by Dan Treat
It’s no secret that large numbers of Vermonters want little to do with organized religion. People who attend evangelical churches are thought by many to be narrow-minded, exclusive, and intolerant.
Pewreasearch.org rates Vermont as 48th in terms of adults who consider themselves “highly religious,” tied with Maine.
Many secular-minded parents have no interest in having their kids attend evangelical churches. Well, I have had the chance to get to know some of these young people at my church. I also had the chance to get to know some secular young people with whom I worked with at a store awhile back. I offer the following observations:
I went on a mission trip to Kentucky awhile ago with some of the young people at my church. Our pastor had some friends who needed help refurbishing and doing some construction work on a couple of churches in the Louisville area. The first night of the trip we stayed in a hotel. The hotel staff remarked about how courteous and polite the young people were. Throughout the remainder of the trip, I observed them working very hard. They were polite, respectful of authority, and seemed to have a genuine interest in spiritual matters.
We have a ministry at our church called awana. It stands for “approved workmen are not ashamed.” It is a structured children’s discipleship program that includes bible teaching, scripture memorization, game time, and other fun activities. The purpose of awana is to glorify Jesus Christ and to reach children and their families with the Gospel. We have had many young people return from college to say how grateful they were for what they learned in awana and how it helped prepare them for life.
Regarding my interactions with the secular youth that I had worked with, the contrast could not be clearer.
Many were selfish and defiant of authority. Unplanned pregnancies were common. There was a lot of bragging about their exploits with alcohol and marijuana. One young man was discovered to have stolen over $1000 from the store. When his mother found out about it, she seemed very indifferent. Essentially, her reaction was “Boys will be boys, what are you going to do?”
It’s clear to me that a good church can make a difference in the lives of young people. A friend of mine, when he first came to the church, had come from a very dysfunctional background. A couple of our elders took him aside, mentored him, and helped him work through some difficult issues in his life. Today he is happily married to a wonderful woman, has three kids, and a job he enjoys.
The evangelical church is a flawed institution, just as all people and institutions are flawed. But Jesus died for the church and it is his chosen instrument for bringing the Gospel to the lost. For more on this and related subjects, check out a book called “Why We Love the Church” by Kevin Deyoung and Ted Kluck.
The author is a South Burlington resident.