As you’re reading this, I’m probably either up in the air or in St. Louis. The reason for that is that I have been invited to be a part of a think tank group that is addressing something that happened this past summer at the LCMS National Convention. Namely, that a resolution was passed that encouraged our church body to look at the reasons for youth member attrition between middle and high school ages and college ages, with an eye to correct problems were it is possible.
I am not sure what the official statistics are, but I do know that attrition is a huge problem in our church body. Baptized and sometimes confirmed students drop out before they get to college. This year University Lutheran received a list of 150 brave souls who were willing to self-designate as Lutheran. But many students don’t even self-designate that way anymore.
Here’s an anecdote of what I’m talking about. A few years ago, a mother got in touch with me via email. She was concerned about her son who had declared himself an atheist just after arriving at FSU. She wanted me to see if I could talk to him. Surprisingly, he was open to a conversation.
We had a few conversations in which he explained to be his reasons for declaring himself an atheist, but his reasons weren’t the most interesting conversation we had. The most interesting conversation we had was about our perspectives on consequences. He said, “I don’t believe what you do, so you believe that I will probably go to hell.” I nodded, that was basically correct. He continued, “and you don’t believe what I do, so I believe that you are wasting your life.” I nodded again, and let that sink in….for this guy, that is all that there was. A wasted life was as bad as hell in his approximation of reality.
The challenge of that conversation lives on in my mind. First it challenged me to live my life in a way that didn’t seem like a waste. And although that certainly is something to aspire to, that was too easy of an answer. There was something deeper.
As I reflected on the conversation, the deeper challenge emerged – the challenge was to believe in what Jesus did for me so fervently that this guy telling me that he though my life was a waste didn’t hit me in the gut so hard. The deeper challenge was to believe Jesus in a world that told me that believing in Jesus was a waste of life.
That is the challenge that we’re going to be working out in St. Louis, and we ask for your prayers as we do so.