The 90s take a lot of flack. The church takes a lot of flack. 90’s Christian music takes a lot of flack. All over social media I see people having to recover from that decade, having to recover from being a “church kid,” looking at that time in their lives as something that wrecked them. First of all, if that is you, I am so sorry for any bad experience you had. I’m sorry if you were in an unhealthy church, but I have to share another side.
I LOVED being a youth group kid. When I see Buzzfeed quizzes about “How much of a 90’s youth group kid were you?” I am filled with so many great memories. I will still blast “Not Ashamed” by the Newsboys when it appears on my iTunes shuffle and think about how it felt to feel so proud of who I was, and that I could make a difference in the world. I proudly wore my faith like a badge… not ashamed. I had the silly T-shirts (which were truly a bad fashion choice). I had crushes on way too many CCM artists and would swoon over the boys who quoted Scripture and were leaders in the church. I was a leader in the church, and it was a place where I grew as a confident leader.
I learned so many useful skills during that time. I participated in various work projects to raise funds, so I could participate in various summer trips. It was where I started writing for others, and even dipped my foot in the public speaking world. Encouraging people surrounded me and in a period of life when I could have taken many paths, it was my many “moms,” “dads,” and “grandparents” that made me feel like I belonged and had a purpose. It was the time in life that I learned important disciplines like getting to know God on my own. Those years gave me a foundation that led to where I am today.
Was it a perfect time? No. I do have some residual baggage from those years too. I was in a pretty safe bubble. I probably should have explored other churches instead of thinking my church was the “one and only.” I was a cocky Christian who believed I was pretty much perfect and there was no other path out there. Because of some of the “minor” issue things I learned in my younger years, I still struggle with “my way or no way,” and seeing God as unconditional.
Thankfully, after high-school graduation, I became closer to people that weren’t in my youth group, and it opened my eyes to see beyond the bubble. I went through the exploration phase of finding my own beliefs. I learned that there were other Christian beliefs and other ways to worship God. I began to see that some of these other beliefs made more sense to me and I ping-ponged between the church system I grew up in and new churches. I started asking the tough questions and no longer identified with the old system.
From what I hear, it seems like this story is not the norm. That it is impossible to leave your own belief system without a period of rebellion. I am here to tell you that you can question the things you have been taught without walking away from your faith. It’s okay for your beliefs in God to shift, and you don’t have to feel that just because some things don’t make sense that you have to do a 180 with God. My heart breaks for people that had such an unhealthy church relationship that they felt like completely walk away from the church and everything associated with it was the only option.
The church is not perfect. It’s full of flawed humans who do the best they can, but still can make mistakes. Some make a LOT of mistakes, unfortunately. I think it’s up to each of us to do what we can to create positive experiences for others. If I can just talk to my youth pastor friends for just a moment… you have the opportunity to create a positive experience for your students. You may be the only positive experience a student has with the church (sometimes in life). I know that is a pretty overwhelming thing to think about and that is why it is so important to empower your other adult leaders to see themselves as more than just a warm body on Wednesday nights. Allow your students to ask the tough questions, give them opportunities to gain valuable life skills, and encourage them to use their gifts.
We need to be pouring into this generation, so they can look back at the 2010s as a great time in their lives.