I was born at church. Well, not exactly. Technically my mom gave birth to me at a hospital because she wasn’t into that whole home-birth / midwife / Amish paradise thing.
But my dad was the senior pastor of our church before I was born, which meant that I was practically in church from the day I was born. Over my thirty-five plus years I’ve met lots of other hardcore church kids, and through my interactions with them I’ve discovered one fundamental truth: we are all weirdos.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m really, really glad I grew up in a Christian home. I was spared from a lot of heartache and grief that comes from diving into sin at a young age.
But I’ve found that church kids tend to have a lot of things in common. We are sort of like a fraternity, minus all the alcohol, sex, setting couches on fire, and getting suspended from college for streaking across a football field. We are a brotherhood that includes sisters (bristerhood?). How do you know if you were a hardcore church kid?
YOU DID DRAMA TO A CHRISTIAN POP SONG AND CALLED IT EVANGELISM
At some point, probably on a mission trip, you participated in a vivid drama set to the tune of a popular, yet emotionally moving Christian pop ballad.
You spun and danced and lifted your hands in the air as (pre-gay) Ray Boltz belted out his pledge of allegiance to the Lamb. You shook your body (in a modest way) and bounced about as “Mary Mary” shook off their shackles and praised.
And for some strange reason, these spectacles were called “evangelism” or “outreach”. How exactly did those things get approved? What youth pastor said, “You know what lost people love? White kids dancing to hip-hop music. That’ll save them,”?
YOU DISCOVERED SECULAR BANDS FIVE YEARS AFTER THEY WERE POPULAR
I discovered Nirvana sometime around 1996. Of course, Nirvana had been around for more than five years by that point, but it didn’t matter. I felt like I had stumbled upon a rare artifact, known only to a few privileged individuals.
I was cooler than the kids in my church who didn’t know about Nirvana. I learned the opening guitar riff for “Come As You Are” (the Nirvana song, not the altar call song) and played it during youth group so that kids would know that I knew about Nirvana, and they would be jealous that I knew and they didn’t know (did you follow that?).
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I discovered U2 sometime around 2004.
YOU TALKED ABOUT ALL THE MOVIES YOU WANTED TO SEE
There is always that one kid in youth group who is allowed to see movies that none of the other kids are allowed to see. If I wanted to maintain my street cred, I had to tread carefully around Movie Man.
When he asked if I had seen “Rush Hour” I would say, “No, but I definitely want to see it.” By phrasing it this way, I made it sound like I would be seeing the movie soon, even though my parents wouldn’t let me watch the movie.
This clever verbal jujitsu allowed me to feel like I was part of the cool crowd even though I definitely was not part of the cool crowd. I still haven’t seen “Rush Hour”. My mom won’t let me.
YOU DID THE 30 HOUR FAMINE AND PRETENDED YOU UNDERSTOOD WHAT POVERTY WAS REALLY LIKE
The 30 Hour Famine involves fasting for 30 hours in order to raise money for impoverished people. A secondary goal is to teach youth what poverty really feels like. It’s a great idea with really good intentions.
When my youth group did the 30 Hour Famine, we played night tag in our church building. I sprained both of my ankles as I bounded down a set of stairs in order to evade capture. The event was capped off by a concert with a local ska band. So, yeah, I pretty much understood world poverty.
YOU CLOSELY FOLLOWED THE LIVES OF WHIT, EUGENE, AND CONNIE ON ADVENTURES IN ODYSSEY
I wasn’t allowed to watch Saved By the Bell, Family Matters, or Boy Meets World. No matter. I got my family-friendly weekly drama/comedy fix from the Focus on the Family show Adventures In Odyssey, which centered on benevolent inventor James Whitacre and his zany surrounding cast.
Let me tell you, the drama was thick. Would Bart Rathbone convince the town council to allow him to build another “Electric Palace” right next to “Whit’s End”? Would Eugene or Connie ever get married? Would the Imagination Station malfunction, throwing another innocent teen into a semi-LSD-like experience (how come the police never got pulled into these things?)? The story writing was right up there with Breaking Bad and That’s So Raven.
Thanks to Adventures In Odyssey, I learned a valuable life lesson that is almost never true: If you do the right thing, everything turns out okay.
Still a big fan of the show, actually. My daughter has listened to almost every episode ever made.
YOU CONVINCED YOURSELF THAT CHRISTIAN KNOCKOFF DESIGNS WERE AS COOL AS THE REAL THING
When I was young there were t-shirts that said, “Baseball is life, the rest is just details.” These shirts were really cool, and most kids wore them in conjunction with a “No Fear” baseball cap.
I had a t-shirt which read, “Jesus is life, the rest is just baseball.” I cut the sleeves off it and wore it to baseball practice, desperately trying to convince myself that my Christian-knockoff was just as cool as the original.
I wasn’t the only one wearing knockoffs. An avalanche of awful t-shirts were produced in the 1990’s and 2000’s, with slogans like, “Sacrificed For Me” (Jesus put into a Starbucks logo), “Jesus Is King” (ala Burger King), “HisWay” (Subway), and one that could possibly be worn ironically now: “Jesus died for MySpace in heaven”.
Somehow we convinced ourselves that the shirts were culturally relevant and even possibly evangelistic. As if a guy might see my baseball shirt and say, “What must I do to be saved?!?” I’m pretty sure these shirts set Christendom back at least a thousand years.
I could go into WWJD bracelets, dcTalk concerts (featuring OC Supertones), trying to figure out if “Creed” was a Christian band, and many other indicators, but this is enough. If you did any of the above things, you were definitely a hardcore church kid.