Well, it’s Monday again, and…what’s this? Another video featuring me?
A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a video panel discussion with Tim O’Donnell, who you may remember I featured a couple of months ago with his book, A View From the Back Pew. We talked about the cultural phenomenon of people calling themselves “Spiritual but not Religious,” among other topics. Tim was the “Spiritual but not Religious” voice. I represented the “Religious but Outside the Mainstream Church” voice as a house church pastor. We were joined by a pastor from Michigan, Bob Cornwall, who represented “institutional” Christianity. And Evita Ochel, who writes Evolving Beings moderated for us.
The video is, needless to say, awesome, but pretty long at an hour, and you can watch it if you like. Fast forward to about the 13 minute mark and watch for a couple of minutes to see my comments on the spiritual but not religious phenomenon.
If you don’t want to watch, you don’t have to miss out. Let me tell you why I think so many people are calling themselves “Spiritual but not Religious.”
Can’t the Church Do That?
When I was a youth pastor, I had dozens of teenagers come to youth group who had been invited by our church’s kids. Many became regular attendees, and I hoped their families would eventually begin attending our church. However, much to my dismay, I rarely, if ever met these unchurched teens’ parents. They didn’t know who I was. They didn’t know what on earth I was telling their kids. They were just happy to let another adult drive their kids to youth group for an hour a week to get some “morals.”
Most of these teens, without parental support, fell away from youth group after a few months. But I made a huge tactical error when I decided my teenagers needed to be pushed to make spirituality a bigger part of their lives. I announced that attending church just once a month, at any church would be required to attend our youth group. I figured the kids liked youth group enough that their parents would take them to church twelve measly times a year. I was wrong. I never saw a dozen of those teenagers again. I’m sure it’s because their parents could not be inconvenienced to take them to church. Pathetic.
That’s what I call “Outsourcing Spirituality.” It’s when parents are unable, or unwilling to apply what is said at church or youth group to what happens at home. It’s making someone else responsible for our children’s spiritual development, and it never works.
But it’s not just un-religious parents. It’s Christian parents too. Children don’t naturally imitate pastors or youth leaders. They imitate their parents first. And when vast numbers of parents just go to church as “fire insurance,” don’t know what the Bible says, can’t explain what they believe, and outsource their kids’ spirituality to the church, while spirituality doesn’t factor into daily life, you get 75% of people my age claiming to be “spiritual but not religious.” They can’t deny their spiritual longings, but their first role models never demonstrated how life committed to Jesus meets our spiritual needs.
My generation’s spirituality is, at least partly, a damning illustration of how anemic our parents’ spirituality has been.
Outsourcing Everything Else
But it’s not just a problem in the church. I think we have a major cultural crisis. Every part of our children’s’ lives is being outsourced. We’ve outsourced our children’s education to schools for decades. Fine, but what happens to kids whose parents place no value on learning, the kids whose parents never show to parent-teacher conferences? They suck at school, and once they graduate, they stop learning forever. I know as a teacher, it’s very hard to overcome what happens at home.
I’ve noticed that there are very few children playing in their yards or in the park in my neighborhood. Where are they? Playtime has been outsourced to constant activities, little league, or video games. The result? Kids don’t know how to have leisure outside the structure of a sport or a simulated game world.
Half our kids are obese. You can guess why I think that is. Parents outsource their kids’ eating habits to McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.
The result is always the same when a kid’s life is “outsourced.” He learns in school, but he doesn’t become learned. He plays a sport, but he doesn’t have leisure. He eats, but he isn’t healthy. And he’s spiritual, but not religious.
You can tell I think this is a huge problem, with no easy answers. But it also takes some of the pressure off the church…but only because it’s not just the church, but our whole culture that’s a sinking ship. What other ways do we “outsource” our kids? How do we change paths?
And of course, there are lots of other reasons people become “spiritual but not religious,” so if you are someone, or you know someone, speak up!