Why Do Young People Leave the Faith?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The latest issue of Christianity Today includes an interesting article by Drew Dyck called "The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church." According to the article, "the crisis of people leaving the faith has taken on new gravity.... Young adults today are dropping religion at a greater rate [five to six times] than young adults of yesteryear."

The entire article is an worthwhile read, but I want to draw your attention to a few sections that I found particularly intriguing (my emphases in bold):

A teenage girl goes off to college and starts to party. A young man moves in with his girlfriend. Soon the conflict between belief and behavior becomes unbearable. Tired of dealing with a guilty conscience and unwilling to abandon their sinful lifestyles, they drop their Christian commitment. They may cite intellectual skepticism or disappointments with the church, but these are smokescreens designed to hide the reason. "They change their creed to match their deeds," as my parents would say. I think there's some truth to this—more than most young leavers would care to admit. The Christian life is hard to sustain in the face of so many temptations. Over the past year, I've conducted in-depth interviews with scores of ex-Christians. Only two were honest enough to cite moral compromise as the primary reason for their departures. Many experienced intellectual crises that seemed to conveniently coincide with the adoption of a lifestyle that fell outside the bounds of Christian morality.

Many de-conversions were precipitated by what happened inside rather than outside the church. Even those who adopted materialist worldviews or voguish spiritualities traced their departures back to what happened in church. What pushed them out? Again, the reasons for departing in each case were unique, but I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith. When sociologist Christian Smith and his fellow researchers examined the spiritual lives of American teenagers, they found most teens practicing a religion best called "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism," which casts God as a distant Creator who blesses people who are "good, nice, and fair." Its central goal is to help believers "be happy and feel good about oneself." Where did teenagers learn this faith? Unfortunately, it's one taught, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, at every age level in many churches. It's in the air that many churchgoers breathe, from seeker-friendly worship services to low-commitment small groups. When this naive and coldly utilitarian view of God crashes on the hard rocks of reality, we shouldn't be surprised to see people of any age walk away.

The answer, of course, lies in more than offering another program. Nor should we overestimate the efficacy of slicker services or edgy outreach. Only with prayer and thoughtful engagement will at least some of the current exodus be stemmed. One place to begin is by rethinking how we minister to those from youth to old age. There's nothing wrong with pizza and video games, nor with seeker-sensitive services, nor with low-commitment small groups that introduce people to the Christian faith. But these cannot replace serious programs of discipleship and catechism. The temptation to wander from the faith is not a new one. The apostle Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus to strive to mature every believer, so that "we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph. 4:14). Ultimately we will have to undertake the slow but fruitful work of building relationships with those who have left the faith.


These Inward Trials

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Prayer Answered by Crosses"

I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith and love and every grace,
Might more of His salvation know, and seek more earnestly His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray; and He, I trust, has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way as almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that, in some favoured hour, at once He’d answer my request,
And by His love’s constraining power subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell assault my soul in every part.

Yea, more, with His own hand he seemed intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

"Lord, why is this?" I trembling cried; "Wilt thou pursue this worm to death?"
"This is the way," the Lord replied, "I answer prayer for grace and faith.

"These inward trials I now employ from self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou may’st seek thy all in Me."

- John Newton

The Father disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:10-11)

HT: Desiring God blog

See also: "These Inward Trials," chapter 21 in Knowing God by J. I. Packer


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