AWOL from Church

"Pastor, what can we do about out son?" In a flood of tears, the story came out. This was a couple who had labored hard to raise their children within the Christian faith. But when their oldest son went to university, he cast it all aside. He told his parents he wanted nothing to do with God anymore. It's a heart-wringing story, one that pastors hear all too often. Why do so many young people leave the faith of their fathers and mothers? A team of social scientists decided to find out. They polled several hundred university students and published the results in a recent issue of the Review of Religious Research. The number one reason cited for abandoning the faith was hypocrisy: 38 percent of the students said they saw behavior by church members that contradicted their professed beliefs. Reason number two-cited by 36 percent of the students-was a sense that Christianity was not successful in solving the problems of life. Reason number three-30 percent-was learning things in school that contradicted what they were taught in church. Reason number four was reading books that contradicted their religion. None of these reasons comes as a real surprise, though it's useful for Christian leaders to have hard data. The more important question is, What should our response be to this study? First, it should drive us to our knees before God, to ask Him to show us where our own actions may be discrediting the Gospel. Are we hypocrites? The major reason people become disaffected with the church is that they see people who talk one way and act another. No one is an island, the poet John Donne said. When we fail to live consistently according to our beliefs, our own lives are not all that's affected. We also disgrace the Gospel and dishonor God. Second, are we really teaching our congregations how to apply their faith? People who say the gospel doesn't answer the needs of real life often don't understand how to apply what they believe. Third, what about apologetics? In classrooms, in books, in movies-everywhere Christians hear challenges to their faith raised. Are we giving church members the tools they need to meet those challenges? Are we teaching them reasons for their faith? One interesting finding is that the earlier a person begins to entertain doubts about his faith, the more likely he is to leave the church. Those who begin doubting at age 13 are more likely to reject the faith than those who begin doubting at age 15. That means we need to start teaching apologetics at an early age. Children of 11 and 12 ought to be introduced to the evidence for the historical reliability of the Bible, the evidence against evolution, and the rationale for Christian ethics. Ultimately, of course, each individual is responsible for his or her own response to God. But you and I are just as responsible for presenting the Gospel in an attractive and persuasive manner. After all, what group did Jesus criticize most harshly? The Pharisees-those whose hypocrisy and lack of love drove others away from God.


Chuck Colson


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