attached to working in ministry is people expect you to have all
the answers. If you walk around with a clerical collar and a
robe and, oh, say, a big hat, people tend to assume you're a
know-it-all and want to play Stump The Band with preachers. A
teenage girl asked our youth leader last week, “Why is this
important?” “This” referred to the whole notion of church,
religion, God, and our involvement in it all. The youth leader
sputtered into Rehearsed Speech #12, which answered none of her
questions, and she kind of shifted into that teenage thing where
she's too polite to interrupt, but has clearly checked out of
the conversation. Rehearsed speeches can be incredibly damaging,
and damaging someone's faith, at so young an age, is a terrible
thing to do. But, in my opinion, this was a person whose faith
was already nearly non-existent, despite having grown up in
church. She spends several days per week involved in church
activities, and her parents are married, well educated,
prosperous, faithful congregants. But she had no idea why any of
us were there. The church had failed, utterly, in seventeen years, to reveal anything of
the living God to this young woman. The sputtering youth
director was rescued by the youth pastor, who had no speeches,
and readily admitted he doesn't have all the answers, and gave
the young girl something to think about. But the wound inflicted
by Rehearsed Speech #12 may have been a mortal one. Only time
I am often confronted by people searching for the truth. Searching for answers. Looking for me to say or do something— I dunno, stand on my head— to finally flip the switch in their mind enough for them to believe. These are people who want to believe. People with money and cars and friends and careers who are still missing... something in their lives. The God-shaped hole, the insatiable desire and unquenchable thirst. But, these folks are often tripped up by nagging doubt fueled by a reasonable intelligence and healthy skepticism, especially of Christianity and the Bible.
More than any other religion in the history of the world, Christianity has more often been exploited, perverted and misinterpreted, often for terrible purposes and usually in the pursuit of money, fame or power. The Bible itself has been translated over the centuries by political people and toward political ends, everything from the Crusades and the Inquisition, to the 1980's heyday of the televangelist, where, more often than not, “ministries” enriched themselves with teary-eyed appeals for cash from senior citizens on fixed incomes.
Religion has done more damage to Christianity than anything else. Well-meaning extremists to either the left or the right, as well as woefully undereducated and intractable Church Folk (like the well-meaning youth director) on tradition/ritual cruise control, have systematically obscured the truth, the simple truth of The Gospel and of mankind's search for meaning and relevance in the universe. It's a doctrine of selfishness, forcing anyone to worship and believe exactly this way or else. Despite what may once have been noble and wonderful motives, Christians have made it nearly impossible for anyone to believe in Christ.
There is nothing in the air that is going to reveal God to you. The whole question of faith is stretching out beyond our natural cynicism and skepticism and reach for something greater than ourselves. I fervently believe if you seek God you will find Him, that your faith will find expression. I am, of course, largely discussing a Christian expression because that is the truth that I have embraced. A truth I have questioned and continue to question; the process of questioning my faith only strengthening it.
But, from a standing start, our new generation of seekers may
find it difficult if not impossible to embrace a traditional
Christian faith because so very much damage has been done to
faith by religion. Religion is, in essence, mankind's search for
God. Faith implies a relationship with God. The expression of
that faith, of that relationship, can be organized into
religion, but religion in and of itself does not necessarily
That's how we have a girl sitting in the back pew for seventeen years who has, apparently, no visceral conviction about who God is and no apparent expression of that belief. What she does have, however, is religion.