When Boys Fall Out the Church Window–The Eutychus Factor
And I heard them murmur… “…is he dead?”
Not quite yet declared a saint, Paul, the late night preacher didn’t see it coming— or going… Eutychus, that is, the young boy falling out of the third story window to his impending death. The gasps in the room sounded the alarm alerting those gathered that something terrible had happened. It caused Paul to stop preaching and take action and yet here’s a story not about preaching but an image of care-giving and hope!
The same might be said about pastors like me and churches like ours when we hear of the actions of a Dylann Roof. We’re forced to take a long hard look in the mirror when the uninvited gasps alert his family, friends and church that something unspeakable has happened! It’s one thing to fall out of a church window fast asleep, late at night, on account of a long-winded preacher; but it is something else to buy a gun, walk into a congregation’s Bible study and shoot the pastor and the others taking part. Innocence is fractured and fingers point to a thing that is more than despicable. We weep and still an unimaginable window remains open. Yet, the one thing they have in common is that just about any young man in just about any church is at risk when the rest of the church neglects to keep their eyes on them. Welcome to the Eutychus Factor, where an age old story can help us be the church in mission in this 21st century!
Anyone who listens to cable news has been exposed to a myriad of details about the Charleston, SC shooting in the summer of 2015—perhaps an information overload and in some respects recipients of misinformation. But I’m pretty sure most folks have little knowledge of the Eutychus episode in the 20th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. It’s a story we dare not ignore and offers the church some simple realities for faithful work. Take a look…
“And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing [him] said, ‘Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.’ Then Paul got up and served the Master’s Supper. And went on telling stories of the faith until dawn! On that note, they left – Paul going one way, the congregation another, leading the boy off alive, and full of life themselves.” – Acts of the Apostles 20:7-12
At first glance, most pastors get a chuckle from this story. It’s the proof text for keeping sermons short. Some have even wondered why Luke would include this saga in the life of the early church. As noted, Paul had been preaching for hours… late into the night. They were gathering to share in the Lord’s Supper and Paul was leaving in the morning and most preachers I know want to get their best gospel shots in just before going… But, let’s also hear it for Eutychus and his family for hanging in there after being dragged to church and being made to pay attention to the story of Jesus… but, again, that’s just at first glance. There IS a greater lesson here. I really like the reporting that Paul, when discovering Eutychus’ fall immediately stops his preaching and runs to the boy’s aid… down 3 flights of stairs… followed by a crowd! I’m not sure many preachers these days would do the same. And then comes the good part…
Paul picks Eutychus up in his arms and prayerfully hushes the crowd. All the suspicion leads to a fearful shout…“the boy must be dead.” But, he’s not. Shaken, twisted and stirred, yes, but not dead and then Paul makes this incredible statement… “This boy still has life in him.” Grace and hope abound; but there is still more… and as much as we don’t know exactly how the boy, Eutychus, entered into the story or exactly where he went and how his life turned out after Paul left town, we know him because we know boys who have ‘fallen asleep’ and slipped through the cracks of congregational life over the years. Luke points out the action of the faith community to suggest that in tending to Eutychus, his life continued their own joy increased.
The more I read this story, the more joy comes into my life and work and the more I read this story the more I am convinced how we need to share this model with others. Let me be both generic and specific:
- We bring our boys to the font and teach them the faith;
- Non-challenging Preaching/Teaching can bring on a ‘deep sleep.’
- The world can tempt an alternate life inviting a selfish drowsiness;
- Boys fall away, run away, push themselves away. This is ancient;
- Chasing them down doesn’t seem to help. Jesus didn’t. The Prodigal Father didn’t. Some return. Some don’t survive themselves.
And then the story tells us:
- Eutychus was young and couldn’t sit at the big table or on the floor so he found a place above the rest. It wasn’t a perfect perch;
- The people paid attention to Paul’s preaching but kept their eyes on each other enough to notice that Eutychus fell out the window;
- Paul and the others chased after him. I suspect there was at least one older dude who sarcastically asked, “Whose kid was that?” or critically mentioned, “What a slacker…”
- Paul’s actions and words speak volumes… he runs down the stairs to check on the boy’s well-being and with no mention of prayer or a laying on of hands but an embrace Paul encouraged the church by saying, “His life is in him.” OR as Eugene Peterson translated… “There’s still life in him!” Imagine the man who mocked the boy or Eutychus’ parents hearing this.
- And then the church ‘cared’ for the boy and it brought them joy!
For those who know the actions of Dylann Roof, can we say with grace and hope, “There’s still life in him!” when we know that he’s not just fallen out the window, but has jumped out the window and landed in front of the bus as well…? Is it a different story for us if we don’t know the young man in question? Do we hate the sinner as much as the sin? Can we cast him confidently to the system that he obviously rejected? Will revenge help? Or, knowing that when any young man falls out the window and through the cracks of our congregations we are willing to point out to him and others, “There’s still life!”
As an ELCA pastor and one who cares about all three generations of men in our church (the BGUFFS- Brothers, Grandfathers, Uncles, Friends, Fathers & Sons… but that’s another post!) I’m not new to the Eutychus Factor. I’ve lived it and I loved young men through it and connect with some who are just in the middle… So, yes, this is personal. Shouldn’t it be? Was anyone left upstairs when Paul made his dash to Eutychus? Perhaps. Probably. Not all care like Paul did. Not all in the ELCA will care enough to keep their eyes on our young men even when we know must. There’s too much at risk to not care. The ELCA is proud to promote a ministry for youth from the font through their high school years via Sunday School, Confirmation and Camping ministry, LYO and triennial national youth gatherings. Yes, we are really good at this!!! But we must admit, as a church denomination, the lion’s share of our efforts for the next generation of the church stop there.
“79% of all the boys will leave the church in their early teens and twenties–and most will never come back!”
-Rev. Tim Wright
A number of years ago a young man came to my home to do some interior repair work on the leaking pipes and fractured tiles in the master bedroom bathroom. I had been the pastor there just a short while. As I was checking to see if he wanted something to drink he looked up from the tile work and said, “You know, pastor, I grew up in your church.” I didn’t recognize his family name from the church roster but I responded, “Oh? Well, what happened?” I was truly curious. “I went into the Navy,” he said. “How long?” I asked. “Five years” came the reply. He’d been back in town 4 years. And then I asked again… “While you were gone serving this country, did anyone write you a letter from the church? Did the pastor ever call or write? Did anyone send you a “care package” where you were stationed? Did you receive the church newsletter in the mail each month? Did the congregation host a ‘welcome back home’ party upon your discharge?” “No” was the reply to each question. My heart sunk and I don’t blame him for not coming back to this church. See how easy it is for one of our boys to fall out the window and through the cracks? They don’t necessarily have to make headlines to garner our attention.
Yet, our boys will fall away for a variety of reasons both positive and negative. My colleague, the Rev. Tim Wright in his book, “Searching for Tom Sawyer” suggests ( via data from Michael Gurion) that 79% of all the boys will leave the church (my note: for those boys who are actually churched) in their early teens and twenties–and most will never come back!” Really? 79%. Do the math at your church? How many boys age 14-22 in the last 10 years who left home to go to college, take a job elsewhere, enter the military are still connected to your congregation’s ministry? Go ahead, make a list. Or how many of those boys ages 14-22 got stuck in the wrong crowd, gave in to video game mania, drank their way into drugs, found their parents divorcing with no warning, experienced the death of a parent, a mentor, teacher/coach or solid rock grandfather and now you are not really sure where they are or how they are or what they are up to? Those young men in both circumstances would now be ages 24-32… the kinds of young men you want to be the next wave of strong faithful mission leaders for your congregation or mine. 79%.
There are plenty of resources and options available to help pastors like me and you and the men of our congregations keep in touch with our young men as they enter into a new season of life. Plenty. You won’t have to look far; but you will have to look. Lutheran Men in Mission has a delivery system available with a phone call or an email. You can find a connection to LMM here www.lutheranmeninmission.org or via Facebook!
Young men have gone to war and died. Millions upon millions. Some have gone and come back scarred and less of themselves when they signed up. We send them when they are young– before they reach the age of 25, the age when their brains have fully developed. It’s a plan that has worked for us (and for others, too, for thousands of years!) and a plan that has worked against us and it’s the plan requiring us to push them out the window on purpose! So, no one is innocent anymore and all of us are guilty! But, take stock in the new windows available to these young via technology at their fingertips and laptops… the sinners and saints in us will need to fight that battle daily… and we will need each other’s help!
“Young men out-dual their female friends…
- 3:1 in getting expelled from school, they win
- 2.75:1 in being diagnosed with a learning disorder; again
- 3:1 they take the trophy for being diagnosed with ADHD; and
- 85% of all stimulant-addressing meds in the world are prescribed in the USA.
- 75% of all D’s and F’s are given to boys! – Michael Gurion
The short list above is worth taking note of… and a reminder that it’s good for the Eutychus in your corner of the Kingdom and the rest of us to keep our eyes on the young men in our churches for a good decade or two after high school. Why? They need us! The world needs them! Jesus is counting on them! They will be our congregation’s missional voices and faces. They will be the hands and feet of God’s work… They will marry someone’s daughter, they will be a friend and partner to another, and someone’s father, a favorite uncle and perhaps even live long enough to be a grandfather. Falling out the window will happen, but it need not be fatal and it is never the end of the story.
Did you hear them murmur… “…is he dead?” Perhaps. But, remember, “There’s still life in him!” And that’s what we will look for.. the life that is in each boy we know… and when we can we will keep the windows closed and latched!