This morning, as I curled up in my normal spot on the couch with my Bible on my lap and a cup of coffee in hand, my mind traveled back over our past years of ministry.
We've been "at this" for some time!
For the better part of 30 years, our major ministry involved junior high, high school, and/or college age students...and, we loved every! single! minute!
And, we loved them...every! single! one! These were "OUR KIDS!"
While it was fun to think up new, and somewhat crazy activities, nothing filled us up more than worshipping together and challenging one another from the Word.
Were we perfect shepherds?
As we grew, and matured more in our faith, there are things we'd no doubt go back and change.
But, were our hearts in the right spot?
God met us with these kids, in the midst of journeying through some of their messiest years, and, often, in pretty miraculous ways! Oh, the stories we have tucked away in our hearts!
They were our JOY...and, an added blessing is that for a lot of those years, our kiddos were involved right along with us.
So, as I sat reflecting, a multitude of faces marched across the television screen of my mind...
I paused to smile at some of the good memories.
But, before long, the smile turned down as I looked closer at those faces.
Not down, as in a frown; not down, as in mad; but, down as in sad...disheartened...yes, even broken-hearted. 💔
So many have walked away from the Jesus we taught, and longed for them to meet, build relationship with, and follow intimately.
We're not alone!
Conversations like this occur often with former youth pastors, current pastors, and others in ministry.
We see many drift away, wandering off, for a variety of reasons.
As I've re-connected with a few, here are some responses for the "why:"
❐ They've been wounded by the Church. Sometimes, plain and simple, it's been nothing less than spiritual abuse of a wide variety. There is no excuse for it...this kind of abuse is often much like any other: a means to control, manipulate, and maintain power.
Legalism plays a huge role in this area, as well. Law over love always leads to a less-than-desirable picture of Jesus. Who'd want to follow Him if He's only about perfected performance? But, I love this quote from Martin Luther:
Sometimes, the church just gets this backwards. I don't point fingers. I don't blame. Sometimes in our longing for Jesus-Followers to know the better-way-of-the-gospel, it's easy to confuse the two. We want more for those coming behind. It's not an excuse; but maybe a way of understanding how easy it is to fall into the trap of legalism...
❐ Many who have wandered off know what to believe, but never really grasped why they believe it. As a result, there are no safe places to bring questions, no room is given for doubt (which is a far cry from unbelief, yet often judged as such), and, honestly, not many are really skilled in answering questions and doubts, so they stay silent. We need to give safe space and room to breathe out the questions, while engaging together for the best Biblical response; and, we all need a better education in apologetics.
❐ Along with the above, a similar problem reared its ugly head, as those who've drifted away, tried to match the character of the God-of-the Bible with some of the stories they now read through a different lens (God's character isn't seen as matching His behavior). As I listen to their struggles, I realize that the church has done a poor job of teaching how to study the Bible, how to dig deep for accuracy, apply culture, good hermeneutics... We've relied too much on the pastors, the teachers, the elders, the missionary to do all the teaching... We're drinking milk, and the meat is far from our dinner plates!
❐ I would also add this: Many who have walked away have done so because they do not have a good theology of suffering. For some reason, the perceived notion is that followers of Jesus do not suffer. There is a notion that the Lord protects His own, and those who "trust enough" will be spared difficulty. So, it's no wonder that when the going gets tough, those in the midst of trials and pain get going, as well...but in the wrong direction!
❐ Some have wrestled with the "hard-core moral discipline" of the Bible; and, plain and simple, the ways of the world offered a much more attractive option. The world's ways have always competed with the values, beliefs, and moral codes of Christianity. To live differently (according to Christian principles) makes us "social outcasts"...."fanatics." Frankly, this kind of living is exhausting, especially when you get to college, and come up against a definite agenda being taught (yes, even in Christian universities) against core beliefs taught by the mainstream evangelical church. I've seen this in several areas...it's there, and, again, how to fight the battles of this current age is lacking!
By no means is this an exhaustive list.
Does the church need reforming?
It's made up of sinners, who are in the work of TRANSFORMING to be more like Jesus.
Reform will come as we are all transformed in Him through the Word of Truth.
But wandering away from the gospel Jesus brought us through His death and resurrection (✅) to another gospel is NOT THE ANSWER.
Those who leave Biblical/Historical Christianity, do so because they think they see a better way.
They hear louder voices (believe me THEY ARE LOUD...and MANY).
They like what they hear.
And, so, they deconstruct their faith to grab ahold of something shinier, prettier, more user-friendly, all wrapped in beautiful paper and topped with a palatable bow.
The problem I see is that there isn't a Biblically sound reconstruction.
It's OK to deconstruct as long as the reconstruction truly rests on the Word of the Lord and not the voice of men and women alone.
It is time for Jesus-followers to know what we believe, why we believe it, walk in love, and speak truth often with compassion.
These are my words to live by in 2021.
So, this morning, I closed my couch-time thankful that God is still writing the stories for those who are deconstructing and drifting...I have HOPE for their tomorrow...and that there will one day be a smile back on my face!