There are a growing number of blogs and articles circulating talking about why young people are leaving the church, and many of them offer good insight into this epidemic. Anyone breathing who has concern for their children’s future should be part of this conversation. I talk to a lot of bruised young people, so I will first offer some observations, then I will offer what I think is a clear biblical solution. I have many friends who are ministers, and many of them are frustrated. They are finding ministry to be far more challenging than it needs to be. The biggest issue I hear from both church leaders and church members is, “we just can’t seem to get along.” How sad is it when church leaders are locked in hand-to-hand combat. . . with each other. What message does this send to young people who come to the church from abusive homes filled with violence and fighting?
Observations and Frustrations
#1 We Have Forgotten How to Fight–I strongly believe that we have officially become a tattle-tale, sissified culture. Let me explain. We have bought the anti-bullying agenda hook-line-and-sinker. What exactly is this agenda? If somebody bullies you or disagrees with you for any reason, they hate you. I can’t tell you how many church leaders I’ve talked to who take arguments personally. They truly feel that another church leader or member who disagrees with them doesn’t like them. This has turned many church leaders into narcissistic, paranoid people-pleasers. Everything becomes about them and how well they can keep people happy. This is not to poke fun at anyone, but to express that many people really don’t know how to argue in healthy ways. The anti-bullying agenda also teaches the vulnerable to become passive wimpy victims. Instead of empowering the abused to stand up for themselves and demonstrate courage, we teach them to feel sorry for themselves and tell on the bully. “After all,” we say condescendingly, “Jesus says love your enemies.” Ironically, when victims fail to stand up to their abusers, the abuser–not the victim–becomes empowered. In Christian terms, we anachronistically walk the anti-bullying agenda right into the mouth of Jesus–“Turn the other cheek.” Ironically, the one time that Jesus was literally slapped on the cheek, he said, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said was right, why do you strike me?” (John 18:23 ESV).
Jesus’ disciples had explosive, clashing personalities. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus hand picked 12 guys who were the least likely to get along? Look how many times they fought, bickered, and misunderstood each other. Jesus taught them how to work through arguments and remain brothers.
#2 We Are Fighting Over the Wrong Things–I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to over the years who were brave enough to get out of violent marriages, after years of violent spousal rape, torture, verbal abuse, and cruelty, only to be disfellowshiped from their churches for having an “unbiblical divorce.” Let’s be honest here–divorce has become the unforgivable sin. I know of young teenage girls who were sexually violated in every way as young children only to be humiliated even further when they were thrown out of church for dressing immodestly. Rather than finding out why they are dressing inappropriately, they were simply targeted for dressing inappropriately. I once had an adult who had gone through much trauma as a child, then was later chastised by church leaders say, “How in God’s name can I ever set foot in a church again?” I’m a minster in the A Cappella Churches of Christ, and I’ve seen churches split and divide over instrumental music, clapping of hands, using too many cups (or not enough cups) for communion, etc. Meanwhile, 1/4 of our kids sitting in the pews have been or are currently being sexually abused by an adult. Perhaps our topics for fights ought to shift focus.
#3 Church Leaders Are Abandoning Ship–Many preachers are leaving ministry out of frustration. Within the Churches of Christ, many ministers are leaving the Churches of Christ and going elsewhere. Take a look at the divorce rate. Then compare that to the number of kids born out of wedlock. In 2002 the CDC concluded that “unmarried cohabitations overall are less stable than marriages” and that “after 10 years, the probability of a first marriage ending is 33 percent, compared with 62 percent for cohabitations.”1. Take time to listen to children who talk about mommy and daddy splitting up. Oftentimes children feel the divorce was their fault. When the majority of our children in the churches are familiar with abandonment, we ministers add to their pain by walking away.
Joys and Solution
#1 It’s Not All Bad News!–I often find myself having to “snap out of it.” We are officially programmed to look at all the bad going on around us and to see very little good in people. I listen to other ministers a lot. Honestly, I usually hear them vent–they complain about all the things that people are doing wrong. But deeply embedded in the ministry of Jesus and his disciples was a message of encouragement to others. Listen to how Paul starts his letter to the Corinthian church (where church members were having sex with prostitutes, getting drunk at church, worshiping idols, having incestuous sex, etc.)–“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:3-4). I’m encouraged that there are individuals and churches out there who don’t get defensive at every turn, and who take a stand for the vulnerable. Look at the churches where there is growth and where the youth are flocking. They want to be a part of a church that encourages them, defends them, and takes a stand for the vulnerable.
#2 The Mission of Jesus Is Crystal Clear–Jesus, quoting from Isaiah 61, gave his mission statement–“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). What if, instead of fighting over dumb stuff, splitting churches, telling people God doesn’t like them, expressing our disappointments in people, empowering their abusers, and putting most of our emphasis on how we can have a rockin’ worship service, we actually did what Jesus did? We need to be a voice for the poor, the bruised (including the divorced!), the oppressed, and the sick.
I leave you with a video that is well worth 14 minutes of your time. I recently learned about B.A.C.A. and what they stand for. As I watched the following video, tears streamed down my face (OK, it was more like sobbing!). When I told our church elders about B.A.C.A, what they do, and that that we have a chapter of B.A.C.A. near us, they said, “Contact them and let them know how we can partner.” Yes, Yes, and YES!!