7 Reasons Young Men Raised in Church Still Struggle with Church

I spend much of my time with seminary students, but I also spend time with young men who have been raised in church, but who aren’t preparing for ministry. Often, I connect with this group when I speak in collegiate ministries or serve as an interim pastor. Many of these young men, I’m learning, struggle with church. Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. They’ve been told what to believe, not taught why to believe it. No one’s ever helped them think through their beliefs; the message they’ve heard is instead, “Just believe it because we’re telling you to.” That reasoning doesn’t hold much water for this group.
  2. They long for older mentors but can’t find them in the local church. To be fair, the young men don’t always ask – but when they do, it’s hard to find anyone willing to take on this task. Too often, these young men find their heroes outside the church.
  3. Their churches have sometimes forgotten them after their teen years. No church I know intentionally does so, but our structures and programs sometimes leap from youth ministry to young couples ministry. At a time when young men are often most open to being challenged and stretched, churches aren’t ready for them.
  4. They’ve been raised in a culture that questions or denies the moral standards of Christianity. Couple this reality with the truth that churches haven’t discipled well, and young men question why Christians take the stands they take. In fact, they sometimes see the stands as mean and arrogant – at times, because that’s the way some believers come across even as we stand for biblical truth.
  5. They make no assumption that the Bible is the Word of God. “Thus says the Lord” means little to a generation that’s been exposed to contradicting truth claims and other world faiths. They’re not opposed to Christian conclusions, but they don’t automatically accept them.
  6. They’ve sometimes come from Christian homes marked by hypocrisy. When what they see from their family on Sunday is not what they see the rest of the week, they almost can’t help but question the validity of Christianity.
  7. They don’t know well many strong believers. It’s not that their church doesn’t have any strong believers, though; it’s just that the young men have seldom been connected with them.  In my judgment, though, it’s not the responsibility of the young men to come to us; it’s our job as older believers to reach out to them. 

Let me know your thoughts. Have you experienced something different? 

14 Comments

  • Don says:

    Would this apply to young women also?

    • Mark says:

      I can’t speak for all females but I have talked to some. In churches with female clergy, things might be better. In churches with solely male clergy and leaders, things can be rougher. Some women feel like all they are able to do is bake cookies and teach kindergartners, never mind that they are (studying to be) surgeons and lawyers during the day. Females on college campuses with female campus pastors likely have things better as they have someone to talk to. Most don’t want to talk to male college pastors, not out of distrust, but because they don’t deal with the same issues. Sometimes one girl wants to talk to a pastor on behalf of her friend who remains anonymous. Campus pastors should be held to the same confidentiality that other clergy are. In churches with only male campus pastors, sometimes elders’ wives will make themselves available but no one is sure what rules the elder’s wife is bound under and if she can keep her mouth shut. The fear is that the wife will go home and tell her husband who will tell another elder who knows the girl’s parents and he will let it slip thinking he is doing what is best, and then the girl gets punished or even thrown out of her family. This sounds drastic but has happened.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Great question, Don. I suspect the concerns would be similar, but I haven’t done that research. I’d love to hear from others.

  • Mark says:

    First, Jesus was feminized in many churches. Songs with words like “lean upon the dear Lord’s breast” did not help. Sermons on feeling, love, hope, etc. did not ever mention doing or action. Jesus got upset, acted, and drove the traders out of the temple. There were few sermons on action or doing. Most churches are not made for young males and when you have parents who still believe that one denomination is superior to others, even if another church is better at teaching them, you won’t be allowed to go there. Your parents won’t tell the leaders where they make you go that they are hurting their children as they don’t want to be seen causing trouble. I remember watching a Methodist service recorded with a VCR really late at night with the volume super low and realizing that their preacher did not condemn people in the sermon and that women could give good sermons too. I would have gotten in trouble had I been found watching it.

    Also, a lot of us were condemned to hell in sermons for having normal male sexual desire and for the sins of our peers. We were told this was out of love, but I think preachers and those who condoned their sermons just hated us. Deep down I wondered why I should even try to be moral if I were on a one way trip to hell. I could not talk to anyone about this as I would have been further condemned and my parents would likely have been told which would have meant additional punishment. I wondered why G-d would give me something and then send me to hell for just having it.

  • Brandon says:

    Yes and amen! I am a distance learning seminary student and am still struggling to find an older man or pastor to look up to , spend time with, or even do Bible study with. It is almost physically painful the lack of discipleship in many local churches. I feel it when it is missing from my life. Some men even look at the younger man with suspicion or misunderstanding when approached or asked to spend the time and develop the relationship. Even though I lack this relationship in my life right now I can thank God for the times that I have been blessed with a mentor/ brother that spends the time, holds accountable, and challenges me.

  • Bill Pitcher says:

    This post resonated with me on many levels. I had a couple good mentors. Probably the best thing about them was that they were admittedly flawed and made no bones about it, so the hypocrisy issue was minimised. Having a couple men in my life who lived their faith was crucial to my development.
    Hypocrisy, and the legalism that often accompanied it, gave me some problems here and there; but by God’s grace I overcame it.
    Thanks for yet another great post.

  • Great article, Dr. Lawless!

    As a relatively “young man,” I am looking to do my part to remedy this by intentionally mentoring younger men.

    One question that remains a mystery to me is “How do we get older men to see this and become proactive in mentoring younger men?”

    Other than trying to model the way and talking about the importance of discipleship, are there some practical suggestions you could offer for guys like myself to get the Old Guard operating in unison with the new to help mentor guys like me and those younger than me?

    Do we just need to start showing up on their doorstep once a week with sausage biscuits and coffee and ask for a half hour of their time?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Nick. Here’s what I tell young guys: (1) Pray for a mentor. (2) Ask men you respect to spend some time with you. (3) Keep asking until you find someone, keeping in mind that you’re likely asking men who themselves were never mentored. (4) If someone says, “yes,” be grateful for whatever he can give you. If he’s only a “5” mentor on a scale of 1-10, that “5” is surely better than a zero. Keep asking under God’s leadership until you find someone willing.  

  • Hello chuck, thank you for the blogs. Today I would add, “humble believers are the strength of the church. However they do not promote themselves well. This oxymoron in church life is where the real struggle for authenticity starts and stops. Mentoring is not embraced easily. It takes time and discipline. What I have learned I have learned from various believers rather than from one primary disciple maker.
    Find a humble believer and wring needed answers from them. God bless

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