In America the number of teenagers who fall away from Christianity when they go off to college is astronomical. As soon as they leave home to pursue their college education, they leave God behind. Why is this? In my time as a youth pastor, I think I discovered one of the primary reasons.
Pam is a single mom who loves her two boys, David and Joshua. She does her best to raise them in a godly way and give them a better upbringing than she had. She’s worked hard to teach them to do well in school so that they have a better chance at college– a chance she never had. She takes them to church every Sunday and has them involved in the High School Youth ministry on Wednesday nights.
[This is part of a series titled Things I Couldn't Say When I Worked For The Church. You can view the rest of the posts in the series here.]
Every so often, the boys will have too much homework and will have to miss out on youth group. Pam’s dedication to making sure her boys get the best chance at success in life. keeps them home from youth group in order to get the homework done. “School work comes first,” is what she tells them. “If you don’t have your homework done, you can’t go to youth group.”
If you’re a youth pastor, you’ve undoubtedly heard this before. If you’re a parent of teenagers, you’ve undoubtedly said this before– or something similar. But have you taken the time to think about what that really communicates? Have you considered the reason for thinking this way? As a youth pastor, it hit me one day:
For most parents, youth group isn’t as important as their childs academic education. They either don’t believe that their youth group is a part of their child’s spiritual formation, or they believe their spiritual formation isn’t as important as their academic education. Either way, they communicate that pursuing God isn’t as important as pursuing academics.
Let me give you another illustration before you write me off as an obsessive, overly religious nazi.
Let’s say David has a huge Physics project due on Thursday, and he only has Wednesday to work on it. Unfortunately on Wednesday he has Algebra and wont have time to work on his project. Would Pam keep her son from going to Algebra to complete his Physics project? Probably not. Would she keep her sons from any other class, in order to work on another class? Would she keep them from a History final to prep for their English final?
I hope you are starting to see where I’m going here. The fact is, no parent would keep their student from one important class in order to complete something for another class. However, missing a youth group meeting is as easy a decision as telling them they can’t go see the new Avengers movie because they haven’t finished their chores.
By making Academic Education a priority over Spiritual Education we inadvertently communicate that God isn’t as important. We’ve put Academics as a higher priority than spiritual pursuits. This is idolatry. And it’s one of the reasons I believe that so many college students put God on the back-burner the minute they start their Freshman year.
The average student is in school for 35 hours per week. The average youth group is 2 hours per week– 3 hours if you count Sunday morning. That equals out to 1,400 hours of school time (not including homework time) per year, and an average of 156 hours (going all year long) of church education time. Let me put that side-by-side for you:
- 1,400 hours per year in school
- 156 hours per year in church
So I’ll ask it again– why do you think students leave God behind when they go off to college?
If anything, I want to raise my son in such a way that communicates that the most important education he gets is one that means something in eternity. I want my son to know that his spiritual education is the education that matters most. I want him to understand that knowing God intimately is more important than all the knowledge and degrees that the world offers. Because all the academic education in the world will mean nothing when we are face to face with our creator.
Don’t get me wrong– I will raise my son to be diligent in his school studies. I believe education is important and valuable. I would never discourage academic pursuit. I understand that having a strong academic foundation gives a better chance at success in life. But I would much rather my son be successful in eternity. So I will teach him that his spiritual formation is more important than his academic career.
Some may disagree with my thoughts on this (and have already), which is why this is one of the things I couldn’t talk about while I worked for the church. It may have discouraged people from coming to church (or my youth group) and thereby hurt our church’s growth… numbers. And those are 2 different posts that I will tackle next week.
So what do you think? Am I crazy? Am I taking it too far? Or has our culture idolized Academics and put faithful pursuit of God on the back-burner? You can leave a comment by clicking here.