At the very end of my 8th grade year in school, I learned an incredible lesson. I learned there are real-life consequences to our actions! As an 8th grader, my priorities were not those of either my parents or my teachers. My priorities were popularity, my social life, and how I could stay ahead in that game. So, other things in my life suffered. Youth group at church was a fine thing; but that was a part of my social life at the time, so it fit in nicely into my plans for 8th grade.
What really suffered that year were my grades. My class work just barely squeaked by, in most cases, or so I thought. At the very end of my 8th grade year, what I discovered was that in one class … I didn’t squeak by. I was a bit shook when I found out that I hadn’t passed my 8th grade math class. Bluntly, I flunked … and I knew what that meant: I would not be allowed to move on to the 9th grade … with my class!
At the time, I really had no idea just how angry my parents were … or how angry my teachers were … or how angry my principal was. (All I’d ever heard since the time I started school was ‘Rom just doesn’t want to apply himself!’ But, I really just thought that was just a line that teachers used with every kid … because I’d heard it so much.) I suffered some of the consequences all summer long, not really knowing what was going to happen when school started in the fall. But, when it did, I found out. I began that year in the principal’s office. I was called in on the first day, told to take a seat, and Mr. Stalkhoff would be in to see me in just a moment. Man, was I nervous!
Folks, I want you to know that it was on that day I learned … THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES TO OUR ACTIONS IN LIFE! As a 15 year old, I got chewed out by that principal like I’d never been chewed out by anyone before … including my parents! I was told in no uncertain terms:
- I was the one responsible for not getting my work done … and for failing my 8th grade math class…
- I was the one responsible—and no one else—for not getting my priorities in life straight—for putting myself at risk of NOT being a part of my class any longer…
- I was the one responsible … for the consequences that were about to come down!
I was told that I had the tools to do the job; I was a gifted student if I chose to be … but I’d made some poor choices!
‘You know what? Today, the Church finds itself in a similar situation! As the Church, God has given us all of the tools we need to do the job, too—to be the Church! We have the gifts … if we so choose to use them! But, we’ve made some poor choices … as the Church (speaking of the mainline Protestant Church). And, now THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES! The consequence is this: We’ve lost a generation (or two) of church-going young people … either because we don’t care about them or about what the Church is supposed to be about—fulfilling ‘The Great Commission,’ or because we are just totally uninformed of what’s going on in the Church today! (That won’t be an excuse after this series!) But, today, we’re paying the price … and we need to figure this thing out … if there’s going to be a Church in the future! Let me explain through some facts you need to know…
In 2008, a book published by a father/son team by the name of Rainer. This book has helped pastors—at least those with their eyes and ears open—to realize just what consequences we’re paying for now, due to past actions of The Church! The name of the book is “Essential Church? Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts.” The book begins, however, by telling the reader just how non-essential The Church has become… Here’s the fact they begin with:
More than two-thirds of young churchgoing adults in America drop out of church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two!
The most pressing question for me was this: WHY DID THEY LEAVE? What Rainer & Rainer did for us was to help us to hear from the ‘drop-outs’ themselves. Here’re the Top Ten Reasons Church Dropouts Stopped Attending Church:
- Simply wanted a break from church.
- Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical.
- Moved to college and stopped attending church.
- Work responsibilities prevented me from attending.
- Moved too far away from the church to continue attending.
- Became too busy though still wanted to attend.
- Didn’t feel connected to the people in my church.
- Disagreed with the church’s stance on political or social issues.
- Chose to spend more time with friends outside the church.
- Was only going to church to please others.
Folks, if you look closely at these responses (even if YOU think they’re lame), you will see a common theme here: These ‘drop-outs’ did not see Church as essential to their lives! There lies the problem; and, the consequence is that the Church as we have known it is currently dying … because our younger generations are just not sticking around! Whether you or I agree with their reasons or not, the fact is this: Church has become a non-essential in their lives!
What does this have to do with us? This is the Church that we’re a part of; this is our future … if nothing changes. Again, a great deal of what we’re experiencing has to do with ‘drop-outs’—those who’ve been raised in the Church or who’ve gone to church for awhile, but then dropped out between the ages of 18-22 years old. What’s happening is kind of like this: How many of you remember Apollo 13? Many of us lived through that, didn’t we? Everyone wanted to treat this flight to the moon as if it was ‘routine.’ Then, the crew of the Apollo 13—with Jim Lovell in command—find themselves in a life-threatening situation, not knowing if they’re going to pull through or not!
Hopefully, you’re getting the idea, by now. Not only does ‘Houston’ have a problem; so does the Protestant Church worldwide—United Methodist and otherwise! For far too long, the Church has been treating the work of the Church as if it’s ‘routine.’ Now, like the controllers in Houston, many are questioning, “How did we get here? This is not supposed to happen!” We have a problem; there’s no doubt about that. For the rest of our time today, I want to share with you what’s really been happening in the Church. Listen to this; then, we’ll unfold today’s scripture and I’ll begin to explain what I mean…
THE PROBLEM IS THAT THE CHURCH HAS NOT BEEN WEARING THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD! In verses 10-13 of Ephesians 6, Paul tells us: “Finally, build up your strength in union with the Lord and by means of his mighty power. 11 Put on all the armor that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks. 12 For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. 13 So put on God’s armor now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground.”
Folks, the problem is that we’ve been negligent… God has given us the tools to use in the work of the Kingdom so that:
- ‘…you will be able to stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks.’
- ‘…you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks.’
- ‘…you will still hold your ground.’
The very difficult truth to hear today is that … we are not holding our ground (and I will show you that as the weeks go on)!In Ephesians 6, Paul details each piece of spiritual armor that Christians are to wear.
- We are to fight for souls…
- We are to battle to win our children for Christ!
- The Church should present a unified front so that we can stand firm against the powers of this world that are coming against the younger generations…
BUT, one of the greatest fears today is that many churches have put their armor in the closet! Or, they’ve placed it in a display case, all buffed up and shiny so they can show it off to the rest of Christendom…
Armor, folks, is not meant to be shiny! Armor is meant to be used in battle! This armor that Paul speaks of … should have dings, scratches, scuffs, and dents in it. It is not our armor! It is the Lord’s armor! And the Lord has promised our churches final victory. So, we should fight in this battle—for the hearts & souls of our younger generations—knowing that we will be the victors! BUT, our churches must cooperate for the sake of the Gospel and winning the next generation for Christ! The problem is … we’re not holding our ground! We’re losing the battle, but it’s not God’s fault! Suffice it to say, today…
THE SOLUTION TO OUR PROBLEM IS THAT THE CHURCH NEEDS TO WEAR THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD … AGAIN! Verses 14-18 shows Paul explaining the armor in detail: “So stand ready, with truth as a belt tight around your waist, with righteousness as your breastplate, 15 and as your shoes the readiness to announce the Good News of peace. 16 At all times carry faith as a shield; for with it you will be able to put out all the burning arrows shot by the Evil One. 17 And accept salvation as a helmet, and the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you. 18 Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people.” We’ve got to learn to use the tools that God has given us, folks, once again … so that the Church as we’ve known it (or better) will have a tomorrow!
Rainer & Rainer says that it’s all about ‘stemming the tide.’ Here’s what they tell us: “We estimate that, on a given Sunday, about 85 million people in America attend a Protestant church. What would the spiritual impact on our nation look like if that number suddenly increased to more than 150 million? … That is the exciting scenario we would witness if our churches could stem the tide [italics mine] of exodus of young adults from our churches….”
So, what are we going to do about all of this? We’re not ‘stemming the tide’ right now, are we? We’re not holding our ground! We need to be a part of a Church that moves from non-essential … to ESSENTIAL once again! (To encourage you a bit, the changes that we’ve made in the past six years have been a start to becoming ESSENTIAL once again. And changes that are planned for the future are being planned for these very same reasons—to become ESSENTIAL as a church! We’re headed in some good directions—some necessary directions.) We’ve got to ‘stem the tide’ and then we have to re-direct our focus… And, all of this will be unfolded in the weeks to come…
Just so you know how my 8th grade math crisis came out … Mr. Stalkhoff—at the end of our conversation together—showed me GRACE like I’d never known it before in my life! He just happened to be the 9th grade algebra teacher, too. Through much deliberation with my parents and other teachers over the summer, he decided to forgive my lack of work in my 8th grade math class … and promote me to the 9th grade (with my class), including his algebra class … and I’d better get it right this time (as he shook his finger)…
Folks, please remember that we’ve got the tools… It’s just a matter of applying ourselves, spiritually speaking. But, if we don’t … there’ll be consequences. And, we’re experiencing them right now… My prayer is that God will give us his Grace, that we might have a second chance to win a couple of generations back… Will you join me in that prayer?
So, if we need to be an ‘essential church,’ how is it that so many today are seen as non-essential? That’s where we’re going next week—the seven sins of dying churches. You’re not going to want to miss this one!