Abandoned Faith, Alex McFarland and Jason Jimenez. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.
Summary: Explores the reasons unprecedented numbers of millenials are leaving the church or are religiously unaffiliated, and what parents and other thoughtful adults can do to address this challenge.
A number of writers have addressed the exodus of young people from churches and the rise of the “nones”–those reporting no religious affiliation or those who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” This is a concern for the parents of these young adults as well as for other church leaders.
Alex McFarland and Jason Jimenez write this book particularly for parents but it is worth the attention of others who lead youth ministries, and indeed for all church leaders, who should take the loss of a generation seriously. The book is one of challenge, realism, and hope.
First the challenge. They begin by talking about what went wrong, and they realize that there are many parents who already own their own contribution to their children’s departure from the faith. They argue that parents should not regret having regrets but to learn from them and allow God to heal. They recount a mother deeply distraught with her daughter, who deeply resented the mother’s over-protectiveness and who needed to hear, “Why won’t you stop trying to fix your daughter and let God fix you.”
The challenge also involves many children who never truly were converted but just socialized into the faith. Many went to church but were not taught well and have neither been helped to wrestle with hard questions, or given the biblical resources to do so. Add to that the experience of hypocrisy in some instances, and more often a disconnect between church and everyday life. Compound this with unfavorable media portrayals of believing people, and you have a recipe for abandoned faith. They conclude this section by providing some direction for what churches can do, which comes down to relationally focusing on and including millenials and allowing them an active role in the church’s life and mission.
The realism involves understanding both the challenges millenials face and the things they value, the focus of part two. The greatest challenge they acknowledge is the job challenge, which combined with college debt leads to delayed entry into adult life and delayed marriage. At the same time, those who minister with millenials should understand that, among other things, there are eight important values that characterize many millenials: 1. Meaningful work, 2. Collaboration, 3. Staying connected, 4. Social justice, 5. Diversity, 6. Spiritual but not religious, 7. Education, and 8. Skepticism. The authors conclude part two by identifying reasons for hope in what they see and what may be done to develop the leadership potential of millenials.
But what hope is there for parents who feel like they’ve blown it as they watch their children walk away from the faith? Part three focuses on what they believe key, which is strengthening, and in many cases, re-building relationships with one’s children. This means avoiding the things that trigger stress and pursuing practices that encourage them. It means finding that God’s grace is sufficient, owning up to one’s own failures with your children, learning to listen, and learning to set a tone that disarms rather than feeds confrontation. It means helping your young adults embrace responsibility, reject entitlement, take active steps to change situations rather than remain stuck in them and to value learning over entertainment. At the same time, it means working on all this in one’s own life, and doing what one can to heal and strengthen one’s marriage and to renew its spiritual core.
The concluding section goes beyond hope to steps one may take to help millenials return to faith. Prayer is key and they give practical examples of how one may translate prayers in scripture into prayers for millenials. The second part focuses on growing in one’s own literacy in the faith to be able to share it well. One of the things the authors share here and elsewhere is that many millenials may never have truly been converted in the first place and that this comes first in our effort. They include basic outlines of the gospel message and help in leading someone to faith. The book concludes with an appendix of practical steps parents may take when their children fail to “launch” into adulthood on their own. Key is agreeing to a timeline together for them to move out and become self-supporting and to maintain good boundaries while they live with you, which may even include rent!
Overall, I found this book to be on target, and I appreciated the approach of both helping parents acknowledge where they have failed, and to have hope that translates into practical steps of growth in their own lives and parenting first. Likewise, I thought many of the recommendations for relating to millenials to be appropriate, particularly the stress on re-building relationship. Some may balk at “how to’s” that may seem a bit pat, but often when relationships break down, new scripts may help more than vague recommendations. The greatest benefit here, it seems to me, is that the authors help parents move from either hand-wringing despair, or counter-productive encounters to conversations and practices that reflect hope for one’s children, and faith that no situation is too far gone for God to restore.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.