Re:Formed and Relevant — Drink, Drank, Drunk

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You must first know that I grew up in the Reformed tradition, and that I love her boldly. However, it’s a denomination that typically takes a safe, conservative approach to social issues (though I think that’s being evaluated). In fact, I think if you were to ask many of the church leaders in the CRC today, a primary frustration would be the issue of social missional ignorance. (I define “social missional” as a active sensitivity to the primary social and cultural issues being discussed within the broader secular spectrum.

But social missional ignorance is more extensive than feeding the poor, providing beds for homeless, or AA meetings. A socially missional church not only aims to protect the broken, it stands to prevent the issues. And it’s my belief that we haven’t done an overwhelmingly good job of preventing issues because we’ve been afraid to openly or honestly talk about them. Think abortion, homosexuality: these were issues prevalent before the church began taking stances on them, and we find ourselves reacting instead of leading the way forward on them.

So this brings up the question: How are we doing when talking about alcohol with students? Alcohol isn’t as loaded of an issue as abortion or homosexuality, but that’s also the danger of leaving it buried from our consciousness. I grew up in a very conservative and Reformed environment that had a strong distaste for alcohol. Personal history and family dynamics played strong roles in those decisions, but there was a reality that talking about it was always a resounding and simple “we just refuse to have alcohol under any and all circumstances.” 

The result of shunning something to an irritable degree for high schoolers, is that we don’t provide them guidance for how to deal with a responsible item. When my students come to me and ask me about drinking, the first thing I always ask back is “who have you talked to about this?” And without a doubt, the answer is always “My friends ...” I make this point because this should be a table discussion for families.

Another example. My wife’s family is 180º different from mine, they are also Reformed. When I first met this left winged, liberal Christian family, I thought I was playing with fire. They allowed their 16-year-old daughter a glass of wine with Christmas dinner?!?! I could hardly believe it. But I also realized this: they weren’t out to abuse the drink, they were there to enjoy it’s privilege. 

Alcohol is a dangerous thing when not talked about. My experience in high school was to abuse it, because I was using the advice my friends were giving me. My parents carried too great a burden to be able to converse neutrally on the subject, so I had to get the advice from somewhere, and getting it from my peers was not the healthiest version I should have received. But the reverse side of the story was being able to converse and wrestle openly about it among responsible adults taught me that this is something which must be talked about, and it is our role as youth pastors to take the lead on this subject, not to fear it.

  • Do you talk to your students about alchohol? If so, how?
  • How do you encourage transparent discussions on other sensitive issues — at church and at home?
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Talking about tough issues together came up in a recent faith formation team meeting at my church. Someone pointed out that many of the issues that turn teens off to the church are the same issues that adults in the church are struggling with--how does the church respond to homosexuality, climate change/environmental issues, science and creation, etc. We expect that our church would be quite divided on these issues and wondered if it would be helpful to have an intergenerational time for teens through adults to sit around tables and discuss tough topics.

First, though, we would need to focus on creating sacred space and preparing ourselves to listen to others and value their perspectives, acknowledging that we are all trying to figure out how to honor Christ and love our neighbors in real life. We would need to be deliberate about helping people learn Christian civility--how to agree and disagree while still remaining calm and having mutual respect for one another. We thought that bringing together teens and adults might open everyone’s eyes to real situations we are facing as individuals and as a church, and help both teens and adults learn how to wrestle with these topics in a health way that strengthens their faith instead of harming it.

I'm not sure where we will go with this, but I'd be interested to hear if others are doing something similar and how they have approached it.