Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Christian Youth and Church Flight

Why are churchgoing youth fleeing the church? tallied the results of eight national studies which:

• focused on those who were regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15…nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

Most of their findings seem to reflect the clash between what the church represents and the surrounding culture:

1. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church”

2. “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%)

3. One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%)

4. “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%)

5. “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%).

6. Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%).

7. Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%).

8. And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” …

9. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made [sexual] mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”

10. The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

11. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.”

12. not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%).

I think that all of this testifies to the ubiquitous power of the prevailing culture. It has invaded the family through the schools, universities, and the media. These institutions have spent far more time molding the minds of our children than we have. What’s the answer to the youth exodus? Some churches have elected to become more like the prevailing culture to eliminate the dissonance that the youth might be experiencing. They’ve introduced “bless-the-animals” services in place of “thankfulness-to-God” services. Often, a movie preempts the exposition of Scripture. They celebrate “be-all-you-can-be” and “fulfill-your-dream” rather than God’s dream. The pizza social has replaced instruction in holiness, while encouragement of self-esteem has elbowed aside God-esteem.

While these changes might have made church a more comfortable place for some, they have failed to address God’s priorities and have precluded any hope of Biblical renewal. However, the early church had been confronted with the same kinds of problems. Paul prophesied these would re-surface in the last days:

• But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)

Paul’s answer to the apostasy is simple. He instructed Pastor Timothy to,

• continue in what you have learned…I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Tim. 3:14; 4:1-3)

Paul didn’t provide any special instructions for those who would “not put up with sound doctrine.” There is no Scriptural hint that the church should provide special programs in order to keep the disgruntled. However, Scripture does give a lot of instruction about correcting those who are in error:

• And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)

Consequently, we can’t run from the hard questions, but instead we must “gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” It all comes back to the transformative truth of the Gospel:

• I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:16-17)

One evangelist to the Muslims was asked how to evangelize Muslims. He answered, “Just like you would anyone else – Preach the Gospel of Christ!”

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