I was reading the comics in the newspaper today (not as much fun as it was when I was a kid, to be sure, but still a pleasant diversion in the morning), and one of the comic strips caught my eye.The first panel showed a young man skateboarding talking about how exciting something was (“It’s totally awesome, dude!”), and the third panel showed the punchline: the kid on the skateboard was part of a commercial intended to get kids interested in investing in the stock market. The last panel switched to a view of two of the strip’s main teenage characters who were watching the commercial as one says to the other, “I hate the way they all pander to our generation.” (For those who would like to see the comic strip, click here: Lucky Cow, 8/30/2007.)
I thought it was an amusing commentary on blatantly manipulative marketing tactics, but more than that, the first panel reminded me of something I used to see all the time during my daily commute in North Texas. It was a huge billboard that showed a skateboarder, very similar to that which the cartoonists had depicted and—also similarly a blatant attempt at pandering to a market: “Look! This is cool! Check it out, teens!” The difference here was that the billboard was advertising a local church.
Please don’t get me wrong—I see nothing wrong with trying to ensure that a church addresses every segment of its worshippers and making sure that all generations are able to see the relevance of God’s word in their lives. But like the teenage protagonist in our comic strip, I, too, am tired of seeing churches pander to teens and young adults.
“Hey, teens – our church is radical! Look, there’s a guy on a skateboard! You teens like skateboarding, right? And hey, look! A picture of a guy playing an electric guitar! All you young people like ‘rocking out’ like our middle-aged marketing execs said you did, right? Awesome, dude!”
Please! Such condescending appeals risk two dangerous consequences. First, they risk having causing exactly the opposite of the effect intended. Teenagers are smarter and more savvy than many give them credit for, and they often (but not always!) know when institutions are trying to manipulate their sensibilities, and they will draw the logical conclusions about such institutions.
But further still, such an approach risks demeaning the God to whom we are trying to point their generation. It paints Him as someone desperate to get teens into the church, willing to do whatever it takes to seem popular to them.
In his August 24, 2002 World magazine article, “Stupid Church Tricks,” writer Gene Edward Veith notes that “[s]tatus-conscious teenagers know that those who are so desperate to be liked that they will do anything to curry favor are impossible to respect.” He is right, and appeals like this make God hard for teens to respect.
Give our youth more credit! Many articles in recent days have pointed out how young people across the globe and in many faiths are looking for a serious religion, even to the consternation of their more religiously liberal parents. Look up the Wall Street Journal’s March 2, 2007 article, “Religion’s Generation Gap.” Read USA Today’s July 9, 2007 article, “Children get holier than thou; There can be a great divide with parents when young adults form deeper religious bonds.”
Or read in the news about how some young people are being drawn into the strict religion of Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists. Is it just because they find a release there for some sort of pent up anti-society sentiment? Or is it because they find there—false though it may be—a religion that demands their respect, rather than pandering to them?
I note that in Bernhard Lewis’ insightful book The Crisis of Islam, he mentions that one of the key architects of modern Muslim fundamentalism, Egyptian born Sayyid Qutb, used to point out routinely the differences between religion in the West and religion in the East. Lewis explains that Mr. Qutb would tell his Muslim readers about religion in America, and explain that “to attract clientele, churches advertise shamelessly and offer what most Americans seek—’a good time’ or ‘fun’ (he cited the English words in his Arabic text).” Reading that sentence in Lewis’ book, the image of the giant skateboarder from the church billboard rolled into view before my minds’ eye, and I thought to myself that this “scene from a half-pipe” would have provided ol’ Sayyid with plenty of ammunition.
It should be no surprise some teens are finding the lukewarm “faith” of their parents unattractive and the groveling, desperate-for-your-attention advertising of modern day “Christian” churches less than appealing, compared to the seriousness and respect demanded by the “God” of Islam.
How sad, because the true God of the Bible and His Son, Jesus Christ, do not pander to anyone. God demands loyalty and faithfulness and sets standards which He expects those who wish to follow Him to strive to meet. He says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Yet He is also a remarkably personal God, who is relevant to our daily lives and who cares deeply and passionately about the trials we go through and the experiences we have—at whatever age we have them (cf. 1 Peter 5:7).
We should strive to present the true religion of the Bible to our teens and our youth: a religion they can respect—and a religion that respects them too much to pander to them.
If you would like more information on the true religion of God the Father and Jesus Christ—a religion beyond the pandering billboards—check out our free booklet: Restoring Original Christianity. It will help you become closer to the God of the Bible—a God you can respect.