Thursday, December 29, 2011



Every generation of young people seem to go through the stage of pulling away from their faith and religious affiliation. This stirs up a continual fear among parents and religious leaders everywhere. It's natural and has always been a rite of passage for young people, but this time around there seems to be a difference. This time the youth aren't returning back to their religious upbringing and this time many of these youth are expressing an unusual hunger for spirituality, while rejecting the homegrown answers of their childhood.
A few years ago a successful children's filmmaker approached me. He was interested in making a children's video on the Bible and he was told that I would make it all about Jesus. It was a fascinating encounter, forcing me to find out what is happening in religious instruction for children. From my somewhat limited vantage point, all I could see was that we have spent so much time rehearsing the biographical stories out of the Bible, but only inserted Jesus at the "You-all-want-to-go-to-heaven-don't-you time!" So I moved into research mode.

My first sampling was to ask two of my most "churched" grandchildren what their favorite stories of Jesus were. They were 7 and 9 at the time. Much to my surprise, they were stumped for an answer. Then Luke said, "Jesus was born!" "Yes!" I said. Then Luke added, "And we get presents!" Well, he had the right answer, but maybe his application was a little weak. After that outburst, there was nothing more to be added by my two samples.

I moved into gear and told them about Jesus losing his best friend, Lazarus, and then after Lazarus was really dead, Jesus brought him back to life. "And Jesus had his best friend again!" they said. I then made my way into the wedding feast where Jesus turned the water into juice. "Apple juice?" "No, it was actually grape juice." I showed them how much water was used by outlining a room in their house and they were amazed.

After taking this sampling of what is taught to our children, I met with the Children's Pastors of three local mega-Churches. When I asked how much they actually teach the children about Jesus, they all answered, "Every week!" Then as I pressed in on the studies, they all realized as I had that they do not teach much about Jesus at all. It was a shocking moment for us all!

It's no wonder our youth are leaving the Church and not coming back. What are they going to come back for? The re-telling of the old stories? The old stories just aren't enough to hold a person's commitment and devotion. There must be something more.

You see, I think what we've been doing for so long is to teach children about our religious systems, doctrines and traditions, but have left Jesus out of the equation. Oh, we all know Jesus is around. He actually hasn't left the building yet, but there is little to introduce a kid to this amazing and irresistible Jesus. And if a child doesn't get to know Jesus, other than praying the sinner's prayer, that child will not learn to follow Jesus with his life. Why introduce kids to Church or your religious persuasion without Jesus? There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

As I have been writing this book, JESUS PLUS NOTHING, two observations quickly come to mind. First, our children need to get to know Jesus. They are the most receptive to this most authentic person. Jesus even repeatedly teaches that unless one becomes like a little child, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The answer is not to teach our children better or more, so they can defend and propagate their faith. The answer for our children is to be introduced to Jesus.

Second, our children are most indelibly marked by their parents and other significant adults in their lives-not by going to a religious instruction class. Parents can be so critical of the religious institution, yet it is in the home where the most significant lessons of life and of Jesus are taught or not taught. Kids desperately need to see and hear Jesus from their parents and significant adults in their lives. More than anything else, kids need to get the sense that their models are sincerely following Jesus with their lives. It's more than teaching. Jesus is both taught and caught!

If your children aren't sufficiently turned off in the elementary years, there is a significant opportunity for them to be rescued from their wandering from God and satisfying their deepest spiritual longings through an active youth group. It's within this context that there is a greater opportunity to be influenced by others who have come to know Jesus in a personal way and are not boxed into a system of do's and don'ts and religious verbiage that serve to turn the youth away.

If you as a parent, a youth worker, a teacher, a coach, a mentor or a neighbor, join the Jesus movement and embrace "Jesus plus nothing" for yourself, you will be the best answer for the young seekers around you. In fact, when you touch a child with the powerful message of Jesus, you are planting a seed that has the potential to transform a generation. Note that I'm not speaking religiously, but personally. "Jesus plus nothing" is a personal matter. The person is Jesus!