My friend John Charter shared recently with me as he sometimes does. He wrote CHURCH DROPOUTS … THE REALITY AND THE REMEDY. I did minor grammatical editing and thought I improved the readability, but I did not change the content of John’s message. Following John’s comments, I added some notes of my own. See what you think.
The current issue of “Christianity Today” (11/10) has an article addressing the question, “Why are the 20-30 year olds abandoning the faith in increasing numbers today?” The article goes beyond those who quit attending Church and speaks about the many now openly declaring they no longer believe in Christianity. ABC news (11/10/10 p.m.) reported another disturbing trend, interviewing Pastors and discussing the fact that a growing number of active Ministers are now atheists, but reluctantly continue to serve their congregations because they are unqualified for other kinds of employment.
This alarming trend represents one of the most challenging issues true Christians confront in these turbulent times. We know from the New Testament that times of falling away are possible in the Church Age, and Jesus even spoke about the possibility that when he returns true faith might be hard to find. Thus, the question--like it or not--confronts us: “What can faithful Pastors and Lay persons do to reverse this tragic trend?” The reality is one of spreading apathy, apostasy and hypocrisy in both the pew and the pulpit. Evangelical Churches concerned with combating this creeping plague need to discern and apply a realistic remedy?
An effective response lies in applying an obvious analogy. We all know one of the basic keys to successful marriage is communication. Communication is essential in maintaining intimacy, physically, emotionally and socially. This same ingredient is essential to true Christianity, for maintaining a vital spiritual relationship daily with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The most common reason for dropouts in the pew and pulpit may be the fact that individuals have never had a personal encounter with Jesus as Savior and Lord. Obviously, someone who has never experienced the inward witness that comes with being born of the Spirit, may feel out of place in a dynamic worship setting where others seem to be so intimately involved and blessed. On the other hand, just as in marriage, a truly heavenly heart warming experience can wither and die without a continuing relationship based in ongoing nurturing.
Pastoral priority in ministry must always be about winning and cultivating strong healthy Christians. Central to pastoral teaching, preaching and counseling must be the importance of maintaining a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus, daily. First, the Pastor must set the example. Second, every pastoral leader must maintain a healthy personal daily devotional life through systematic Bible reading and Prayer.
When a congregation becomes aware of the pastor’s private spiritual life, and sees it reflecting a Christ like example, the congregation will respect their leadership and enthusiastically emulate their life style. As shepherds of the flock, Pastors are biblically commissioned to lead the flock, and when they do lead the people will follow them, recognizing that they are loved, encouraged, nurtured and guided in their walk of faith.
Healthy congregations are by-products of spiritually healthy leadership. This is the timeless Biblical plan for combating the threatening “Dropout” syndrome. It is the Divine Antidote for any subtle spirit of doubt, unbelief, agnosticism and even atheism.
The urgent need today is for Pastors to provide leadership and materials for the believer’s daily personal devotional life. A plan to read the New Testament in one year is an ideal goal to get them started, along with a recommended Bible commentary. Prayer helps, such as an expanded outline of the Lord’s teachings, offers a good practical resource.
This is my response to the current dilemma facing Evangelical Churches today! (John T. Charter – Retired Pastor)
I agree, we need more bible reading and spiritual formation. The reality, however, is that current trending is not necessarily new or any more threatening than previously. Trends have always offered threats and challenges but they are merely trends, and like fads, they twist and turn. That conflict may make novels and sell magazines but it does not necessarily tell all the truth. A half-full glass of water may be viewed as half full or half empty, depending on your perspective. My years in ministry have not shown me many atheistic pastors in evangelical pulpits, but they have reflected many different lay & clergy responses to how we do church.
These are negative times! This only makes it the more important for Christians offer the needed glimmer’s of hope. With John, I believe the Christian faith offers the best expression of hope for our times and I find that hope in the Bible.
Mega-church pastors like Bill Hybels at Willow Creek recognize they have fallen woefully short of producing biblically literate and spiritually disciplined members in their attempts to reach the masses, so John’s point is well taken! It is true, “The Bible is our rule of faith.” It may be seriously questioned as to how serious a "non-reader" can be about living a Christian life.
Yet, some always look for other means. However, any achieving athlete knows there are no substitutes for team practices, learning the plays, and building physical endurance. Ours is not a culture of discipline; thus churches are filled with couch-potato Christians, biblically illiterate and theologically infantile.
For one thing, we threw out the baby with the educational bathwater when we minimized Christian Education and went to more culturally popular “touchy-feely” small groups (and I don‘t minimize their worth). Both approaches are needed, but people will continue to challenge the status quo of religious faith. I suggest we use our opportunities, teach the enduring truths of Scripture. If need be, learn how the youngs and post moderns process life and develop new insights for developing pro-active spiritual maturity. Without a return to more disciplined bible reading and spiritual formation, we will fail to develop as mature Christians and our witness will eventually dilute into the nothingness of ritualism.
We face very different times from those of our forefathers and America is a very different nation today. They had little comprehension of the kind of nation we have become, but they left us with a Constitution and a basic biblical understanding that gives us the tools we need to build a nation in which we can maintain our national unity while allowing for religious diversity. Only with our Judaio-Christian rootage can we find the common good where all people can live together in a national unity in spite of our diversities.
Another thought to consider is this: perhaps those departing 20-30 year-olds are not leaving the faith as much as they are the institutional forms of their faith. Some of our institutional forms frequently fail to be little more than “sacred cows.” If we were more biblically sensitive, we might just find that some of those sacred cows are not that much of a loss in terms of offering spiritual healing to the world.
From Warner’s World,
this is John Charter and yours truly