Slowing the Tide of Church Desertion by our Young People
Matthew 13: 24-30
“24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
The church is a mess, full of all sorts of people. Among young adults in the U.S., sociologists are seeing a major shift taking place away from Christianity. Recent studies have brought the trend to light. Among the findings released in 2009 from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), one stood out. The percentage of Americans claiming “no religion” almost doubled in about two decades, climbing from 8.1 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. The trend wasn’t confined to one region. Those marking “no religion,” called the “Nones,” made up the only group to have grown in every state, from the secular Northeast to the conservative Bible Belt. The Nones were most numerous among the young: a whopping 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds claimed no religion, up from 11 percent in 1990. The study also found that 73 percent of Nones came from religious homes; 66 percent were described by the study as “de-converts.”
Other survey results have been grimmer. At the May 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, top political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell presented research from their book “American Grace,” released last month. They reported that “young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate (30 to 40 percent have no religion today, versus 5 to 10 percent a generation ago).”
This begs the question, why? Why are our children disassociating themselves from the church, the institutional, organizational church? Why are our children after being raised in a church, learning the faith, prone to abandon the church once they become adults? I want to offer you three reasons based on our text this morning.
The first is the pluralistic nature of the religious world our children have inherited. The second edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press, 2001) reports the following statistical estimates:
Christianity has become the most universal religion in history with believers today composing a majority of the population in two-thirds of the world’s 238 countries.
Christianity began and ended the century as the world’s biggest religion with 555 million believers or 32.2 percent of world population in 1900 and 1.9 billion or 31 percent as of last year.
Those counted Christians are divided among 33,820 denominations or similar distinct organizations. Some 386 million believers are in independent churches. Apart from the historic Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant branches, Christians counted as belonging to “other” groups have quadrupled since 1970, with huge increases noted among Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.
Islam ranks second worldwide, and during the last century grew from 200 million, or 12.3 percent of population, to 1.2 billion, or 19.6 percent.
Other current totals: Hinduism, 811 million; Buddhism, 360 million; Sikhism, 23 million; and Judaism, 14 million.
In the United States, while there is considerable disagreement over numbers for non-Christian religions, there are 5.6 million Jews, 4.1 million Muslims (a more than fourfold increase in 30 years), 2.4 million Buddhists, and 1 million Hindus. There are 192 million people in U.S. Christian groups.
Our children exist in a world we did not inherit. Immigration and war have caused more and more peoples from the global society to enter into the United States bringing their religion and culture to an America that attempts to be tolerant and non-threatening. Our children have gone to school with these children and have found them to be good people and good citizens. They refrain from evangelizing and telling these peoples, “You must be born again.” Rather they remain silent and learn all they can about other religions and less and less about their own. Lord, have mercy!
The second is the fact that distinguishing Christian morality from the morality of other religious groups is becoming more and more difficult. In plain English, it’s hard to tell a Christian from a non-Christian. People of faith can barely be recognized because those in the church who are not Christian far outnumber and have far more influence than those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Someone remarked I’d rather see a sermon than hear a sermon. Someone else said, “Stop talking I can’t hear you because your life is speaking to me much louder than your words.” People of God our children are simply disgusted with the level of hypocrisy they see in the lives of professed Christians. And why shouldn’t they be? They have no education or inspiration to be able to separate those genuine believers from those within the congregation who have been planted by Satan.
Paul when speaking concerning his detractors remarked in 2 Corinthians 11”14-15, “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.”
Our children need to know that everyone who joins church, attends church, serves in the church is not necessarily a Christian; nor do they necessarily have the Spirit of God dwelling within them. This simple fact will slow the tide of desertion among our children from the church.
Our children do not believe that a Christian can treat someone wrong on Monday – Saturday, then come to church and praise God on Sunday morning. Our children are yearning to see the true people of God and so we hear songs today such as, “Break Every Chain with words like, “There’s an Army rising Up!”
The third is the fact that Christian’s doctrines and the doctrines of other religions are comparable and often the same as that of other religions. In other words, our children have found non-Christian religions to have just as valid theological foundations as that of Christianity. The influence of Islam and Judaism have increased among our youth because of the dynamic of the Abrahamic Covenant that God made with both Isaac and Ishmael. And beloved when you compare doctrines, you will discover most religious have similar doctrines that produce good people; that is indisputable. However, you will not discover any other religion other than that taught by the organized church which proclaims ‘salvation by faith in the Jesus Christ alone.’ Only the church does that; and we need to do it more because we are the keepers of the gospel. Hallelujah!
So then, with these three reasons stacked against the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, what should our response be to our children who live in such a pluralistic society? I believe our response should mirror that of Jesus. The words of Jesus form a didactic model for stemming the tide of desertion by our children. Let me read Matthew 13: 24-30 again:
24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Jesus views the organizational church as a garden filled with those who have responded to the word of God and accepted God’s will for their lives. The organizational church also has an antagonist, the devil who also compels people to join the organizational church. These respondents are not born again believers but agents/children of the devil who infiltrate the church by disguising themselves as children of God.
What is the difference between the believer and the antagonist or child of the devil? The answer is, the mindset of the believer and the mindset of the antagonist. You will recall that Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
In other words, the believers are those whose sole purpose in the church is to usher in the kingdom of God on earth. Their minds, hearts, souls, and bodies have been renewed, reborn, regenerated to conform to the Word of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
The antagonists on the other hand do not come through faith in Jesus Christ. They come to help the church not serve the Lord. They come believing that who they are and what they have to offer validates them and alleviates their need of repentance. They come as weeds in a garden of beautiful flowers. Their mission is to choke the effectiveness of the organizational church by producing church hurt to God’s sheep and by disrupting the programs and activities God’s people wish to achieve as they seek to win souls for Jesus Christ.
This is the context within which our children have been raised. They have seen both groups operate and they are confused about how a person can profess Christ but exhibit no loyalty or fidelity to the life of Christ or the tenants of the church. Our children have grown up watching these two types of people operate in our church and they ask within their hearts, why? I don’t believe they have heard an answer, but I labor to give them one this morning. Hallelujah!
God expects His Church to do three things: Preach the Word, Evangelize the Lost, and Disciple the Converted. If the church remains faithful to these three tasks, God will reach those whom God has known from the beginning of time and bring them through our efforts into God’s Kingdom by faith in Jesus Christ.
Move 3 (Conclusion)
So then, what is God’s response to our children’s dilemma? Jesus commands his disciples to take a risk. How our children feel notwithstanding, Jesus says, don’t you make any differentiation other than what the gospel declares? Jesus says, let both grow within the institutional church together, both protagonist and antagonist, both believer and non-believer. Jesus says risk people leaving the church and joining other religions rather than try to correct the situation. Listen to Jesus’ solution again in verses 28b-30, “The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
If you’re a flower, be a flower. If you’re a weed, be a weed. If you’re a believer, keep on believing. For one day, harvest is coming. One day God will return to let the world know who belongs to him and who does not. For in 2 Timothy 2:19, I hear Paul declare, “19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.”
Jesus is saying that God trusts his Word to draw those who are called to repentance into a relationship with Him and His Church that can’t be overthrown by the enemy, the devil. God takes a risk on the gospel story and says the harvest is coming and when harvest comes, God will separate the believer from the unbeliever. God invested Jesus into the building of the organizational church. Did not our Lord say, “If I, if I be lifted up, I’ll draw all men unto me.” Did not our Lord declare, “Upon this rock I build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Did not the word declare “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he shall not depart from it.” Yes, God said, and God though God is taking a risk with our children, God believes in our children to hear his voice.
Amid all the options the world offers, God trusts our children to hear his voice. God trusts our children to return back to the church and to serve God in the beauty of holiness. Jesus says the time is coming when God will rapture the church both visible and invisible, seen and unseen out of a world that pretends and offends. God will have the last word and God will redeem our children from destruction.