Submitted for your consideration, one Bobby Hill.
Bobby, a middle-schooler, lives in Arlen, Texas. His father, Hank, is convinced that the best path for Bobby’s childhood lies along the same roads that he experienced during his own childhood in the sixties and seventies: a simple life in white, middle-class suburbia, a healthy dosage of sports, and regular attendance at the Arlen First Methodist Church.
But times are changing. Bobby’s experiences will never mirror those of Hank’s. His girlfriend, who lives next door, is Laotian and Buddist. He is fascinated with other cultures, new and different forms of music, and new art forms. As a result of the increasing role of media in his life, he doesn’t experience the closed culture of Arlen, but a large, global culture. Many of his peers at school come from broken homes, and they do not share in the evangelical world view that is held by his parents. Indeed, Bobby isn’t really “getting” a lot of what he is being told at church, anyway.
If statistics hold, Bobby will not continue to attend Arlen First Methodist once he leaves home at 18. Indeed, he is unlikely to take much of an interest in any form of Christianity that is similar to that which is practiced at AFMC. This isn’t because he has no interest in spirituality, or even because he has no interest in Jesus. It is because he is standing on the other side of a massive cultural gap – one that has given him enough perspective to appreciate that the concerns of the aging populations of churches such as AFMC really have very little to do with the Jesus of the New Testament.
Bobby would probably be intensely interested in knowing a Jesus who can bring spiritual meaning and clarity to his life, but – based on the behavior of many Christians – he is unlikely to believe that their Jesus would even like him. He will notice that supposed Christian leaders seem intent on preserving a dying culture by protesting and speaking out against various lifestyles and beliefs – many of which have been adopted by his friends and acquiaintances. He will probably be convinced that Jesus would not even like him a lot, much less love him.
Bobby may also notice that, even though the Jesus of scripture lived among the poor and ministered primarily to the poor, most churches seem to be obsessed with “programs” that take care of their own members (from cradle to grave), and they hardly spend any of their time addressing poverty and its effects on their community. This will also strike him as very odd.
And, by the way, one other thing is almost certain. Bobby will have no interest in “Christian Affirmations” or other propositional-based ways of expressing faith. Similarly, he will have little interest in becoming a part of some insider clique of middle-class graduates from the local Christian colleges, which is fine because – in their eagerness to perpetuate a community where they can reassure each other that their wealthy, comfortable lifestyles are “blessed” ones – they probably won’t want to have much do do with him either.
So here are the questions of the day:
Will Bobby Hill ever know the Jesus of scripture? Or will he only observe – from a distance – the Jesus of angry culture wars, sterile propositional affirmations, and self-absorbed insider cliques? Will Bobby Hill ever have a gospel story to tell?
Bobby is not alone. In six to ten years, a lot of people like Bobby will be encountering your faith community. When that happens, will it be a place that makes them feel liked, where they can ask questions, and where they can embrace – through song, art, and verse – the mysteries of God’s kingdom? Will they witness a deeply passionate desire to continue the work of the Kingdom in bringing good news to the poor?
If Bobby Hill is to ever tell a gospel story, the time to start thinking about those questions is now.