Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 3/25/2019
There is an epidemic in the church. This brewing problem has been growing exponentially since the 1950s when the youth culture truly took root in the West. It was a time of peace after WWII when the war for the hearts of the next generation flourished under the guise of prosperity and progress.
Whether that be the technological advancements, the race relations that led to the Civil Rights Movement, or the sexual revolution that changed the way we process perversity versus pleasure. This youth culture, Gen Z especially, has been in the process of a mass-exodus of sorts in fleeing the church to join the culture. According to various studies, “70 percent of youth stop attending church when they graduate from high school. Nearly a decade later, about half return to church (2).” As my good friend Andrew Morrison keeps saying, “we are on the verge of a second 1960s counterculture revolution” and this revolution is going to get ugly.
Now who exactly is leaving and why are they leaving so soon? To be precise, the youth from middle school to college are leaving the church. By ‘the church’ I mean that as both Christianity specifically and religion in general, as the youth embrace the pressures of society to conform to the inward and outward expressions of sin. This grand departure is happening primarily in the Western part of the world (i.e. North America and Europe), which is due to a number of circumstances.
From personal online investigation to public inquiry with others in this age range, I have whittled down the leading reasons as to why the youth are leaving so soon to 5 options. These 5 options include a) unable to freely question, b) not enough reason to believe in God beyond morally therapeutic deism (3), c) not challenged or tested to do otherwise in their way of thinking, d) objective truths have been exchanged for relevant subjectivism, and e) other undisclosed reasons that are specific to the individual. Regarding the last option for instance, the problem of suffering has caused a lot of people to leave because of both immense personal doubt and sorrow, along with the theological implications over any given situation of suffering (natural disaster, miscarriage, rape, etc). Another notable example for the final option would be the controversial views of the church as it is both pro-life and for traditional marriage, rather than pro-choice and in support of non-traditional forms of marriage.
This ‘generation gap’ of the youth rebelling against the truth has been an issue that has always been present within the church as it lies in direct conflict with the culture and its way of thinking. For the youthful in particular, one of the greatest choices one can make is whether to go with the flow downstream (i.e. the culture) or go against the flow upstream (i.e. the church). Once one chooses either option, they must therefore reject the other for we are to be in the world, but not of it as Christ’s church (4).
The question remains: how do we avoid leaving so soon or if we have already left, how do we come back home to Christ and in fellowship with His church? As I have thought upon this topic, I believe the answer lies in one of my favorite books in the Bible: the book of Colossians. It is here where I think the young believer, such as you or someone you know, can find solutions to this inveterate problem in the church.
Just as the prodigal in Luke chapter 15 left to indulge in sin and was still a son of his father, we too are sometimes in a state of being a prodigal, but we do have the hope of always being a child of God as believers. There is always the hope that no matter how far a believer temporarily runs away from God, they still have the opportunity to turn back and ask for forgiveness. In the book of Colossians, we find 5 factors that will guide us on the straight and narrow or for those of us who have already left so soon, a way back home. The first of these factors is a matter of the mind.
1) Protect Our Minds
“I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument… See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (5).”
In this day and age, the battle for the mind has never been a more intense struggle for the youth. Whether we acknowledge it or not the Enemy, the World, and even our own sin nature desire to corrupt our minds to the point of permanent decimation. Do not give in to those temptations. Resist and fight back by protecting your mind as you hold fast to the truth of Christ’s victory at the cross and pray for the LORD to do a work within you.
Know what Jesus died and rose again for in the first place. Know the truths of Scripture. Most importantly, stay on guard spiritually. This is where apologetics is key for personal devotion in the believers life. Apologetics is the sledgehammer of evangelism because it destroys strongholds of skepticism hiding in our hearts, but also acts as a chisel of continuous refinement as we seek to be more Christ-like as believers. Apologetics protects the mind, but prayer solidifies that defense like nothing else.
By knowing the truth and consistently learning to be better equipped mentally, the believer is that much more ready for the battle of the mind. Nothing can stop the truth and if Jesus is the truth (6), then we can have full assurance in times of doubt that what we believe is worth fighting for in the end both mentally and spiritually. Fight off the mental warfare of this world system that is intent on crushing you.
Get up and brush off those books. Be a student of God by protecting your mind with the truths of God’s Word and His glorious Creation through the avenue of apologetics, while at the same time constantly praying for God to shield your mind from what knowledge cannot protect you from. We live in the information age and we should act like it for once as the church. The best offense is a better defense. Be an apologist, not an apostate. Be informed, not uninformed.
2) Purpose In Our Minds
“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth (7).”
After the mind is protected, it must be redirected to the things of God. To purpose in our minds and to think upon the spiritually good, rather than the spiritually bad will ensure a sober mind for the backsliding believer seeking to please God. Be sober and be vigilant as the Apostle Peter once said (8). Think like Christ thinks. As Daniel purposed in his mind to honor the LORD by obeying the Mosaic Law (9), so too we must purpose in our minds to honor God above all else through the process of renewing our minds (10). It will take time to reconfigure the way you think, but it is a natural change as you turn back to God.
3) Purpose In Our Church Body
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (11).”
From the mental to the social, Paul lines out how we should purpose and aim as the church to live as one body of believers submitted to the authority of God’s Word. There must be a deliberate attempt to be in constant fellowship with other believers because it is what unifies the Bride of Christ in a way that glorifies God. We bear burdens, we forgive sins, we wisely teach, we wisely admonish, and most of all love because He first loved us.
As Christians, either we are one or we are none. As was said by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses (12).” Be active in both the local church you attend and the church at large. Pray with believers and seek God. Camaraderie is the key in a community, especially for us as the church. As the 1st century Christians lived (13), so we should live in fellowship with one another in Jesus name.
4) Purpose In Our Hearts
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve (14).”
For most, if not all who leave so soon, it is a matter of the heart. By a matter of the heart, I mean to say a combination of internal motivations and external attitudes we may have in our day-to-day living. These things must change as we purpose in our hearts not to live like we once did, but to live according to what the LORD insists for each and every one of us. The Israelites had to purpose in their hearts as they chose to love God with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their strength (15). Once you know how to love God, only then will you be able to love.
Later on in history, we find Ezra the priest and scribe displaying this fourth point in action as he “set his heart” on learning the Word of God, living out the Word of God, before teaching others in a like manner (16). Yet before any outward actions took place, Ezra had to fix his heart and aim it towards God. We must do likewise, if we intend on getting right with God before our inevitable prodigal exodus or on the way back from one. We must set both our minds and our hearts on the things above, not on the things below.
5) Purpose In Our Speech
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (17).”
Nothing says that you are looking to change quite like the way you transform the way you speak to others. How do you communicate to people? To family? To friends? To enemies? Can you truthfully say that you speak with a courteous and tactful manner that stands out from when you chose to leave God or before you were even with God? Is there a difference in the way you talk from when you were a prodigal to now as another member of the pasture of the Good Shepherd?
Eventually, on the way back to the loving arms of the Lord you should notice a change in the way you speak. Not just in vocabulary, but most importantly the intent of your speech in the first place. Why do you talk in the first place? What is the intent in what you say when, where, why, and how you say it? Jesus put special emphasis on what we say (18) as it can lead to either our declaration of our salvation in Christ or our damnation away from His grace.
In his book, Fool’s Talk, author Os Guinness lays out the biblical pattern in which every believer should speak both publicly in social gatherings and even privately in our hearts and minds. He argues that everyone is a fool. Either you are a fool for Christ or a fool of the world. As Jesus put it when preaching on the Beatitudes, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (19), so in all things learn to speak wisdom. Like salt, speak in a way that preserves the humanity of whoever you talk to, while simultaneously expelling the hardheartedness of their sin nature. It’s about time we spoke like fools.
It’s a hard road leaving sin to seek the Savior, but is totally worth it in the end. Adjustments will be made both consciously and unconsciously as you grow more spiritually attuned to God’s liking and as the Holy Spirit does His refining work within you. If we return back to God, then we will radically change in three main ways: our thought life, our feelings, and our speech. This trifecta can be seen in the return home for the prodigal son of Luke 15 and is a pattern that has been seen in every prodigal throughout time.
Be against the flow, not with it! Return to the Lord and all His goodness! Put on the full armor of God and doing all to stand up to sin, stay standing. I pray that God would do a mighty work in you as He guides your mind, heart, and words to be in alignment with His Word.
Why are you leaving so soon? Your life with God has only just begun! Stay and see what the triune God has in store for you. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!
- http://www.churchleaders.com/children/childrens-ministry-articles/166129-marc-solas-10-surprising-reasons-our-kids-leave-church.html; http://crossexamined.org/youth-exodus-problem/. See also Galatians 5:7-8 when Paul the Apostle address the same issue in the first century.
- NASB John 17:9-16
- NASB Colossians 2:4, 8
- NASB John 14:6
- NASB Colossians 3:2
- KJV 1 Peter 5:8
- NASB Daniel 1:8
- NASB Romans 12:2-3
- NASB Colossians 3:12-17
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (P. 86)
- NKJV Acts 2:42, NKJV 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, NKJV Hebrews 10:23-25
- NASB Colossians 3:23-24
- NKJV Deuteronomy 6:5-7
- NASB Ezra 7:10
- NASB Colossians 4:5-6
- NASB Matthew 12:36-37
- NLT Luke 6:45