The Herald Weekly Vol XV : 30

Will Our Sons Remain in the Church?

The late Rev. Dan Ebert III published a book. The title of the book asked a very pertinent question – Will Our Sons Defend the Faith? The book was first published in 1975. In the one generation since, many of the concerns that Rev. Ebert highlighted in his book had come to pass. The warnings had not been heeded.

Over forty years later, Bible-believing Christians are asking a new question – one that evidenced a further deterioration of the commitment of the succeeding generations to the historic Christian faith. Today, Christians are asking – not if our sons will defend the faith, but if our sons will remain in the church.

Grim Statistics

If the statistics are anything to go by, the picture is grim; Christian parents and church leaders have to be concerned.

One study shows that one fourth of 18 to 29- year-olds say church demonizes everything outside church, including the music, movies, culture, and technology that define their generation. One-third call church boring. One- fourth say faith is irrelevant and Bible teaching is unclear. One-fifth say God is absent from their church experience. Three in 10 young people feel the church is too exclusive in this pluralistic and multi-cultural age. The same number of youths feel they are forced to choose between their faith and their friends.

In another study conducted in 2015 by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research on the state of theology, researchers asked self-professing Christians to respond to a series of statements related to classic, historic Christian doctrine. In every answer offered related to these theological beliefs, young people between the ages of 18 and 34 consistently held heretical views at a higher percentage than older respondents. In other words, young people who identify themselves as Christians are far more likely to hold views that are not Christian.

One of the earliest studies (1997) done on this subject shows that young people leave the church because they never personally owned their faith.

In 2001, data from the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest denomination in USA) indicates that they are currently losing 70-88% of their youth after their freshman year in college. Seventy percent of teenagers involved in church youth groups stop attending church within two years of their high school graduation.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Family Life Council also reported in 2002 that 88% of the children in evangelical homes leave church at the age of 18.

In Revolution, George Barna writes that if current trends in the belief systems and practices of the younger generation continue, in ten years, church attendance will be half the size it is today.

Josh McDowell, who co-authored The Last Christian Generation, finds that 63% of Christian teenagers do not believe that Jesus is the Son of the one true God; 51% do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead; 68% do not believe that the Holy Spirit is real; and only 33% of church-going youth say that the church will play a part in their lives when they leave home.

Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, says that church-going teenagers are already “lost” in their hearts and minds in elementary, middle and high school, and not in college as many assume (Already Gone).

Pew Research centre, in its 2015 study, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” also noted that the people who say that they do not have or want any religious affiliation are getting younger.

In a separate study, researchers also found that in the 1970s, only about one-third (34%) of Americans who were raised in religiously unaffiliated households were still unaffiliated as adults. By the 1990s, the number has risen to over half (53%) of Americans who were unaffiliated in childhood retained their religious identity in adulthood. Today, about two-thirds (66%) of Americans who report being raised outside a formal religious tradition remain unaffiliated as adults.

USA Today published an article with the headline that reads “Young adults aren’t sticking with church. 70% of surveyed Protestants stopped attending by age 23.” The report also states that seven in ten Protestants between ages of 18 to 30 who regularly attended church (both evangelical and mainline) in high school said they quit going by age 23. The reason they left is they do not see any life transformation taking place. The report says that youths “are looking for a faith that can change them and to be a part of changing the world.”

Closer to Home

There are many more such studies showing similar trends. I inundated you with these studies to impress upon the severity of the situation. Of course, these studies are conducted with youths in America. And while there are no formal studies to back up the contention that our young people are going the same way, my gut feel is that unless Christian parents and church leaders take pro-active steps to train our sons and daughters in the way of God, the likelihood is they will leave the church as well.

The one good ray of hope that comes from these studies is that in a Lifeway Research survey, it is found that those who stayed with or returned to church grew up with both parents committed to the church; pastors whose sermons were relevant and engaging; and church members who invested in their spiritual development.

So, over the next few months, God-willing, we will cover this topic.

Let us begin with Christian parents and church leaders. Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves some soul-searching, heart-wrenching questions.

  • What have we failed to teach our children at home?
  • How have we failed in presenting and living out the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in our church?
  • Have we – Christian parents and church leaders – been faithful and effective in being examples of the faith to our sons and daughters?

Almost every Christian knows some young person who has left the church, or someone who has been affected by a young person leaving the church. As a pastor, these situations come to my attention with alarming frequency. A few years after I started pastoring, I received a letter from a young man whose parents were Christians, attending a Bible-believing church. The letter was titled – “The Story of My Deconversion.”

We are ministering to him (who was then an overseas student), bringing him home for dinner. And we thought he was adapting well, serving in the church, and growing spiritually. But some family matter triggered his departure.

I must confess that I am not an expert in parenting. There are people in our congregation that are far more experienced and do a far better job than I. So, I have to rely on the Word of God. The Scripture must be our guide.

Tell-tale Signs

In my ministry, I have the privilege to grow old with the children in my first pastorate. When I first started, some of them were just months old. Most of them were teenagers (one who is between the ages of eight and twelve) and teenagers. Now most of them are working adults of marriageable age.

And looking back, and considering what the parents had done or not done in their children’s life, there is an unmistakeable co-relation between the parents’ spiritual walk and whether or not their children continue with the local church. There are signs that we see in parents that would more or less determine whether their children would walk away from the faith.

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

That said, we must not overlook the work of the Holy Spirit. Christian parenting is not a formula. Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise. There are godly parents that raise ungodly sons. Samuel and David are proofs. There are ungodly parents that raise godly sons. The reason for this is the spiritual work in a soul is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit.

A man is saved regardless of his family background and upbringing. This is the work of God. It really does not matter where you were born. The truth is that we were all born in sin (Ps. 51:5). We were enemies of God from the day of our birth (Rom. 5:6). Every Christian, including those who were born to and raised by godly parents had at one time in our lives believe and confess our Lord Jesus as our Saviour.

Godly parents are certainly used by God because they are conduits of the Gospel to their own children. That is why Paul says, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy” (1Cor. 7:14). Paul is not saying that the believing spouse would save the unbelieving spouse, or that the believing parent would make the child holy. Paul’s meaning here is that the believing spouse would have a sanctifying influence on the unbelieving spouse, and likewise, the believing parent would have a holy influence over the child. That is a covenant promise of God.

Yet there are godly parents whose children reject God’s truth and depart from the faith. Faithful parents should not be guilt-ridden over the decision made by their wayward children. We simply keep on pleading with God for their salvation. That work is the work of the Holy Spirit alone.

By Rev Isaac Ong
Extract from Calvary B-P Church, Weekly 16 Jul ’17

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