I am convinced that in our efforts to control the lives of the younger generation through reducing Christianity to a set of measurable behaviors rather than building it upon the truth of who we are as humans and who Christ is as Lord, we have communicated a form of legalism. Legalism always leads to license because when people tire of the emptiness of legalism, they inevitably turn to license. This can be clearly seen in the fact that too often we have overemphasized the term “relationship” referring to Christianity without emphasizing the Person with whom we have such a relationship. In so doing, we have reduced the “awe” and reverence factor because we have communicated that “Jesus is our homeboy.” Yes, He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, but emphasizing one aspect of His person to the neglect of the rest is heresy. He is also God in the flesh. He is also King of kings and Lord of lords. He is so much more.
Is there any wonder why the younger generations today do not hold to the biblical values that previous generations did? Why should they? Christianity has been reduced, by Christians, too often to legalism which has led to license by de-emphasizing the person and work of Jesus. This has also led to younger generations no longer viewing the Bible as authoritative because they have been taught to “love” and “value relationship” as that is the result of a Christianity which ends in license.
So, how do we turn this tide? How do we fix it? How do we recover? The answer is not as simple as many of us would like. To begin with, we must understand that Christianity and the American nation are not conjoined twins. The state of our nation does not determine, or even affect, the state of our faith.
Second, in our churches, we must stop attempting to mass produce disciples. The illustration has been used that churches are Basic Military Training taking “recruits” and converting them into disciples through their discipleship process. Newsflash: we have been trying that for years. Mass producing doesn’t work. Not only does mass producing not work, we also need to remember that discipleship does not have a start and end date like so many discipleship classes. It is a LIFELONG process. We need to return to a biblical precedent and have older women teach younger women and older men teach younger men. Discipleship best occurs in the context of genuine relationships (real relationships, not the cheapened form of the word).
Third, we must be willing to understand that real ministry is not lived out in books or conferences where the megachurch pastor speaks about what has worked in his context (btw, many of the megachurch pastors who have seen their churches grow exponentially have been blessed by population explosions in their communities). Real ministry is lived out in the churches and communities where God has called us to live and invest. We must spend the time to discover God’s plan and vision for both who and where we are. (Before any of my overly zealous reformed brethren accuse me speaking where God has not spoken or claiming a special revelation from God, let me say that never will that plan contradict the Word of God. Let me also say, however, that our reformed brethren are not the only ones with direct access to the Lord…hmmm, isn’t that one of the reasons they became “reformed”?….anyway, to limit God to a box that is smaller than the totality of Scripture is JUST as heretical as speaking where He has not or claiming special revelation).
Fourth, we must go to work and realize that this will not be an overnight fix. The current generation did not get here overnight, and we are remiss if we think that one conference, one debate, one revival, one event, or one crusade will reverse things. This can be tough to accept in our instant gratification culture.
Fifth, we must reevaluate what defines biblical preaching. It is my opinion that too often we have championed a return to biblical preaching without an accurate understanding of the definition of such. To be sure, it IS the faithful exposition and proclamation of Scripture, but it is more. It is also the faithful application of that Scripture. Let’s be honest. Few people in the current generation care about “Thus saith the Lord,” until they know why it is important that He said such or how to apply what He has said in a meaningful way to their life. Has our culture under-emphasized the community and ecclesiastical aspect of God’s work? Of course, but we will not change that without beginning where people are, and they are living in an extremely individualistic culture. We used to say that, “explanation without application leads to frustration.” Now, a more accurate depiction would be, “explanation without application leads to abdication and vacation.” They simply abdicate or vacate the faith and their view of both God and His Word.
Finally, as we reevaluate how we teach, preach, and structure our discipleship efforts, we must also be willing to answer the questions that are being asked. It’s great that we teach the answers to Bible trivia questions, but since this generation is not asking those questions, should that be our focus? When this generation hears Christians speak regarding a current social issue, they often automatically ignore the Christian because they view the Christian perspective as irrelevant. How would their view change if we presented the why behind the Christian perspective? Not simply that the issue at hand goes against the Bible (yes, that is reason enough, but without a worldview that sees the Bible as authoritative, this generation needs more), but why that issue is spoken of as it is in the Bible. What are the overall reasons the Bible speaks on the issue as it does? Too often, I am afraid, the reason we do not speak accordingly is because either we don’t know or we are too lazy to do the work of studying to be able to properly explain.
Here are the facts: the current generation does not possess the worldview of previous generations; that is partly the fault of the previous generations; the tide can be turned; it will not be overnight; it will require an honest assessment of current church efforts by church leaders; and it WILL require a commitment to work and get our hands dirty in the work of the ministry.
The question remains, “is it worth it to go to all this trouble to attempt to reclaim a culture or generation that has rebelled so drastically against the Lord?” Hmm, Jeremiah thought it was. Moses thought it was when he spoke on behalf of the people before the Lord. Oh, and one other…Jesus thought it was when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all. So, is it worth it? To deny so is to deny the value of the sacrifice Jesus made and declare some people as more worthy than others. Since God is no respecter of persons, however, that simply cannot be the case. So, is it worth it, worth all the effort and work that we must do? The only answer with which we can respond is: ABSOLUTELY!!!