My thoughts on the “The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church”

26 11 2010

You can view the article here on Christianity Today.

The article struck a chord with me, and it’s something I’d like to offer some advice on.

1. Don’t believe everything you read, a lot of Christianity today only applies in America. Make sure you know your own local context.

2. There is no single unifying theory that explains why young people are leaving the Church – their reasons are often varied. We need a multifaceted approach. People who have been swept away by the tide of New Atheist literature need to be approached differently to those who leave because of moral dillemas etc.

3. We must distinguish between who have left the institutional church and the Christian Faith. They are not always the same. Just because someone is fed up with the Church they go to, does not mean they are no longer followers of Jesus. People leave Churches all the time – it’s a distinctly protestant thing to do isn’t it? As lamentable as it is, sometimes it can be the best wake up call to leadership that has run amock. Sometimes leaders need to be dethroned when they have been corrupted by power and abused their post.

4. I would argue that it is a post-modern ideology that is driving the vast majority of this behaviour. It is not so much that people are less spiritual in the 21st century. To say that is to hark back to a modernist enlightenment framework which dismisses any spirituality as superstition. Rather it is the death of the meta-narrative and other sub meta-narratives that have left many in no-mans land. For example as Ken Robinson said about the current Education system. It is built on a particular story that if you worked hard in school you would go to University and get a good job afterwards. But people don’t believe this story because it is no longer as true as it once was. A job after university is not guaranteed – anyone who disagrees needs to speak to my wife who has a Degree, a Masters and a Graduate Diploma, but has been unable to secure full time work for more than a year. There is an urgent task we have as Christians to be telling God’s story to the world. The modernist story has left people morally and spiritually bankrupt. People recognise that we cannot have limitless progress.

5. We need to be faithful improvisors of God’s story in the world. Many cited Church conflict and hypocrisy as reasons for leaving the Church. In many cases it is a fair call. I left a Church for the same reason, but I never abandoned my saviour. As faithful improvisors we seek to model Christ to the world in our current place in history. At this current time and place in history means being united on the essentials of the Christian faith. Infrasulapsarianism or Suprasulapsarianism are not essential doctrines. But Jesus as Lord and the only way to salvation certainly is. We do not need to pretend to be perfect or super Christians. Nor do we need to have final doctrinal position on every issue. We need to encourage fellowship amongst believers, and allow each other room to disagree on non-essentials while maintaining unity on the essentials. The post-modern world may be more willing to listen when we show them the Gospel at work. We must be Christians of the end and the means. The united Church is a sign to the world that we serve a different master.

6. Each Church needs to spend time and resources educating it’s members on how to be Christians of the heart and mind. It is ok to question, doubt and wonder about the world, God and life. The big questions are hard for a reason. They never go away, and telling people they are stupid questions or having trite answers doesn’t cut it. Churches need to step it up in this regard. We are called to give a reason for the hope that is in us. If you are a Church leader make room for people who doubt and have questions. If you need to do more research and study the Bible a bit more that can only be a good thing. Remember that Doubt is not unbelief, it’s faith seeking understanding.

7. Lastly, pray. Pray that God’s kingdom would be on Earth as it is in heaven. Pray that God opens the hearts of those you are trying to reach. Pray that God would give you the patience, grace and humility to meet people where they are at, to come down to their level and bear their burdens with them. And trust. This world is God’s world after all. He has seen more people leave the Church than anyone of us, and it’s nothing new to him. This is HIS world, and one day he will do for us and all creation what he did for Jesus Christ nearly 2000 years ago.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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