Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Own Op-ED--Diagnosis

Feeling Sorry for Today’s Church
I know God is the head of the church and He will build His church, but the church leaders [sic] struggle with how to apply Truth to today’s generations.

Society is so-o-o-o-o complicated—so secular, so far away from Truth.

The church of today has two big issues—the young being one. The old being the other.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

The bottom quote is obviously from Jesus (Matthew 16:18). The top three quotes are from an editorial from Ed Lewis. Now, why would a generally jovial and joyous man have such a glum perspective on the state of the Church?

I blame stats.

"Today we lose 70% of young people who grew up in the church," the editorial states. Ed is not alone when he laments these stats. Another Grace Brethren pastor states in his book: "58% of young adults who attended church at eighteen no longer attend by age twenty-nine." Just a week before reading that, another Grace Brethren pastor sent me an email, citing stats all over it which described how young people are bailing on the church.

But the numbers seem to say we are losing! Why aren't you equally bummed?

FIrst, let me say, when anyone walks out of the church and doesn't come back, that is sad. Your heart breaks for that person. Each individual case bums me out. However, from a global scale, when I consider the stats above, I just don't find myself bummed for the following reasons:
    These stats are only about "church attendance."
Phone interviews are not the way to assess conversion. Therefore, this stat is something which can be attendance. Our goal has never been just to get people in the doors, nor has it been to keep them coming. Our goal is conversions, and this stat says nothing of that nature. And really, we have no idea what kind of attendance we're talking about. Only corporate Sunday morning worship? How frequent? For how long?
    We know nothing about the churches.
This is not a Grace Brethren survey. Even if it were, we don't know how faithfully each church was preaching the Word and declaring the gospel. Quite honestly, if a person was in a bad church (one that doesn't preach the gospel clearly from the Word of God), I'd just as soon see them leave. People going to bad churches never think, "Man, I should get back in church." People who leave churches (even bad ones) are sometimes prompted to get back in church. And perhaps the second time around, they'd find a good church.
    This stat does not actually mean we are losing the generation.
Any young person who comes to know Christ after age 18 doesn't count in this stat. A college student, who had never darkened the doors of a church, yet comes to know Christ and gets plugged into a church, does not reverse this stat.
    100% retention just is not possible.
This is not merely realism, this is Biblical. The Scriptures are clear, there are tares among the wheat, and eventually, they will leave. Not to mention there are bad church experiences that drive people away for a period of time. What about a person who is moved or transfered to an area where a sound church just doesn't exist?

Each person who leaves the church should be pursued. But each reason why a person walked away from a church completely varies. If a person walks away from the church because they don't like the truth the church proclaims, we should mourn for the rebellion of the person. However, we should rejoice in the purity of the church! We pray for that person. We pray God will continue to work on the person and bring the gospel across their path. We pray that eventually His grace will overwhelm them irresistibly! Yet, the only way this can happen is if churches are strong and pure. When young people walk away from the church because the church refuses to agree with their secular philosophy professor, or because they refuse to be as inclusive as the quasi-universalist churches in town, we should rejoice for the perseverance of His church.

Hell may overpower our society, but it will never be able to stand against His church!

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