By Roger Waite
The writer is a member of the
This world continues to become increasingly more secular, and as a result, it is becoming harder to keep our youth interested in church and to instill in them a love for God’s truth and his way of life.
I have been in the
Many others—maybe even you—can identify with watching peers drift away doctrinally and morally from the Scriptures. Those young people I grew up with, who would now be in their late twenties, have become a lost generation!
Church Youth Crisis
Matthew tells us that “out of the
abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. I have spent a good deal of time
talking with teenagers in Global, United, and a few other branches of the
Church of God; and when I compare their level of interest—their hearts'
abundance—in talking about God with that of my peers when they were teenagers,
I do fear for our young people today. My peers, in their teenage years, spoke a
fair bit more about spiritual topics than our teenagers do today; and yet most
of my peers are no longer with us. As a result, I fear we may see another lost
generation of young people if we, as the
Malachi 4:5-6 tells us that
before the Day of the Lord, God will send someone like Elijah who will turn the
hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the
fathers. How can this be fulfilled if we cannot keep our young people in
church, and upon reaching around 20 years of age they stop attending because
they lack any interest in it? A good friend of mine in United, when he recently
came up to Brisbane for a weekend, told me that United in Sydney had lost about
eight teenagers—nearly all its young people—in just a few months. They simply
stopped coming to church because they did not have to. I am concerned that this
scenario occurs more often than not in all the various
Why is this happening? What can we, as a church, do to help reverse this trend? When I look at the problem and what can be done to prevent it (which is what I wish to address in this article), I feel that larger organisations like Global and United can do a lot more than they are doing now, and that they don’t comprehend the full scope of the problem.
Parents Must Act
Who is primarily responsible for the spiritual education of our young people? God tells us in Malachi that He seeks godly offspring. In order to develop godly offspring, God commands fathers in Ephesians 6:4 to “bring [their children] up in the training and admonition of the Lord”.
These instructions to parents are also found in Deuteronomy 6:5-9: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” Parents, first of all, must have a deep love for God, along with a desire to share it with others, if their children are to have any real chance of learning similarly. Continuing on, God says, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Things to Teach
These words of God carry a weighty responsibility, and parents can sometimes feel overwhelmed. What things can we parents do to apply these instructions to help our children spiritually? Here are a few ideas.
First, it is vital to the lives of our children to encourage them to build a close friendship with God, and help them do so from an early age. Christianity, when it has made this point in the past, has talked about helping kids build a “relationship” with God. However, the term “relationship” does not mean much to young people unless it is in reference to romance. I much prefer the term “friendship” with God because it is easier for young Christians to grasp.
Our Father, the very King of the Universe, wants to be a close friend to each and every one of our teenagers and kids. We should teach them to talk to God and open up to Him about everything in their life as they would with their best friend, and to teach them to ask God for help with all the little things of life as well as the big things. If we encourage our kids to build a close relationship with God, like one they would have with a best friend, and if they get answers to their prayers about all sorts of big and little things in life, it will give them encouragement to be close to God, walk according to His paths and look forward to going to church.
Next, it’s important to have regular family Bible studies teaching children lessons from the Bible. Given the shallowness I see amongst many churched teenagers, I wonder sometimes what percentage of parents in the split-off groups of the WCG have family Bible studies with their children. Would it be fifty percent? Would it be more or would it be less?
There are many discussable lessons parents can pick up at Christian bookstores that connect God’s word with various subjects and issues that interest teenagers. The Life Application Bible has a fantastic commentary to read in conjunction with various Bible passages, and it is useful for discussing biblical truths because it consistently challenges teens to find practical lessons that can be learned from each reading. You as a parent can discuss these sorts of things with other parents and share ideas about what you each can do to make family Bible studies as exciting as possible and to sell your children on the values of the Bible.
A Passion for Knowledge
One way to help inspire an enthusiastic approach to the Bible is by actively stirring up in your kids a love of learning and reading. There are a lot of Christian parents and kids who do not have much of an academic interest or much concern about discovering knowledge. A passion for acquiring understanding is a precious gift that every parent should try to stimulate in their kids from a young age.
Far too often, watching television and movies has become a substitute for reading and learning about the world around us. This leads to the shallowness that has become a real problem amongst our young people today. I am not advocating an anti-TV or -movie approach; I enjoy both activities from time to time. When they become substitutes for studying about our world, however, then they become a problem.
Motivating children to research the world we live in, through books and other valuable resources, has to be done especially in the first few years of life, as that is when the mind becomes somewhat set in the activities to which it is accustomed. Teaching them this will also have great dividends academically. Studies have shown that a deep love of reading encourages a greater vocabulary and helps students greatly in school. Reading fuels and invigorates the mind far better than television, videos and the like, which, instead, produce a dulling effect.
Be An Example
Another important point is helping to develop in the young people around you a pleasure in living God’s way. In everything you teach your kids spiritually, strive to teach them in such ways that they themselves will want to learn and do the things that you are teaching them, and not just because they feel they have to. Teach them the benefits of walking after God and why your spiritual habits are enjoyable for you. How do you teach them the Sabbath? Do you focus heavily on the benefits of it, so that your kids cannot wait for it to come each week? Or do you emphasize the “don’ts” of the Sabbath more than its blessings? Also, do you make going to church as fun as possible for them or are they bored with it? Help them see the good things about going to church, rejoicing and taking pleasure in your calling.
Young people need to fight against the feeling that pervades the youth of today—that it isn’t cool to talk about God, the Bible, and how Scripture relates to issues facing teens. We should encourage them to be more willing to talk to others (including their peers) about spiritual topics and how they fit right in with the things that interest young people—and to talk about them especially on the Sabbath, as it is holy time.
In 2 Corinthians 13, we are asked to examine whether we are in the faith. Why do you go to church, anyway? Fun and social activities should be parts of it for our young people, but they should not be the most important things. Many young people come along simply because they want to, while others just attend church for personal gratuities—the niceties, the fun activities, the social life and because their friends also attend. Young people should be taught to treasure the things of God.
Parents should also ingrain in their children the importance of an everyday walk with God, not just on the Sabbath. Does your example show, for instance, that you are a cheerful giver, that it is something you love and take great pleasure in? Help them to experience the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from brightening up someone’s day by giving to them. Help them appreciate the abundant life God has provided us through his sacrifice. It is sad to watch people drift away from God and leave Him for the world. People who do this, including teenagers, more often than not do not value the “pearl of great price” that God has offered us.
We have so many things that are precious and priceless from access to the King of the Universe that help us in every aspect of life:
· prayer directly to his throne
· the wisdom of his Word
· the wonderful Feast of Tabernacles most of us thoroughly enjoy every year
· dear friends in the church
· the awesome opportunity to reign with Christ—an abundant, exhilarating life both now and futuristically
This is why it is so important to paint a contrast between knowing God and living in darkness. Share your testimony with your children and explain how your life changed dramatically when you made a commitment to the Lord. Try to drive home that stark contrast as much as you can, because it is hard for churched teens to imagine what it is like to know nothing about God.
Living God’s Way
While I was watching the funeral of Princess Diana, I was very moved by one story the reporters told about her which helps illustrate teaching children the kind of behavior that is important to God. Princess Diana went to great lengths to try and teach her sons what it was like to be underprivileged so they would have compassion for the sick and the poor, and would not take their wealth and good health for granted. On some occasions, she would take one of her sons, late at night, without anyone knowing about it and without any entourage, to a local hospital to meet those who were sick and injured. No doubt these sorts of lessons stuck with her children even after her death.
We need to sell our kids on a lifestyle that is pleasing to God. Do everything you can to help them hold to the true doctrines, which we have had to stand up for, and to adhere to the standards of the Bible as personal convictions, not just preferences that they would abandon under particular circumstances. Diligently teach them the ability to discern right from wrong, and explain to them that they have been given the capacity to do so for themselves (Heb. 5:14).
Lose a Generation, Lose All
If we do not spiritually educate our children, then Satan and this world surely will—with secular and immoral lifestyles and values! The world is exerting an ever-greater pull on our young people than it has on previous generations. It is increasingly moving further from the values of the Bible, and it bombards us and our young people continually through television, movies and other entertainment with immoral culture and values.
In his fascinating book, The Battle for a Generation, Ron Hutchcraft makes this provocative statement: “If Satan can capture one generation, he owns all those that come after”. This bold declaration sheds light on what God says will happen if the Elijah prophecy is not fulfilled—that He will come and strike the earth with a curse (Mal. 4:6).
We want our young people to continue attending church but we should want them to stay for the right reasons:
· because they value a friendship with Jesus Christ as a pearl of great price
· because they want to be in God’s kingdom
· because they love God and know deep down in their hearts that his way is the only way of life that works
To fight the glittery pull of the world and its passing pleasures we must help develop in our young people a joy in living an honorable Christian life and a deep appreciation for the things of God.
Ministers Must Act
Parents bear the greatest responsibility for the spiritual education of the youth, but ministers and other church leaders also bear a responsibility to equip parents with the spiritual knowledge to pass onto their children. They are responsible for encouraging others to have a closer walk with God, and part of that includes spiritually educating young people (Eph. 4:11-15).
Let us now look at practical things that the church leadership can do for our young people.
Back when I was in the Worldwide Church of God, we regularly had Y.O.U. and singles’ Bible studies about once every month or two. These kinds of Bible studies, and even adult Bible studies, are rarities in Church of God groups nowadays. For instance, if we have a dozen teenagers and young singles in one congregation, then that number is sufficient to warrant a combined teenage/singles’ Bible study once every month or two, before or after Sabbath services, if it is possible to hold them that often. Such studies might not look exactly like we have seen them in the past, however.
In the Church of God, the way the flock has been fed is a little reminiscent of a cartoon I saw in church many years ago. The cartoon illustrated children sitting at desks, each with a funnel stuck into his or her head and a teacher walking by, pouring ready-made propaganda into them. In the same way, Sabbath services, adult Bible studies, singles’ and Y.O.U. Bible studies have almost all been one-way, with material coming from teachers and no viable discussion of the material being presented.
I am not advocating a change in the format of Sabbath services, but I see no reason why adult, teenage, or singles’ Bible studies cannot be more two-way and involve interactive discussion amongst the ministers and members, including our young people. I recently purchased a couple of excellent videos by Dr. James Dobson on two fascinating subjects that are very relevant for young Christians. One is named “Love Must Be Tough”, which discusses a certain principle present in many romantic relationships; and the other is entitled “Emotions: Can You Trust Them?” which discusses how the cyclic nature of feelings affects many areas of our life. Both ran for about 45 minutes and were presented to a large audience of young people. Dr. Dobson gave a lecture for the first half of the video and then opened the lecture to questions from the teens for the other half.
I would love to see Bible studies for young people once each month or two based on this format, that focus on subjects they can really relate to, and that show how the Bible has clear relevance to the issues that face them in their everyday lives. Like Dr. Dobson, the leader could give a lecture for half of the study and then open up the second half for questions, or even ask the young people questions to see how much they took in.
The leader could also ask the young people what sorts of topics they would like to discuss in upcoming Bible studies—which is something I would also like to see other speakers do when it comes to sermons and adult Bible studies. It seems that only rarely do speakers ask the brethren which subjects need to be covered in sermons and sermonettes. It is similar to a doctor prescribing treatment to a patient without asking the patient what symptoms he has.
According to ministerial surveys, the top three problems in the Church of God back in my days in the WCG were:
1) marriage problems
2) financial problems
3) relationship problems
I often wonder why we do not have a lot more sermons on marriage, childrearing and relationship skills, which are some of our biggest problems, rather than other types of sermons we hear more often.
A few years back I wrote a book, which I called The Singles Scene, in which I tried to cover some of the issues that concern young people. Some of its topics for teen Bible studies are listed:
· the single’s role within the context of a church, and the current and future opportunities he or she has
· true masculinity and femininity
· loneliness and shyness
· emotions and romance
· how to pick a winner when it comes to marriage
· how to be a winner yourself (that someone else will want to “pick”)
· the difference between love and infatuation
· how to prepare for marriage
· marrying within the faith
· sex and how to turn around sexual problems
· managing your money and preparing for the future
· rock music, movies and the media
· drinking, smoking and drugs
· peer pressure
· time management
· living with other singles
· what singles like and do not like
· the book of Proverbs (which has many verses full of good and interesting information for youth Bible studies)
A lot of young people are apathetic about church and the Bible, and care little for other important issues. It is more difficult for teens to spontaneously begin caring about God if they start out uninterested. Regularly seeing their friends discuss subjects like the ones above from a godly perspective at a Bible study may help provide a spark of interest for them. They need to see that God’s truth is relevant to their lives, that following his Word is fun, and that it is the only way of life that works.
It is good to see organisations like Global [now LCG], United, CEM [Christian Educational Ministries, led by Ron Dart] and the CGI having summer camps like the Summer Educational Program camps that I remember from my days in the WCG. These camps are great for teens because they foster environments where they are able to build friendships with other Christian young people and to enjoy fun activities in harmony with the Scriptures. One thing that I noticed while attending SEP several years ago, though, was that the emphasis tended to be a little too focused on just having fun. Eighty to ninety percent of the camp focused on activities, with a token amount of time used for teaching teenagers about Christian values.
Mr. Larry Salyer [a longtime Church of God minister] gave two excellent sermons on nurturing children in which he explained how his church’s youth camps are very focused not only on providing fun activities for the kids but also on teaching them God’s ways. He mentioned a number of things that their camps do to implement this. For instance, they start the day with everyone meeting together for prayer, followed by a morning motivation where a biblical principle is discussed. Once or twice at camp each brother dorm and its corresponding sister dorm have a dinner which includes a biblical topics discussion much like the topics session at a Spokesman Club. There is also a speech club, which the vast majority of campers enjoy, and interactive Bible discussions with the camp leaders of each dorm, where campers can ask the camp leaders all sorts of Bible questions. Each night finishes with an evening reflection similar to morning motivation. Needless to say, I was very impressed with what the Global Church camps were able to accomplish.
If other groups have camps more like the old SEPs of past, my hope is that they would incorporate some of the great ideas present in Global camps. I hope Global and the other groups can take some of the momentum of its camps and bring it back to the local areas so the kids don’t feel deprived of those kind of interactive spiritual activities until the next time they can get to the camp. I also hope the kind of correlative teenage and singles’ Bible studies I mentioned before can be implemented. Local congregations should sponsor Leadership Clubs wherever possible, the old Spokesmen’s Clubs being an example. These would give people opportunities to discuss biblical topics and give short speeches in a semiformal setting. They would also include service projects to others, either in or out of the congregation. These clubs are natural training and implementation for local evangelism.
Lessons to Apply
We also used to have Y.E.S. and Y.O.U. lessons for our primary school and high school kids in church. From what I have seen of the lessons, they were good at helping young people learn many of the stories in the Bible. They were also excellent at showing teens how the lessons contained in them affected them daily. Still, the lessons were far from perfect, and had a few drawbacks.
I was speaking with one lady at a recent Feast who related how she and had success educating her own children in a family setting, teaching the Bible to them in a practical way—drawing lessons from it rather than emphasizing scripture memory and the like. When the Y.O.U. and Y.E.S. lessons came out, though, the focus was heavily on scripture memory and being tested for it. A few of her kids gradually got turned off by it and at this time no longer attend the Church of God. I think it is very important that the lessons that any group may put together be both fun and practical.
I would like to see Global, United and other branches of the Church of God have these types of lessons for their young people, making them relevant to everyday life. I have been impressed with CEM's youth lessons. The lessons for the younger children are more focused on Bible stories, while the ones for the teenagers focus on relevant subjects that they continuously deal with, and show what the Bible has to say on those subjects.
Finally, I would like to see those in leadership positions be much more diligent in encouraging parents to do their job of spiritually educating their kids. This sort of encouragement from the pulpit is very rarely heard and is part of the reason why many parents are quite negligent in fulfilling this God-given responsibility. If Satan is trying so hard to win the hearts of our children, then ministers should be encouraging parents to try equally as hard to impress on their children the significance of a godly lifestyle.
Sow Wild Oats & Reap Trouble
Some teenagers who, in a small way, realize the importance of being a child of God feel that they have to go out into the world to satisfy a lingering craving for the glitter of the world. They figure they can get it out of their systems and will appreciate God’s calling more when they come back. They think that God will forgive them and be happy when they return more interested in sacrificing everything for the gospel. Now, it is true that God will forgive them, but there is one point they forget – a person reaps what he sows. God will forgive the sins, but consequences will linger, sometimes for the rest of one’s life. God forgave David for his sexual immorality, but the repercussions of his sin impacted the entire course his life took.
If you are a young person in this situation, do you want to have a lot of regrets when you do come back, a lot of things that you wished that you never had done? God says that wisdom cries aloud in the streets (Prov. 1:20); simply look around you. You do not need to go through it yourself. Observe the results of the tragic lives of those who did not know the difference between right and wrong, who did not have the wisdom to make the right decisions when they were young and who did not have the courage to say no.
An Exciting Calling
God has called us to be rulers and teachers (Rev. 5:10) when Christ comes back to straighten this world out. Jesus says, “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6). It is an incredible privilege to think that each Christian has the awesome opportunity to be a part of the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. God promises to found a new age where the millions in the third world will no longer suffer, where there will be no more greed, crime and violence. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
I believe we will have the opportunity with God’s power to clean up this planet and rebuild cities into beautiful masterpieces, where beauty will be the order of the day and where everyone will live in peace and prosperity, and will truly be one big, happy family. How exhilarating to think that God will give us the opportunity to create that wonderful world tomorrow for which it yearns so desperately. “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22-3).
That’s where it’s at! Think about it, young people! You are one person out of very few people on this planet who has accepted the calling of that totally awesome opportunity! And to those who overcome, God promises rulership over cities (Luke 19:17)—maybe even galaxies!
Do you want to be a part of it? Do you want to be able to live forever in a universe without suffering and pain? It is all there for the taking, but you can only have it by overcoming through Jesus Christ and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which gives us strength to be in the world but not of it!
Final Word of Encouragement
We need to help our kids cherish these things—to be thrilled when a chance arises for them to talk about all the interesting things we read in the Bible. Help make the Word of God come alive to them, and make it practical! Teach your kids to have vision to think about the abundant life in Christ now and what we will be able to do in his Kingdom. We must show them—and, by extension, the rest of the world—that it is an incredible, meaningful life that follows hard after God. Therefore, the instructions given to parents about raising their children in the training and admonition of the Lord are not suggestions—they are imperatives! Even so, they are not impossible. God has given us valuable resources, such as the body of Christ and the Holy Spirit, to enable us to accomplish this critical work.
So continue, by the grace of God, and in his power and might, to encourage others to step up to this high calling. It is vital that parents do this as effectively as possible, and that the ministry does everything it can to help fulfill the Elijah prophecy, supporting parents in this critical endeavor, if we hope to prevent another lost generation of the Church of God!