“Sweet 16 is not a sweet spot for churches. It’s the age teens typically drop out,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, which found the turning point in a study of church dropouts. “A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza. They’re not even coming for the pizza anymore. They say, ‘We don’t see the church as relevant, as meeting our needs or where we need to be today.’ “
In his book The Courage to Be Protestant, David Wells writes: “The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.
“And the further irony,” he adds, “is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.”
If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.
I’ll comment on the loss of teens in a future post.
I would prefer not to start the week with a rant, but this one has been stewing in me for some time, and unless I get it out, it will only nag at me further.
Please read this post today, even if you’re not up for an in-your-face message. And while much of this is aimed at charismatics, it applies to everyone. Because it’s not just charismatics who are missing the point.
I write this today because my heart is just sick with the way we are presenting the Gospel to the lost. I’m writing because our teens are not getting the proper indoctrination into the Faith. I’m writing because I am tired of fellow charismatics who treat the Holy Spirit like a cudgel. I’m writing because a lot of people who “asked Jesus into their heart” are going to hell.
The pastor of my former church linked from Facebook to the following video:
This video, as labeled, purports to show healing revival going on at Disneyland. A group of Christians wanted to pray for strangers at the park. My response: Great! Go for it!
But then the uh-ohs start. You can find one between 40-50 seconds in. Another comes at 4:07-4:20.
There’s a move in some charismatic churches into what has been deemed “power evangelism.” For those not familiar with the term, it involves using the charismata to evangelize people. This includes healing encounters and speaking words of knowledge and prophecy to the lost.
I want to state upfront that I believe power evangelism can be a remarkable tool to lead people to Christ.
But there’s a big “IF” attached to that statement. And part of that if shows at the 4:07 mark.
Power evangelism works if power encounters with the Holy Spirit are immediately followed with the truth of God’s word, the presentation of the Gospel, repentance, and a completely changed life. In that way, people who have genuine power encounters with the Holy Spirit are not just affected by the power encounter, but by the reality of who Jesus is as presented in the Gospel.
When I hear people claiming to be born again because they asked Jesus into their heart, it riles me. Not because Jesus doesn’t dwell in the believer, but because the whole idea of asking Jesus into one’s heart has no biblical basis for salvation.
Paul Washer provides an eloquent counter to this unbiblical concept. I encourage you heartily to watch the whole video. It’s worth it:
Entire churches are dedicated to equipping their youth for power evangelism (such as this well-known example). And while on the surface that sounds awesome, I have enormous reservations.
My key reservation is the same concern shared by Paul Washer: We evangelicals and charismatics no longer understand what the Gospel is. And we don’t understand it because the people who are supposed to be transmitting the truth of the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ have fallen down on the job, distracted by prosperity teachings, comfort, the American Dream, fun, entertainment, self-help, and even, sad to say, power encounters with the Holy Spirit (the why of which I’ll explain later on).
I think it would be safe to say that the average teen in a charismatic church who may be receiving encouragement to do power evangelism can’t articulate what the real Gospel is. In fact, knowing what I know of youth ministry today, I doubt that most teens in evangelical or charismatic churches could lay out a basic plan of salvation with a half dozen Bible verses in support.
And that’s a crime.
Say a youth group decides to go out and do prophetic prayer ministry at a mall filled with lost people. A few scenarios exist:
1. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person blows them off and walks away. Result: That person may stay lost because they have not heard the Gospel.
2. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person listens, is touched by the prayer, but walks away. Result: That person may stay lost because they have not heard the Gospel.
3. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person listens, is touched, and asks what next to do. Person is told to ask Jesus into his/her heart. Result: That person may stay lost because they have not heard the Gospel.
4. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person listens, is touched, and asks what next to do. Person is told to ask Jesus into his/her heart. That person manages to retain enough interest in the experience to look into it further and, hopefully, stumbles across someone someday who actually explains the real Gospel to them. Result: That person may truly get saved and develop a love relationship with Jesus.
Numbers 1 through 3 are a complete loss, in my opinion, while 4 is the equivalent of fumbling the football and hoping your side recovers the loose pigskin—except in this gridiron classic, there’s not just one team playing against you, but hundreds, if not thousands.
Chances are, these mallwalkers who do bite may taste the fruits of heaven, end up calling themselves Christians, and fall into that netherworld of religiosity dominated by what I call “antiwitnesses.”
Too cynical? Well, I’m not done yet…
If the teens on this prophetic outreach can’t articulate the Gospel, can we be sure they even know what it is? And if they don’t know what it is, then are they truly saved themselves? And if all this is in question, what spirit is driving their power evangelism? Yikes!
(If you think I’m just charismatic bashing, then you’ll have to argue with well-known charismatics Andrew Strom and Derek Prince on these same issues. And for evangelicals, see “10 Reasons to Not Ask Jesus into Your Heart.”)
Those heartwrenching numbers exist solely because we in the Church today are not instructing our young people in the faith. They don’t know the Gospel. If they did, they wouldn’t be falling away in droves.
Instead, we teach kids who may not know the Gospel how to do power evangelism. Then they go around trumpeting how they’re going to “whack people up with the Holy Spirit.”
Frankly, I’d like to “whack up” whatever heretical “teacher” ever taught someone to talk about the blessed Holy Spirit in such a crass, demeaning way. Godless people speak that way about the members of the Trinity, not those who are indwelt by the genuine Holy Spirit. And for another thing, the Holy Spirit exists to relentlessly point to Jesus, not to Himself. Again, if we don’t know that, we don’t know the Gospel.
Are you mad yet at the foolishness that passes for discipleship and ministry today?
You don’t give a howitzer to a baby, no matter how much they may scream for it. The early Church did not let people go off spiritually half-cocked like we do today. Maturity was lauded and immaturity criticized.
We MUST instruct the immature in the basics of the faith. Any 13-year-old kid who was raised in a church MUST be able to espouse basic doctrine, including the core of the Gospel, in a coherent way. When I was that age, I had to study my Lutheran catechism for hours, do personal Bible study on basic doctrine, and sit through a one-hour, two-on-one grilling on tough issues of the faith by the pastor and youth worker before I was considered an adult member of the church.
We have GOT to get back to that kind of intensive discipleship or this will be the terminal generation of the Church. God will not forever excuse the kind of educational folly we’re practicing in all too many churches before He takes decisive action.
In a bit of sychronicity, I happened to stumble across a likeminded post over at iMonk’s blog, “Higher Things: A New Model of Youth Ministry.” It reads like a breath of fresh air, even if it’s again the Lutherans doing it right. I’m just glad SOMEONE takes ministry to the next generation seriously. Much more power to ’em.
But as for the rest of us, we’re atrocious at turning our young people into mature Christians. Atrocious. Too many distractions knock us off the core, foundational doctrines.
Power evangelism is incredible when it’s in the hands of people who know the Gospel, can articulate it, and know how to discern good from evil. But that simply is not our young people today.
If we want to undermine the Church in America even more, let’s keep being stupid about discipleship. But God help us then on Judgment Day.