Many who read this post may misunderstand my motives, and that is perfectly fine with me.
What I am absolutely not fine with any longer is being silent, while my whole essence wants to scream, “Wake up!”
Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ – those who hold various positions in their churches and those who just sit on the pews: What are we doing while scores of our young people are leaving our churches?
Unfortunately, I am not being dramatic. Nor am I over exaggerating.
If you are one of those who likes to keep your head in the sand, then I suggest you stop reading right here. (Better avoid those dangerous rises in blood pressure and unpleasant feelings like anger rising in your heart…)
Better yet, you may want to get your head out of the sand by reading this news article: “Slavic Parents Lose Control Of Their Americanizing Kids.”
Or you may want to immerse yourself into reading some of the quite popular blogs, widely read by young followers. Here is one by Yuriy Stasyuk and one by his spouse Inna Stasyuk. (In all sincerity, the suggestion to read their blog posts is for you to at least attempt to understand the complicated reasons why someone may turn their back on faith instead of demonizing them).
I can only pray for these two souls I only know from their blogs. I can also only pray for those I know personally who have left the Christian faith. Sadly, no amount of conversations, debates, or pleading can turn them onto the right path…
What about those who are on the fence? Those who are in a fierce battle now? Will they be lost as well? What about our children that have not yet reached the age of critical thinking?
What is happening?!
Oh, those coveted church positions… “I started this church and I will die as a pastor of this church.” What about being “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children?” (1 Thessalonians 2). Pastor, deacon, preacher, choir director, ministry leader, worship leader, pianist, etc. – doesn’t even realize that he/she is playing politics while desperately holding on to his/her position, and that the game is pretty evident to young people attending their churches. A pastor may get arrested, investigated and tried in a secular court for swindling money or for soliciting a prostitute or insider trading, but the church members resort to crying “Christian persecution” instead of having repentant hearts and asking for forgiveness and mercy. And all of this is done “for the sake of the church.” (Better hide the truth so that those young and weak believers will not stumble). Yet we do not realize that their stumbling and fall will be all the more acute once the truth comes out (and it always does comes out). Meanwhile, our children observe and learn what our faith is all about, instead of what it should be as portrayed by the Gospel…
Sundays are when you put on your best behavior. However, what happens on weekdays? What happens beyond the church doors, when other believers cannot see you? You become enraged at your children. You yell at them. You scream at your wife/husband. You even punch him/her sometimes in your fits of anger. You cheat on your taxes (nothing wrong with not giving the government your hard earned cash and they don’t deserve it anyway). There is nothing wrong with pretending you are disabled and can’t work to get some extra money from the state (after all, you give some of it back to God). And there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking some money out of the church treasury to jump-start your own business (after all, you will definitely return it before anyone finds out). You can sleep with a clean conscience while burning your home to get insurance money, or while forging documents in order to buy houses you can’t really afford. These are just a few examples of hypocrisy, one of the most widely used enemy tactics to sow seeds of doubt into young believers. Unfortunately, it works to do just that…
“If you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'” (Romans 2:19-24)
Slavic pride. One that does not allow us to think about the future of our children in regards to their faith. We care more about “keeping the language” and “keeping our traditions” than about whether our children are getting grounded in the foundations of faith. (I acknowledge that there are churches that have incorporated English-speaking services but many churches in Sacramento, CA remain Russian-speaking only). The more conservative churches also have the issue of arrogance. “We are the purest of all the churches out there. We are the ones on the straight and narrow. Everyone else is on the wide highway to hell.” Do I even have to mention the proverbial “actions speak louder than words?” We completely forget that before we are Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, etc. we are first and foremost children of the living God, united through the precious blood of Jesus… Yes, culture and traditions are important, but not at the expense of our children’s relationship with their Creator. We love to quote apostle Paul from our sermons. Yet even he had something to say in regards to this:
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:4-9)
LACK OF LOVE
Gossiping, backstabbing, more gossiping, more backstabbing… “Godly” women are notorious for these but the men are not far behind… We are experts at dissecting other people’s lives. Instead of following Jesus’ example of love, we have become religious Pharisees, ready to throw a rock at anyone who stumbles and falls. Instead of carrying each other’s burdens, we make ourselves feel better by pronouncing judgment on others, who may have done “worse” sins. And we rejoice upon hearing that news of other believers, (or “enemies” who have crossed us in the past), getting into some kind of trouble. “Must be God’s punishment for what he/she did to me,” we say… Is this the love of Jesus we so love to talk about from the pulpit?
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
DEMANDING OBEDIENCE TO SO-CALLED “GOD RULES” WHILE THEY ARE NOWHERE TO BE FOUND IN THE BIBLE
Dress codes: skirts at all times (length is measured), no makeup, no hair color, no hair products, no jewelry, etc. Do we not see that we set our children up for future questioning of their faith? When they start reading the Bible on their own and do not find these “God-instituted” rules, what do they do? Best case scenario: they reconcile in their minds the fact that the adults were misguided and either take on the same ideology and remain in the same church, or leave to another church. Worst case scenario (and the most common one): they start questioning the motives of the church leaders – “the church leaders use religion to control the masses” thinking.
This category includes various manipulation practices to get young people to repent. The fear of “being left behind” for the tribulation, an end-time period of world-wide calamity the likes of which has never been seen before, is often used by preachers to bring larger numbers of people to the front during the altar calls. (As if God has a record book of who brings how many souls to Him). What about the role of the Holy Spirit? What about focusing on Jesus and His sacrifice, instead of the evil Antichrist?! I personally remember repenting multiple times because I was afraid of being left behind or going to hell after committing a serious sin like wearing pants to school or holding my fiancé’s hand. One believer shared with me how his Sunday school teacher promised the entire Sunday school class candy if they were to come out and repent during an altar call… These methods, no matter how sincere and loving they may be, paint a picture of a different God, one whose plan of salvation is “salvation by works” and one who is not much different from Allah.
“TAKE IT BY FAITH” APPROACH
Young people start to utilize critical thinking sooner or later. Tough questions arise whether welcomed or not. What is the most typical response to those questions? “Take it by faith,” my son/daughter… I can empathize with the fact that most of our church leaders do not have a higher education because they were simply robbed of that opportunity in the former Soviet Union. So when a young person poses a difficult question on science and the Bible, for example, the church leader’s easiest answer is “you just have to take it by faith.” I get it. No leader wants his young flock questioning his authority or his knowledge. Wouldn’t it be better to say, “I honestly do not know the answer to this question. Will you give me some time to research this and pray about this?”
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
DEMONIZING HIGHER EDUCATION
Some aspects of this issue overlap with the issue above and I also dove into this more extensively in a previous post, “I Do Not Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.” Higher education is not the culprit. Great heroes of the Bible like Moses, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah did not waver in their faith despite being fully immersed into the secular (“pagan” if you will) higher education of their time.
While the above list is not exhaustive of all the reasons young people leave the Christian faith, I believe these reasons are serious enough for us to examine ourselves and our own relationship with God…
Could it be that we are looking for reasons why young people leave faith in the wrong places? What if we, the church, are being used by the enemy to plant seeds of doubt into young hearts but remain too proudly blind to see it?
Can we just stop it with our pride?
How long must we keep pretending that everything is just fine and dandy in our esteemed Slavic churches?
(For the record, I know that “other churches” have similar problems. But since I was blessed with a Slavic background – and I do not say this with any hint of sarcasm – I believe I am allowed to write about my own people).
Has the time come to admit that we are all broken people desperately in need of Jesus? Has the time come to stand up and plead for a revival that starts in our own hearts?
Liked this post? Follow this blog to get more.