A few years ago, I had a pivotal role in the planning process for a youth conference at my old church. Although there were several people on the committee, the majority of the work ended up falling on me, my frat brother who was in town for an internship, and my little brother-in-the-ministry (who at the time was still training and writing his first sermon). The skewed division of labor was no surprise. For most of that summer, the three of us had been running most of the church’s youth programs. (For those of you who are regular readers, this was the same summer where my ministry was plagued by a series of rumors.)
Since the conference planning was pretty much dropped into our hands at the last second, there was a lot of work to be done. My little brother-in-the-ministry was responsible for the musical aspects of the conference. He suggested that we organize a series of three rehearsals because the youth were typically forced to sing in front of the congregation with minimal preparation. We supported his idea because we agreed that adequate rehearsal time would be beneficial to the youth’s confidence. He went about the process of creating a song list and booking a musician. He was very excited because this would be the first time that he would be able to use his musical training and direct a choir in our church. It was a great opportunity to give back to the church that had nurtured him for all his life. Unfortunately, that excitement was crushed by the harsh realities of ministry.
Even though my little brother-in-the-ministry was going to lead the rehearsal, my frat brother and I made a point of coming to support his efforts. (Besides, he needed us to sing tenor.) A few of the seasoned directors from the church came as well. Within seconds of the rehearsal starting, those seasoned directors began critiquing his every move. Minutes later, the seasoned directors abruptly took over and told him to “sit down.” He was crushed. We spent much of our post-rehearsal meal trying to encourage him, but we knew there was no justification for what they had done to him. They knew that they could get away with knocking him out of their way because they were his elders. It definitely wasn’t fair. Here was a young man who wanted to use his gifts in the church, but he was met with opposition–even in an event that he had planned.
At the next rehearsal, we tried things differently. Since I was the eldest of the three of us who were the main planners, it was decided that I would play a larger role in the teaching of the songs. During the prior rehearsal, the seasoned directors seemed to have less of an issue with me playing a role, so we figured it was our best option. We were wrong. This time, the seasoned director who is normally responsible for rehearsing with the youth (at the last minute) made a point of coming (at the last minute). She and I ended up dueling in front of the choir. It wasn’t pleasant, but I ended up winning. The director was convinced that I had taught the choir the wrong notes and boldly called me on it. Thankfully, I had a copy of the recording of the song that I was teaching. She wasn’t happy when I paused the rehearsal to play the recording and it agreed with me. Our duel became a topic of conversation at the church for weeks. (Things only got worse from here in the actual implementation of this youth conference, but I’ll have to save that story for another time.) Nonetheless, I left that rehearsal completely uninterested in trying to do music ministry for any church ever again.
It is experiences like these that cause so many young adults to stop going to church. In a lot of cases, we go out and learn things that we feel would be useful to our communities. Then when we finally believe that we will get a chance to use some of what we have learned, we end up being blocked. Eventually, people get tired of rejection and move on to places where their ideas are appreciated. When my little brother-in-the-ministry went away to college, he found a community of people there who were very receptive to his talents. At this point, he has no real desire to return to Philly (though he may have to anyway depending on his ordination process). As for me, I have moved on to another ministerial position, but I still haven’t accepted the fact that I have to fight harder to live out my calling in the church than I do in school or at work (before I lost my job). It’s backwards, but in a lot of ways, I feel like my secular life makes my church life bearable.
Even though I stayed, there are countless other young men and women who I know personally who either considered leaving or stopped going to church in general because of similar situations. Some of them were gifted liturgical dancers who were accused of being overtly sexual. Others were drummers who were accused of playing too loudly. Some were willing workers whose overall demeanor or fashion sense faced unnecessary, yet constant criticism. Others were unfairly targeted just because of who they were (or were not) related to within the congregation. Sometimes, it seems like many church folk are sour for no reason. It makes me wonder what happened to the joy of the Lord. Did it disappear? Does it still even exist? Wherever it went, it needs to return as soon as possible. Otherwise, there will be even more jaded, inactive Christians who would be best described as young, gifted, and blocked.