By Brad Harrub
Almost twenty years ago I started preaching a lesson titled, “7 Reasons We Are Losing Our Children.” I had researched the numbers and knew the statistics. The bottom line was we were losing far too many of our own young people to the world.
While the points made in that lesson are still valid today, I want to give an updated version. You see, they are no longer just numbers and statistics. They have names and faces. Some have been in our home. Others I met along the way doing Christian evidence seminars. Some were friends with my own children. Others we have grown to know through the years and we love their parents. And yet, the outcome is the same—they have walked away from Jesus.
My background is in science and medicine, so I want to share the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of this modern-day epidemic. And yes, it is an epidemic. I challenge you: Name five young people who graduated from your own youth program who are strong faithful Christians, who are now living a life in service to Christ—young people who have their priorities where they need to be. (My wife and I had trouble naming four.) Friends, I’m not talking about young people who still “punch the Sunday morning ticket.” I’m talking about young people who demonstrate a love for Christ in their everyday decisions.
I will warn you right up front, some parents will likely take offense to what I am about to share. My intent is not to be offensive, but rather, it is to give an honest examination of a very real problem. To give you the truth in love. For far too long we have ignored the signs and symptoms—all the while hoping the latest program or themed campaign will fix the problem. The beautiful message of Jesus is not about programs or campaigns. It’s about sin, redemption, deliverance, and reconciliation with God!
There will also likely be some church leaders and preachers across the country who don’t care for this article because deep down they value comfort and peace in their congregations—and they don’t want anyone causing ripples that might have an adverse effect on numbers. Again, I’m not purposefully trying to cause ripples and I am not “aiming” this at any particular congregation or preacher.
The reality is we are losing way too many of our young people and some of the responsibility lies at the feet of church leaders and preachers. Rest assured my motivation is not to cause you grief or problems, but rather to stir your hearts into action. It is time we get proactive rather than always being reactive.
Diagnosis is defined as the identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms. In this case, we are talking about a serious spiritual illness in our young people. An honest evaluation of our youth groups across the nation reveals our children are spiritually sick. Here is what twenty years of examining young people has revealed:
1. They don’t really love God. They love their boy/girlfriend, their iPhone, their car, their sports, their job, but not God. Ultimately, they never build a true relationship with Him and so there is not much there.
2. They were converted to the church and not Jesus. They may quickly identify as a member of the church of Christ—because we’ve made “going to church” easy and comfortable. But what happens when they are asked to make sacrifices for Him or give up certain behaviors for Him?
3. They study the Bible the way they study English or science. Yes, they sit in a Bible class and learn “factoids” about God’s Word, but they are not studying the Bible in order to have their lives changed. They do not comprehend the power of God’s Word.
4. They just want to belong to a group and be loved. I’ve seen this dozens of times. The child leaves the church because they find a group (i.e., baseball team, sorority/social club, band or theater club, friends at work) who they connect with and believe really cares about them.
5. They rarely think about their own sin. This should not be a surprise because sermons today are designed to make the listener feel good. Add to this they never see their parents weeping over sin. Also, they have been taught at home to justify their own sin, and point out the sin of others.
6. They are deeply in love with themselves. Social media has created narcissistic monsters who desperately seek “likes,” “retweets,” and “comments.”
7. They may obey their parents, but they do not honor and respect them. There is a difference between obeying and honoring. Sadly, this often results from parents who don’t respect themselves and allow children to talk and behave rudely. We are reaping the fruits of this in modern culture.
8. They don’t fear God. They fear not being accepted by their friends or wearing the wrong name-brand clothing, but they don’t fear the Lord.
9. They believe the world revolves around them. And rightly so, because their parents have been teaching them this through their actions for years. Their parents have broadcasted every minor accomplishment of the child’s life on social media, and so, of course, they think the world revolves around them.
10. They have grown up spoiled and are firmly in the world. Affluence has caused them to love the things of the world and it has overshadowed Jesus and the cross. They have not been taught to be content.
11. They haven’t learned fidelity—to God or a spouse. As a result, they end up forgetting their first love and committing adultery on their spouse. Far too often this is learned from home.
12. They are not filled with the spirit. Many young people never put on the “new man” when they were baptized. Instead, they walk right back out on the broad way and continue a life of sin, thinking they are saved, simply because they got wet.
Prognosis is defined as the likely course of a disease or ailment. In this case we are talking about the likely course of spiritual sickness. Unless congregations get serious we will continue to watch church buildings close their doors. It’s already happening in many smaller rural congregations— where the average age of most members is 70. This same trend will follow in the bigger congregations as more and more young people walk away. Below is the likely course that will happen unless changes are made:
1. Children will do what they think is right in their own eyes (see Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25; and Proverbs 21:2).
2. Children will not turn their hearts to their fathers (see Malachi 4:6).
3. Children will not teach their own children (and future generations) the principles and precepts of God. (see Psalm 78:5-7).
4. Children will not hear the words of their fathers (see Proverbs 4:10; 4:20).
5. Children will not strive to be holy (see 1 Peter 1:15-16).
6. Children will not walk in His ways (see Psalm 128:1; Psalm 119:105; 1 Samuel 8:3).
7. Children will be embarrassed to uphold and defend the Gospel (Romans 1:16-17).
8. Children will not be content to stay on the narrow way (Matthew 7:13- 14). Instead, they will seek the broad way and look for entertainment.
9. Children will become lovers of the world and enemies of God (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4).
10. 1Children will become apathetic and not see religion as relevant in their lives (see Revelation 3:14-19).
Treatment is defined as a session of medical care given to a patient to alleviate illness, injury, or disease. In this case, it would be the steps Christians take to rebuild the spiritual health of our own children. Before I give you some possible treatment options, let me first ask you how far are you willing to go? How much time and energy are you willing to expend? I often hear parents say they would “do anything” to return their children back to the faith.
But then when you suggest something like moving to a different city to get their children away from their friends who are involved in drugs, suddenly “do anything” means anything easy. Ask yourself honestly, are you willing to do the hard things? Are you willing to be a radical Christian? Are you willing to swallow the pill to get better, even if it is a tough pill to swallow? Here’s the treatment plan:
¨ We often refer to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 when talking about raising faithful children. However, I think we often overlook verse 6 that tells parents that His words shall be in their hearts. Before we can focus on putting it into the hearts of our children we must first make sure it is in our own hearts! This means studying and spending time in His Word outside the church building.
¨ We must treat these spiritual conditions with urgency. Rarely do I see people move with urgency when a young person makes a bad choice or starts down the wrong path. I often hear individuals say we need to “just keep praying,” but rarely do they act. Many of these young people are in spiritual ICU, and yet we are treating them casually, hoping a band-aid will fix the problem. If they are spiritually sick then we must act! We need to set up Bible studies. Go to their homes. Take them to lunch. Have their friends over for a meal. Drive three hours to have a conversation. Do it—before it is too late!
¨ The church must start weeping over sin and repenting. Our children are not seeing parents who are truly troubled by sin. I spoke at one congregation where they had not had someone “come forward” in over 46 years. Consider for a moment what message this is sending to our children. Additionally, our church leaders must set an example by humbling admitting sin and showing fruits of repentance— because the young people are watching you.
¨ We must get involved in their lives. We need to know their friends. Who they are hanging around—and not just at the church building. Because many young people have their “Church friends” and their “School friends.” We need to know who they are dating/courting before the relationship gets too serious.
¨ Preachers must start preaching hard/deep lessons and stop giving fluffy cotton-candy sermons. Members need to be reminded that there really is a hell and there really will be a judgment day. Young people need to understand the magnitude of walking away from Christ. Preachers it’s okay for people to occasionally fill like their toes have been stepped on…it may help them make needed changes in their lives.
¨ Church members need to hold young people accountable. If they are old enough to obey the Gospel and be baptized, then they are old enough for someone to share concerns if they are straying away from Christ or if they post immodest pictures on social media. They made the decision to be followers of Christ, so they should be held to that standard. After all, we are supposed to be family that cares for one another.
¨ Parents must put God first in their homes. Children need to comprehend that their parents love them—but they love God more. This needs to be reflected in actions. God comes before ball games. God comes before Netflix season premiere. Social media posts should not constantly center around your children.
¨ Our homes need to be places of prayer. In far too many homes children view prayer as simply a hurdle that must be cleared before they can eat. What message are you sending your child if the only time you pray is before a meal or when disaster strikes? You are telling your children that we don’t need God in our everyday life—we only need Him when things go wrong. We should be praying to God all the time in our homes.
Youth programs should not usurp the authority of parents. God commanded parents to train up their children, not a youth minister. As such, youth programs and events should be supporting the parents in doing what God commanded.
¨ Parents must yank their children out of the world. The price is too costly to allow them to remain comfortable in the world. The Bible says we make them enemies of God if they become friends with the world. We need to purge our homes of things that tend to separate us from God or cause us to waste time in non-productive ways.
¨ Elders need to stop endorsing and supporting entertaining programs. We often defend these as “fellowship” but these programs are making the bride of Christ into a fun social club it was never meant to be. Young people need to be actively involved in evangelism, mission work, and benevolence. Feed your flock and provide them real opportunities to serve Christ.
¨ Parents need to remove influences that promote rebellion and pride in their heart of their children. Whether this is television programs, friends, curriculum, etc. it needs to be removed from their lives. God expects children to honor their parents, not rebel against them. Pride is at the root of many of these problems.
¨ Parents need to encourage time for their children to “Be Still and Know.” Our lives are so active that often young people do not have down-time to reflect and meditate. Parents need to put away screens and encourage children to have some alone time with God.
¨ We must stop using Sunday morning attendance, chapel at Christian school, homeschooling, or Christian college as our measuring stick for faithfulness. Living a life for Christ is so much more than showing up to a building once or twice a week. And sending them off to a Christian academy or Christian college is not what the Bible intended when it commanded fathers to train them up.
¨ We must demonstrate an undying love for Jesus Christ. No matter what trials may come, our young people need to see a passion for Jesus Christ.