“Church is all about rules,” 14 year old Michael said. His body language and expression told me that, to him, it was a bad thing.
Michael has been going to church since he was born. His mom and dad love him. His church has active children and youth programs. His church is big – nice gym, classrooms with flatscreens and lots of places for him to get involved. The worship band rocks.
After 14 years of sitting in classrooms and pews week after week he’s reached a conclusion. Christianity is all about what God wants him to do or not do and that’s it. Case closed.
I wonder if Michael is right. Is it really all about rules? Or, is it just that my young friend does not have the cognitive depth to understand what is really going on? Maybe he just can’t understand grace so he defaults to the rules. That sounds weak. I think he can understand grace.
Michael gets A’s. He’s a bright kid and an athlete. Why is he missing the grace piece? I think it’s probably because of what he sees around him. He knows he can’t go to certain movies because his parents are Christians. He knows he can’t read Harry Potter books because they will somehow make him want to be a wizard. He knows he can’t listen to Kanye West on his iPOD because Jesus wouldn’t like it. In Michael’s eyes, church is responsible for making him stick out like a sore thumb at school. Church is the reason his parents lay down rules that his friends don’t have to live by.
Michael knows the Sunday school song below and has learned he needs to be careful about everything but he’s not sure why. In his mind he needs to be careful because God is watching him. He’s not really sure of what happens when he hears, sees, thinks or does something “bad.” He’s pretty sure what happens to “bad” people.
Oh, be careful little ears, what you hear
For the Father Up above,
Is looking down in love,
So be careful little ears what you hear.
And then it goes on for six more verses…
Oh, be careful little eyes, what you see,
Oh, be careful little mouth, what you say,
Oh, be careful little hands, what you do
Oh, be careful little feet where you go
Oh, be careful little mind what you think
Oh, be careful little heart what you love
I can’t blame Michael. I think it’s easy to see where he learned that church is all about rules. We churches tend to press on to “deeper” things once we think we’ve got salvation covered. For us, those deeper things focus on the practical “how to live” teachings. We say, “Now that you are a Christian you will …”
Michael has not found church to be a freeing place. For him, it is a place of condemnation that continuously points out that he is a screw-up. He is not empowered to live life and doesn’t understand the freedom he has in Jesus. He doesn’t know that the Father sees him as perfect, holy and spotless. He doesn’t know that God is fond of him and loves him regardless of Harry Potter movies or Jamie Foxx playing on his iPOD. He has not discovered the boundless love of Jesus which has compelled millions to shape their lives around Him.
Michael has gone to church for 14 years and has not encountered Jesus.