The Message Our Worship Is Sending (it isn't what we think)
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Walking into my youth group’s meeting room was like walking into a bar. Dim lights, loud rap music, a lit stage, a pool table, and, yes, a bar.
Cokes only, of course, but the vibe was there.
The cool kids stayed while we listened to rap and sang a pseudo worship song to some Dave Matthews lyrics. After the youth pastor smashed a jug of milk in the Smash Dome or had us all rolling with his jokes, we’d settle in for a fifteen-minute lesson on a topic from the Bible. When the message started, the cool kids would slip outside to smoke behind the building.
I was thirteen when I started attending this youth group. Mesmerized by the wild, entertaining atmosphere of this group, I quickly became addicted to church. Sad thing is, I can’t tell you a single thing I learned during those Wednesday night meetings, save one hilarious skit that involved using pool cue and fishing poles to act out the verses that talk about having a plank in your own eye (see Matthew 7:3-5 and Luke 6:42).
Here’s what I do remember:
I remember the music.
I remember the boys.
I remember learning to play pool.
I remember wondering if singing Dave Matthews lyrics was really worship.
I remember feeling cool.
I also remember feeling left out at times.
I remember pizza parties and pool parties and youth beach trips.
And I remember, very acutely, the pain I felt when this youth group ripped apart at the seams and all but one of my friends vanished into thin air as our fun, exciting church became two.
I won’t bore you with more details on how the next few years went, as our fledgling little church tried to keep up the same craziness as we had before the split. I will, however, let you in on a secret: I missed the old youth group.
I missed the insanity of Bullseye, the catchy name of our youth group. I missed feeling cool. And, of course, I missed the boys.
I missed all the wrong things.
Youth group was not about Bible study. It was about entertainment. And I liked church for the same reasons we like TV shows and theme parks and social media.
That, my friends, is not what church should be about.
We've grown so culturally focused at church that it's difficult to tell a bar from a Bible study. We draw young people to church by making them think they're coming to a bar or club or circus instead. Why?
Because, at the core of our ministry, we don't think the gospel is all that attractive.
We think bars are attractive.
We think clubs are attractive.
We think theme parks and pizza places and magic shows are attractive.
We've adopted the world's viewpoint on what is attractive. Essentially, this tells teenagers and non-Christians that church really is just as boring as the stereotypes say it is. Why else would the church need to hide inside a coffee shop or make itself look like a night club? It must be pretty boring without those things.
That's the message we're sending.
Churches are pulling from the world's handbook when making decisions about services rather than God's handbook. They think, people go to coffee shops? Great! Let's make church into a coffee shop, and maybe someone will want to come here too. They can have coffee, and maybe the gospel too. But definitely the coffee.
Hear me on this, I think coffee at church is perfectly fine. I like it, actually! But I think when we make our churches so coffee-shop-esque or bar-like that they barely feel like a church at all, we've only, silently, told all our visitors that we don't believe in the message we're preaching.
If Jesus really is the best thing that ever happened to us . . .
If our lives really did change completely for the better when we met Him . . .
If we believe we now have "every spiritual blessing" and "every good thing given" to us from God, then we don't need anything else (see Eph. 1:3 and James 1:17).
We are completely satisfied in Christ. We try to explain this to others as we eagerly share the gospel. So when we disguise church as something the world already offers, we seem to be contradicting our claims that Jesus really is all we need. It's as if we're saying, "Have Jesus along with your bars and your coffee shops. He'll fit right in."
As those desperate to share the good news with the world, we should seriously consider the way we portray and conduct our worship services of our so-called life-changing, all-satisfying God.
What I didn’t have in my youth group was what I needed most: solid, biblical teaching. Instead, the club atmosphere of my youth group reinforced the idea that parties are more fun and more satisfying than Bible study.
That idea could not be more wrong.
The adults would go into their quiet classroom and learn about the Word of God from our incredible pastor. The teenagers were hustled into a big, loud room and entertained for an hour.
The teenagers who were facing peer pressure at school (and at church).
The teenagers who were dealing with having their first relationships.
The teenagers who were not very familiar with the Bible.
The teenagers who were trying to figure out where they belonged.
The teenagers who were stressed from work and classes.
The teenagers who were bombarded with the world’s entertainment every day.
At church, teenagers are kept apart, coddled, and served only spiritual milk for the entirety of our high school lives. After that, we are shipped off to college and told not to drown when the world is busy fastening iron shackles to our ankles.
I got to college, so overly confident in my Christianity that I thought I could never sink.
In truth, I drowned.
I do not want teenagers to have the same experience I had.
Young people, you should learn the Word of God as soon as you can. Young people, you should feel welcome to the “adult” classes at church if you desire to go. Young people, you should ask your questions and find answers. Young people, you should be shepherded so that you become rooted and grounded in love and built on the unshakable foundation of God’s truth. That way, when the world tries to knock you down, you can stand strong.
Teenage years are hard. Whoever decided that teenagers don’t need the deep truths of scripture was seriously mistaken.
To all of you who’ve been given pizza or pool tables instead of solid biblical teaching, I am terribly sorry.
You deserve better.
Come along with us as we band together over our shared desire to know more about the Word of God. Knowing Jesus really does change everything. Don't let the coffee fool you.
If you are just getting started reading the Bible, I suggest you start here with this post about praying the scriptures. If you are already part of a group with solid, biblical teaching, we need you too. We need your voices and your experiences and your encouragement.
Let me know in the comments, what has been your experience with youth groups?