. But once we entered the big top, we found less pomp and more circumstance. We’d been had.
As young people, we were pumped up on the drug of faith. And we had our high. But it didn’t take long to come crashing down. All we knew was a kind of honeymoon phase of our faith. And nobody told us that the honeymoon would end.
Somehow, the message of the gospel got lost in translation for many Gen X’ers like Addie, Matt, and myself. It was one high after another. The Christianity that we came to know didn’t prepare us for a life of following Christ in the real world.
So, what can we learn from my and so many others’ experiences of growing up in the church?
We must be so careful not to pass on a superficial faith to our kids. It is a betrayal of the gospel. There is a misconception that in order to win kids to Christ, we have to misrepresent what it means to follow Him.
We don’t have to hide the truth of the gospel. We don’t have to constantly impress or entertain our youth. The true person of Jesus Christ, Himself, is captivating enough. We don’t need to dress Him up in order to make Him attractive. The gospel, in and of itself, is irresistible when it is truly understood.
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:8
I would love to hear what your experience was like growing up in the church. Did it prepare you to carry your faith into adulthood?
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