Today I was asked my opinion about a youth specialties report on youth in America. In this report the author talked about a recurring theme of 'feelings of abandonment' among today's youth. I'm not surprised, but I think that this goes deeper than that, and I think the problem isn't limited to our youth. Here is my response to my friends request:
This may be more than you wanted, but let me go a step further than the article does. Rather than talk in terms of 'abandonment', let me talk in terms of 'disconnection'. Disconnection is a problem that really not limited to the youth of today, but they may be the first ones in recent history to grow up with no memory of what connectedness looks like. Whether, or not this is 'new under the sun', I really don't care. It is the reality of where we are today, and it is the issue before us that needs to be addressed.
When I was growing up there was still a sense of connectedness with people around you, a sense that you were part of a larger community. If someone was hitch-hiking, of course you would give them a ride. If someone was broke down on the side of the road, of course you would stop to give them a hand. If your neighbor was building a fence, you grabbed your hammer and gave him a hand. If you had a basket ball goal in your driveway, you expected all the neighborhood kids to use it.
If you lived in out in the 'country' as we called it, the connectedness was even stronger. Driving down a country road involved at least 2 stops in the middle of the road to chat with a passing neighbor. There was also weekly visits (at a minimum), from all the neighbors to see how you were doing, or to share some excess vegetables from their garden. The one neighbor who didn't visit on a regular basis was considered just plain weird.
My family also moved several times while I was growing up. Because of this connectedness, the sense of losing friends was tempered by the excitement of making new friends wherever we went. The possibility of not making friends in a new place never even entered my mind. For kids today, that is a real and scary possibility; heck it's not just a possibility for kids, its a possibility for adults too. I have worked at JPMorgan for over a year, and there isn't one person here whom I could truly call a friend and this is where I spend most of my time! Most days I eat lunch alone downtown in one of the largest cities in the country (Houston). I'm not saying this to feel sorry for myself, its just the reality of this culture that we live in.
Today we live in a society that is crowded, impersonal, rushed, and task oriented and that is how many of our congregations have become as well. Being rule or task followers doesn't solve this issue; anyone who has taken the time to read my story knows that I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. There is a tremendous movement afoot in the body of Christ here in America and abroad that is questioning our traditional structures, and is making this sense of connectedness or community a priority. People are longing for connectedness again; both a sense of true connectedness to Christ who is our head, and a true connectedness to a local fellowship. Whether is a 'house', 'cell', 'fellowship', or 'emergent' church they are all making community a priority, some admittedly missing the first priority and best solution -- our connectedness to Christ.
So what does this mean for youth today? Yes they face many of the same issues that the generations before them did, but now these problems are only amplified by the disconnectedness they feel. Growing up can be difficult, terribly difficult at times and I know that I would be pushing up daises if I didn't have the relationships of those in my community. To be honest, my relationship with my father was bad, but thankfully I had other adults in my life who cared about me and helped me through some difficult times. Personally, the last thing I needed when I was growing up was yet another person telling me what I was doing wrong, but I know that not everyone is me. Some may need that, but whatever it is, we need to be up close and personal enough to know what their needs are. They need connections, we can meet that need and then out of that relationship, we can introduce them to the Father that loves them more than they can possibly imagine and longs to be connected with them for eternity.