Why Membership Is Part of the Young Adult Exodus Discussion

church-yaI started reading about young adults leaving churches when I was working at Randall House in 2009. Then it was more about stats and ideas. Now that I’m a pastor, it’s hitting home. This is about real people.

I’ve had several conversations with young people who have grown up in church and who are now either abandoning orthodox Christianity or are considering leaving. They’re wondering whether or not God exists, whether there is validity in other religions, and whether or not they can trust the Bible. Others don’t express their doubts as honestly as their peers, but show where their heart is by their apathy toward Christ and His church.

Lynsey and I were talking when we both wondered aloud: “Why is this happening? What’s so different about their upbringing than ours?”

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I don’t know if we ever will. Perhaps seeking those answers is futile in some ways. The milk has been spilled, so to speak. This does not mean I am giving up on these young people. I pray for them regularly. I express to them that they are welcome to ask hard questions of me, our church, and of God.

At the same time, I acknowledge one thing (of many) churches must do if they want to seriously deal with this issue of young people leaving Christianity:

Make membership matter.

Who’s showing true evidence of conversion in their life by devotion to Christ in repenting of sin? Those people should be members. Those whose lives profess something other than Christ should not be members of local churches. The next generation depends on it in part.

This doesn’t mean Christians are perfect or that if you’re a sinner you’re not accepted at our church. In fact, if you deny you’re a sinner, you’re not going to fit in very well (in fact, you’ll never be a Christian until you do). But those of us who have trusted in Christ to save us are repenting sinners–people who acknowledge their sinfulness but by God’s grace and power, seek to turn from their sin to obey their Savior. This is a Christian, and this is a church member. Those who deny their need to repent by their consistent refusal to do so show they want no part of Christ, and should not be affirmed to be in Christ by being received as members in a church. It will help those who are searching to know who is really in and who is really out.

If no one knows who’s in or out, how is a young adult supposed to know what a real Christian is supposed to look like? Perhaps it is foolish to assume that college students who grew up in church will follow Christ when many of the church members they’ve observed throughout their lives haven’t been.

One of the main reasons I’m a Christian today is because I saw how real my parents’ faith was. I always knew they weren’t perfect people, but I knew they were repenting people. I saw the tears on their faces when I walked in the living room to see them reading their Bibles. I was humbled when they would apologize to me and my siblings for letting their anger get the best of them.

Not every child or student who walks through the doors of a church will have parents like mine. We can’t equip parents who don’t want to disciple their children. And not every student who has parents like mine become true disciples. There is not one determining factor we can point to that decides whether or not someone follows Christ. But there’s one factor we can control better than we have: we can make sure the members they do see at church are true disciples.

Then at least they’ll have a better idea what a Christian really is.

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Three Things Many Christians Are Missing When Discussing Homosexuality

homosexuality-USE.svg_I’m very conservative on what the Bible teaches regarding homosexual practice. But I wonder if the way we conservatives talk about homosexuality needs some work.

It’s easy to rail on sins we don’t struggle with, especially sins that are as striking as homosexual practice. (It’s a striking example of rejecting God as He has revealed Himself in creation–Romans 1.)

The problem in how we talk about this is threefold:

1. We miss it when we condemn homosexual sinners without acknowledging that we’re sinners too.

This comes across as almost entirely unpalatable–especially to non Christians. It seems arrogant, proud, and belittling. It’s telling people, “If you were as good of a person as I am, then you could be good with God. But you’re not. So, ha!” And that is one thing people can’t stand.

This is why I tell our students (and anyone really) not to just tell their gay friends, “You’re gay and you’re going to hell,” even though the Bible is clear that those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). Instead, we should start with, “The Bible says you’re a sexual sinner . . . and so am I.”

This helps break down a barrier people have in hearing the gospel–their perception that Christians are arrogant and self-righteous. “What? You think you’re just as bad of a sinner as you think I am? You don’t think you’re better than me?”

Does the way we talk about homosexuals show that we’re actually concerned about their eternal destiny from a heart of love? Or does it reveal that we’re only concerned about winning an argument or having our view held as the only legal one? If we love them, then may I suggest that we be vulnerable about our own sins, so they might at least be a little more willing to hear the rest of the story?

2. We miss it when we talk about homosexuality but leave out the good news!

Often, the sin of homosexual behavior is simply railed upon. “Look at what this world is coming to! Men sleeping with men! Sodomy! It’s damnable I tell you!” This may be true, but it is not preaching the gospel.

The gospel is good news! Do we even get to the good part? That Jesus Christ died to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15)? And that even though the sin of homosexual practice is not worthy of the kingdom of God, those who do can still be washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus Christ, just like some of the Corinthian believers (1 Cor 6)?

The gospel is offensive. No one likes to be told that the core of who they are is a sinner–not a murdering sinner, a blaspheming sinner, an adulterer sinner, or a homosexual sinner. But I wonder whether our approach actually even includes any gospel in it. After all, the point of telling someone about the ugliness of their sin is so they can then see the beauty of a Savior.

3. We miss it when we imply people can simultaneously cling to Jesus and their sin.

There is not enough room in anyone’s heart to hold both sin and Jesus as it’s master. If Jesus and the sin of homosexual practice are playing king of the mountain, only one will win. God is jealous that way. He demands total allegiance. (“You will love the Lord your God and serve Him only,” Deut 6:13.)

We are not doing our friends and family a favor if we claim that just because everyone is a sinner, then its OK to keep that sin around. No. Jesus demands that you leave everything else if you’re going to follow Him and worship Him only. No exceptions. Not even sinful tendencies that seem to be natural. Can we really hate people so much by telling them they’re good with God when they’re really not?

This is one of the biggest issues of our day, and it’s not going away. Will we humbly engage people and apply the gospel to the sin of homosexual practice, and actually do so in a way that lets the gospel be offensive instead of us?

What Makes Christianity Distinct From All Other Religions

mountain-01Many people think of religions as all the same. Have you ever heard this analogy?

It’s like climbing a mountain. You climb from the east (Hinduism), I climb from the west (Islam), and our friend climbs from the north (Christianity). We’re all climbing to the same God at the top of the mountain, we’re just coming at it from different angles.

This analogy sounds good and seems to make sense. But Christianity is different because it teaches that no one can get up the mountain. Not one person in the world is strong enough, brave enough, or has enough endurance to live a good enough live to make God pleased with him. “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).

In Christianity, we look up the mountain and we realize that it’s too steep, too dangerous, and we simply do not have what it takes to make it up there. We are too much unlike God–unworthy.

But just then, we are shocked and overjoyed to see not someone like us making it up, but someone very different coming down. It’s God Himself in Jesus Christ. He came down and offers to carry us back up by His grace.

There is no other religion in the world that teaches that.

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(I’m positive I did not come up with this, but I can’t remember where I got it. Just know it was someone a lot smarter than I.)