Anyone who has been involved with young people in today's world is aware that there is a major crisis developing with kids. Every adult generation has felt that "young people today are going to the dogs" or some similar statement of negativism, and this was almost always just a statement of old fogy disapproval of behavior. As a teenager in the 1950s who was into rock and roll and Elvis and all that went with that craze, I am well familiar with stereotypic generalizations about how bad young people are. Today, however, the problem is not about loud music or teenage clichšs. There is a wealth of data that says that young people in today's world are in serious trouble, and to a great extent the secular world is at a loss to do anything about it.
Those of us who teach in the public schools have seen the problems coming for a long time. In the 41 years that I taught science in the public schools of South Bend, Indiana, I saw first hand the continued indicators of trouble in young people. When I started teaching at James Whitcomb Riley High School in 1959 there were about 30 kids in special education with one teacher, and most of those young folks had physical disabilities such as blindness or deafness that had caused them to need special education class help. Forty years later in the same school the special education department was the largest department in the school with sixteen teachers and around 400 students.
The number of learning, and emotional disorders among young people is growing so fast it is difficult to keep up with the acronyms for them--ADD and ADHD as well as autism, depression, obesity--the list goes on and on. Violence by young people against one another and to themselves has increased logarithmically. Graduation rates continue to fall in spite of large amounts of money thrown at the problem of drop outs. You can argue that much of this is because of better diagnosis and more aggressive searching for ways to help young people, but those of us in the trenches, who work with young people on a daily basis, know that is not the whole story, or even a significant part of it.
The cause of much of what we are seeing is known to most public school teachers. My first year at Riley High School I had a freshman homeroom with 32 students in it. Twenty-eight of those 32 young people had the same last name as the person they were living with. Forty-one years later I again had 32 kids in a freshman homeroom, and 4 of those youngsters had the same last name as the person they were living with. The disintegration of the home and of stable families is the most fundamental cause of much of what we see going on with young people. Add to that the advent of video games, drugs, alcohol, adult violence against children, sexual abuse, and the collapse of the Church as a viable force in the lives of young people, and you have an easy time seeing why the situation is as it is.
Society has responded by trying to entertain young people into appropriate behavior. For the most part this has been done with nonparticipatory video games, 24/7-hired entertainment at all age levels from day care through college, forced protection against behavioral consequences from organizations like Planned Parenthood, and increased spending on police enforcement.
Churches have seen this expressed in a variety of ways.
Attendance by children is down in most congregations, and the result is
that fewer and fewer programs for young people are being carried on by
most churches. Vacation Bible Schools, youth rallies, retreats, Bible
chairs and special classes have decreased in numbers and size. In early
2007 the Christian Chronicle ran an article on why young people are
being lost to the Church. I wrote Lynn Macmillan, the editor of the
paper, expressing my dismay that nothing was said about apologetics as
a tool to combat the loss of youth to the Church. He wrote back and
invited me to participate in a "Dialogue" in which he interviewed me
and allowed me to make an abbreviated response about what we had to
offer. If you would like a copy of the Christian
send us a postage paid envelope and we will be glad to mail one to you.
There is a variety of things that I feel churches can do that I did not get to mention in the article, and I would like to discuss some of them here. Let me say that I firmly believe that the Church can do this, and that no one else can. The sacrifice and involvement that it will take to reach young people will not come from people preaching "survival of the fittest," or any belief in naturalism or secularism. Only Jesus Christ and those who follow Him can change what is happening.
We will never outdo MTV, Disney, or Spielberg when it comes to entertaining kids. There is a place for Christian music and entertainment by accomplished people in the arts. The Church, however, needs to get involved in direct education. Our people have become biblically illiterate. Very few young people are being encouraged to read anything, and adult Christians need to get involved in reading appropriate material to children from birth on. Professional educators tell us that in the last 25 years the reading time of preschool children has decreased from an average of 1200 hours in 1950 to almost zero today. This is time spent by the child being read to before first grade. How can children know what is in the Bible if they cannot read and have never had it read to them?
Instead of increasing the length of Bible school class time, most congregations have cut that time. Wednesday night classes have been dropped by many congregations with no substitute given that provides children with Bible teaching. Vacation Bible School has been dropped by many congregations and has turned into a circus atmosphere instead of a learning atmosphere by many others. If we believe the Bible is the Word of God, then we certainly want it to be in the hearts of our children, and that will never happen unless we make educating children a priority.
In my public school teaching we had 192 hours for each subject every year with every kid to teach them math, science, English, etc. Every year when the close of school approached, I was panic stricken as I realized how much I wanted my students to know about physics that I clearly was not going to get to because I was running out of time. In order to teach classical physics, 192 hours is just not enough time. How long would it take for your child or grandchild to get 192 hours of instruction on the Bible with the present schedule of instruction? Would it ever happen?
Another major issue that needs to be a part of this education process is that the material kids learn from should address kid issues and kid concerns. Coloring pictures is not learning the Bible if all that is happening is coloring. Coloring a picture of Moses is not learning Israelite history. Children need to know how we know there is God, how we know the Bible is true, why Jesus and Mohammed are not equals and why we follow Christ. They need to know what marriage is and what God's plan for the home is. They need to know how dinosaurs fit into the Bible, what miracles are and what they are not. The content of children's Bible study needs to be the Bible and how it relates to the lives that kids live.
I remember many years ago having a girl named Lisa who had been a problem for some teachers in our Bible school program. She was in my four-year-old class and we were talking about the home and the role of fathers, mothers, and children in the home. After some discussion about the ideal home she said something like "I know why I have been so bad in some classes here at Church. I don't have a daddy and that makes me feel off sometimes and I act bad." She then grabbed my arm and squeezed it and said, "But in this class, you can be my daddy and I can be good." I have been and so has she.
Teaching must be a personal, information and content laden, practical involvement that leaves our students with resources to make decisions and build lives. We cannot entertain them into this vital resource, we must educate them.
It is an unfortunate fact that churches and individuals that teach dispensational millennialism control the home school and much of the Bible school literature market. Ronald L. Numbers has documented this fact well in his book The Creationist (ISBN 067 4023380, Harvard University Press). These folks promote the notion that all of biblical history is broken down into roughly 1,000-year periods which end with the "rapture," the "seven-year tribulation," and the 1,000 year physical rule of Jesus Christ as a political leader in political Israel. All of science and history is distilled through this view and it has been supported by the Left Behind materials in video games, TV programs, and books. There are massive biblical problems with this denominational teaching which we will not get into here, but in an attempt to support this religious position, scientific material is promoted which is in reality very bad science. This is not only seen in homeschool and Bible school material, but has been a major part of the elaborate "Creationist Museum" in Kentucky. Sadly, it has also been brought into the teaching program of many preacher training schools and thus is projected from the pulpit in churches that are not a part of the dispensational millennial denominational tradition.
In this periodical over the years we have attempted to point out the errors that this tradition propagates. We also have a booklet titled God's Revelation Through His Rocks and His Word that explains some of this. It is not the purpose of this article to explore this area of study, but these articles are available on our Web site (doesgodexist.org). When young people are told something that they know is wrong by a teacher or preacher who is claiming to speak for the Church, what alternatives are available to them? For many young minds the road to atheism and rejection of the Bible as God's word has begun here. A disproportionate number of our e-mails come from young people who have left the Church or are close to doing so because what they have been told is a biblical position is clearly false.
This situation is complicated by the hostility that some religious people have toward science. It is important that kids see science promoted as a friend of faith, not an enemy. The beneficial contributions of science to each of us personally is obvious. The machines that make our lives easier and that enrich our lives--from computers to automobiles come from science. The medical advances that allow us relief from physical ailments and prolong our lives come from science. The entertainment that kids enjoy--television, video games, Disney, etc.--come from science. To say that all of these positive things are opposed to our church experience is false and is a grave error. Vilifying science is not the way to build faith in young people, and it is logically wrong. If God created the cosmos and if that same God gave us the Bible in which He tells us about what He did, there cannot possibly be a conflict. If there is an apparent conflict it is caused by humans.
Adults need to look again at why they believe what they believe. How do we know God exists? How do we know the Bible is true? What does the Bible really say about history, morality, and personal choices. Everything from masturbation to dinosaurs needs to be looked at again to see if we are teaching what the Bible teaches, or if we are repeating something we have heard or that has been proclaimed by an expert who in reality has no training or knowledge of what he is stating. Beware of people talking about things that are out of their field. Be sure to identify denominational and humanist ministries. Investigate for yourself and in the words of Peter, "Be ready to give an answer to every man ... of the hope that is within you" (1 Peter 3:15).
It is vital that we make children a priority--increase our instruction time with young people. and invest in whatever tools it takes to get them involved and learning. Remember it is not a sin to say, "I don't know" as long as you say, "I will find out." What kids seem to be hearing now is, "I don't care," and that is the worst possible answer.
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Does God Exist?, MayJun08.