Reprinted from the November 2013 issue of “Gospel Advocate” Magazine.
Let’s not start off by reciting numbers, statistics, studies or polls. We can see for ourselves that in the church today we have some serious challenges facing our youth. We will address a couple of those challenges and offer some possible solutions.
“Where have they gone?” “Why did they stop coming?” These questions are asked over and over when we see an alarming number of teens, after graduation, no longer attend services. I can offer a couple of answers (by no means ALL the answers).
Hypocrisy in the Church
One reason young people give for leaving the church is hypocrisy. I have heard it explained as being “bilingual” – not in the sense that people speak two languages but that people speak one way on Sunday and a different way the rest of the week. Young people are very perceptive; they see and understand if you are not “walking the walk.”
Fathers, if you are going to bring your children up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 kjv), then you need to be in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The Bible is very clear about how we should conduct ourselves in our words, deeds and feelings. Christ left us an example to follow (1 Peter 2:21), and as parents, we in turn should leave that same godly example for our children to follow.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). The word “train” actually translates “to narrow” or “to dedicate.” As parents, we need to narrow our children’s focus to what is important (the Word of God), and in turn, we need to reinforce that “narrowing” by living it ourselves.
If we place other events – such as sporting events, social functions, etc. – above the importance of attending worship services, what should we expect from our kids? If we lie, cheat and tell dirty jokes all week and then attend services on Sunday, we send the message that the church and our Lord are not the driving forces in our lives. Can we not reasonably expect the same from our kids?
As parents, our solemn responsibility is to instill the Word of God into the hearts of our children. That word “instill” carries with it the meaning of “enrooting” and “implanting” – in other words, making the Word part of who your child is. It is impossible to do this if the Word is not part of who you are. The simple solution to ingraining your child with the Word of God is this: If you are going to talk the talk, then walk the walk.
Hatred in the Church
The second reason youth are giving about why they are leaving the church actually stems from the secular influence of the world on our youth and on the church as a whole. Surprisingly, or maybe not, young people state that one of the reasons they leave the church is because it is full of “haters.”
In today’s politically correct world, any dissenting speech against what is deemed “PC” is immediately condemned as “hate speech.” Therefore, the church is perceived as “hating” gay people and as “hating” people of other faiths, especially Muslims. Our world is being flooded with this type of thinking, and it has clearly made its way into the minds of our youth and, ultimately, the church.
High schools across the country have “Gay and Lesbian Social Clubs”; TV shows now regularly have gay characters and portray them as living an “alternative lifestyle.” Schools and many businesses conduct sensitivity training so that no one will say or do anything that will offend someone of a different belief or lifestyle. Those in media hype the alternative lifestyle every chance they get and portray it as normal or harmless.
Knowing these are the overwhelming pressures our youth are facing, imagine this scenario: Your teens know someone who is gay, and they are sitting in church and listening to a sermon about what God teaches about homosexuality. Unless they are grounded in the Word, that speech (as the world tells them) is “hate speech.” The world’s take-away is that “God hates gay people,” and if you agree with that sermon, you must hate gay people too.
So your teens have to deal with what the Bible says and what the world says about the gay friend they have. Oftentimes this conflict between the Word of God and the world is won over by the world as our teens are being inundated with the message of “acceptance of all.” Therefore, the thought of “I can’t be part of a group that hates” takes root, and they leave the church. In doing so, the conflict goes away.
It is not just the homosexual issue those in media bombard our lives with. Think about popular TV shows that actively promote having sex outside of marriage, people of both sexes living together without marriage, having babies out of wedlock, and all manner of immoral behavior. Much of modern music then takes that immoral behavior and amps it up tenfold. Lyrics of some of today’s music, which is geared to the teen audience, glorifies open sex, prostitution, drug use, racism and many other attributes we as parents should shield our kids from.
What Parents Can Do
Whether we like to believe it or not, we are at spiritual war with the world. In a physical war, we would do all we could to protect our families. Why then do we not put as much effort into protecting them when it comes to what matters most: their souls?
What is the solution? As I stated earlier, we need to instill in our children the Word of God, and we need to instill in them that this is God speaking to us. We need to explain that God does not hate anyone, nor do we as Christians. But we do not like sin. There is a huge difference between a sin and a sinner. We need to teach that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that love transcends anything the world could ever know or teach as truth.
We need to look at what the world is teaching our kids, and we need to have congregations equipped with resources and teachers willing to stand up to those teachings and in a loving way present God’s teachings on particular matters. Congregations need to offer these same resources to our families so that these teachings can go on at home.
We need to understand that as parents it is not our godly duty to be our children’s best friend; it is our godly duty to be their parent! Sometimes that is going to be tough. Sometimes you will have to tell them no. But you should always love them and nurture them in what is right for their spiritual lives.
One resource you can turn to for help – if you are a youth minister, elder, deacon, youth volunteer or concerned parent – is the M2Y (Ministering 2 Youth) Conference. More than 12 speakers at this four-day conference will deal with the issues previously mentioned as well as provide you with other resources your congregation can use to help in your youth ministry. The conference is scheduled for Sept. 18–21, 2014, in Orlando, Fla.
If you are not concerned with what is happening among our youth today, you are not paying attention. We have a war on our hands. Let us as parents prepare ourselves and our children to win the fight. o
Brian Staron is a member of the Main Gate congregation in Kissimmee, Fla. He serves as director of the M2Y Conference. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on how to register, speakers and classes, please visit www.m2yconference.com.