Children, Youth, and a Revolution of Hope

Tonight I was lucky enough to hear Brian McLaren speak on Jesus and Global Crises at the 2010 Snell Lectures in Toronto. As always, Brian, great work, great message, and great hope. I witnessed a long line of people waiting to shake Brian’s hand, get books signed, and tell them how much his ideas and writing have inspired them. And I look forward to hearing him speak tomorrow about Jesus and the Quest of Peace. 

The majority of Brian’s message came from his book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. In a nutshell, he spoke about how the church in the 21st century can faithfully, actively, and hope-fully respond to the four major global crises in our world: planet, poverty, peace, and religion. It truly was an inspiring message filled with stories that touched the hearts and inspired many people to fight the good fights in our world.

But one of the major problems with the church today, as I see it, is that while more and more people are coming to see how the church has bought into and even brought about the “suicidal systems” at work in our world and they are making significant changes in the church’s shape and mission, young people are being left behind. Many people have told me about all that they had to unlearn in order to be faithfully follow the way of Jesus. But the problem is that while a new kind of Christianity—one that is more loving, inclusive, hopeful, contemplative, embracing, and honest—is emerging, children are being forgotten. While parents, grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, and mentors are realizing the need to unlearn much of what they were taught growing up in Sunday schools and youth  ministries, children and  youth continue to receive spiritual formation and Christian education that is similar to all that adults are attempting to unlearn. What’s the point of unlearning, of bringing about a hopeful, inclusive, revolutionary Christianity, if younger generations aren’t being exposed to it, educated by it, and socialized into it?

I know that, while Brian doesn’t tend to mention the church’s role in socializing children into a new kind of Christianity (and looking to children for what might be involved in a new kind of Christianity), he’s on board with this message. His contributions to an article we wrote, his enthusiasm in writing the afterword for my forthcoming book, and his involvement in a 2012 conference on children and youth in emerging Christianity speak to his belief that children have been overlooked for far too long. If everything must change, then it needs to change among children and youth as well as the rest of us. If we want to make lasting changes in the church, we need to look to our young people. I only hope that more and more people start taking the church’s mission to the least of these more seriously by writing, preaching, speaking, acting, and discerning as if the kingdom of God actually belonged to such as these. And if the kingdom does belong to young people, let’s not forget to allow ourselves to be instructed by them as to how the church can combat the problems of planet, poverty, peace, and religion.

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