HOLDING ON TO THE YOUNG
First came the news that several churches in the West had only a few old people staying on, and that church buildings were being sold off. Then the news came closer home when many young people here also began to stay away from churches. The reasons many young people gave for this were the hypocrisy they found in the churches, the archaic forms of church service and the irrelevance of the church to their own daily lives. In an attempt to keep the young ones interested in the church and to prevent them from leaving, many churches started involving the youth more and more in the church activities. Beginning with celebrating one Sunday in a year as Youth Sunday, many churches started special youth ministries. Some churches began to transform their choirs to become more youth friendly, and other churches started worship teams which were entirely managed by young people. Contemporary style Christian songs began to enter churches to varying degrees. An outstanding feature of many city churches became the exciting youth programmes with catchy names providing lots of fun and action. Nowadays many young people from Christian homes seem to have a ‘clean’ alternative to hanging out and partying with their ‘worldly’ friends. They can develop good friendships within the church itself, and they can have a lot of fun jamming with music, going out for picnics and other ‘youth events’, organising big fests, bringing friends to join, etc. Have we succeeded in curbing the recession of young people’s interest in the church?
Something seems to be lacking. For many of the young people who are very ‘active’ in the church, their Christianity seems to exist only around those activities. When it comes to those activities many of them excel, whether it is singing, playing musical instruments, leading the worship programme, organising events, etc. They are talented young people, and they are good at what they are doing. They enjoy this social life with others of their age group. But it does not look as if their entire lives are being transformed through their relationship with Christ.
One reason for this may be a world-wide phenomenon that young people do not like to read long portions of written text! Growing up in an atmosphere of TV, DVDs, video games, YouTube, smartphones, etc., they would not like to take the Bible and read it, especially when they cannot make out much of large portions of it. Very few now seem to have read the whole Bible from cover to cover even once, and their concept of God is only what they have heard from preachers, songs and group discussions. Admittedly, there are still some groups of young people who are active in the conventional ways of young Christians, going for Bible studies and prayer groups and growing up spiritually as a result. But activity-oriented-Christianity without depth seems to be becoming more common.
God says that what young Christians need for the development is the unadulterated milk of the word of God (1Pet.2:1). We can imagine what the future holds for these Bible deprived young people of today. When they come under spiritual attack, they have no proper armour to protect them or the strength to fight. They are more likely to be moulded into a secular worldview from regular exposure to the audio visual media, than to be kept pure and separated for the Lord. They would not know how to deal with different challenges they face in life or how to make the right decisions, because they do not have the wisdom that comes only from God. Their individual lives as well as their relationships are likely to suffer as a result. The general standard of the future church can only get lower if this trend continues.
Perhaps the churches have made a big mistake in luring young people with fun and games rather than with a call to godliness. Instead of presenting the claims of Christ and challenging them to choose Him above all else, many churches have ended up just presenting young people with ‘clean’ entertainment and social gatherings. Of course, this latter kind of offer from the church will have its takers, as we can easily see from observation; but the end result is a form of godliness without its real power. Does the church have nothing to offer those who want a genuine godly life? It is also not difficult to see what kind of leaders the church will be preparing for the future, considering the kind of attraction it is offering to young people!
Certainly we cannot classify all youth activities under the category of fun and games, and there is nothing inherently wrong with fun and games either. But ‘Christian activities’ have a big feel-good factor about them, which can make us, young or old, think that all is well with our souls because we are doing so much for the Lord! But God is more interested in our inner man than in what we do outside. The fruit of the Spirit develops only as a result of a close walk with the Lord, feeding on His word. This is far more valuable than His gifts with which we can become ‘active’ and which can give us a name before people, but which do not really make us dear to the Lord. Jesus is not going to be happy with those who have done great things in His name if they have neglected to be right with Him in their lives (Matt.7:22,23).
Reading and studying the Bible regularly needs discipline and effort. But that is the only way to get to know the Lord and walk closely with Him. It is also the only way we can equip ourselves to discern false teachings, false prophecies and false wonders that are becoming more and more common. Young people have a lot of energy and zeal, they come up with many fresh ideas, and they are capable of accomplishing much. If only their energies were channelled in the paths set out by the word of God, they can preserve themselves and also be a great blessing in Jesus’ name to people around them. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word” (Psa.119:9).