Dave Kinnaman, in his excellent book, You Lost Me, explains three categories of Young Adults (18-29 year-olds) who are leaving the church in higher numbers than previous generations. One of the categories he describes is "exiles." And his description resonates with a lot of my experience, not just with young people, but with people of all ages.
Kinnaman defines exiles as "those who grew up in the church and are now physically or emotionally disconnected in some way, but who also remain energized to pursue God-honoring lives...They feel lost, yet hopeful" (p. 75).
There are many examples of exiles in the scriptures. Daniel stands out.
"The king...brought in young men...to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service" (Dan. 1: 3-5)
Here was a pious Jewish boy, plucked out of his sheltered religious world and plopped down in Babylon. In fact, he is selected for an upwardly-mobile career in the courts of King Nebuchadnezzar. Sounds like so many sheltered Christian kids, home-schooled, or raised in Christian schools, or living in families whose lives revolve around the weekly church calendar (Sunday School, Youth Group, outreaches, missions trips, etc). Then they are sent off to college, never to darken the door of the church again, perhaps visiting only when they are on holiday with their family--but somehow emotionally distant from church.
Yet, Daniel remains devoted to the worship of Yahweh even in his new pagan surroundings.
"But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine...To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning" (Dan. 1: 8, 17).
Not only that, but Daniel is highly talented and full of favor. So much so that he and his friends rise to the top of their new profession.
"Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds...The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom" (Dan. 1: 17, 19-20).
But I wonder what the Jewish separatists thought of them working alongside magicians and enchanters? What message does the church send to artists, academics, scientists and musicians as they seek to live out their giftedness in the world? Do we encourage them or cast aspersions on their profession? At least we know that Daniel had three other friends who shared his calling and they could encourage one another.
I remember how important it was to have the support of my fellow Christian students as I attended UCLA (many years ago). How was I to integrate the professional but secular teaching I was receiving with my growing faith? The problem for many young people is that they may be given the subtle message that only a Christianized profession is acceptable. Anything else is suspect.
With that in mind, it is interesting to watch Daniel walk the line of maintaining the integrity of his faith while living out his calling as a "magus" in the Babylonian court.
In John 17, Jesus prayed for his disciples who were being sent into the world, just like He had been sent by the Father. But not so that they would come out of the world or hunker down in a Christian ghetto trying to survive this life, waiting for the rapture. Instead, Jesus prayed that they would be "sanctified" or set apart as holy while they walked out their call IN the world.
Young people need our encouragement as they seek to live as a Christian IN but not OF the world. Rather than hiding their talent in the ground of Christian culture, they want to invest it in the world so that it bears the kind of interest that God intends.
In the world but not of the world. That is the line we all must walk. Daniel did it. Jesus did it. And we are called to do the same.
Is the church helping young people to live out their calling in the world like good disciples of Jesus Christ?