by Stan Mitchell
“I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25, ESV).
There has been a lot said on the internet about young people leaving the church, and why that might be so. Some observations are legitimate. The church needs to find ways to reach young people in ways that are effective; the church cannot simply cling to tradition as if it is God’s word; the church needs to teach discipleship and not merely dogma.
On the other hand, recall that these older members have dedicated a lifetime building the local church. Brick by brick, soul by soul, leader by leader, they have handed down to young people the most valuable organization on earth, Christ’s church. It’s hard to pour a lifetime into the footings and walls of the church and have your efforts dismissed by the untested.
What can the young legitimately ask of his elders? What can the older Christian rightly ask of his younger brethren?
Here is my appeal to older Christians, parents and grandparents: I believe our young people expect authentic Christianity on our part. We cannot fool them indefinitely. If we sit at church and act as if being there is as rewarding as watching paint dry, our children will take note. If worship does not change our lives, sweeten our attitudes and deepen our spirituality, they will notice.
But I am not hearing young people say, “interpret Scripture as liberally as you can,” or “surrender your biblical convictions.” Instead, they say, “When you worship, you should really mean it. It should change your way of life. It should filter into your words and actions.” I think they are looking for leadership, for genuineness, for discipleship. They have a right to expect this.
Here is my appeal to younger Christians, teenagers, college students and young couples: When you observe your older brethren, do not assume that they are doing nothing just because you do not see what they do. They do many things for the Lord’s cause, and they care deeply about the church and the spread of the gospel. How do I know this? Because they have dedicated a lifetime of service to these things!
Young person, when you have dedicated forty or fifty years to serving the Lord, come back and talk to me about what people “ought” and “ought not” to be doing! Learn to appreciate the heritage of deep biblical study in churches of Christ. Older saints are not asking you to lose your zeal or sense of discovery. They are simply asking, “before you make wholesale changes in the congregation we have worked a lifetime to build, please undergo deep Bible study on the issue. Please do not exchange the restoration plea for the shallow slogans of ‘Evangelical Christianity.’
Older Christians are passing the baton on; you receive a precious heritage. Could there be a more precious heritage than a fellowship that speaks where the Bible speaks and is silent where it is silent? The answer to the church’s problems is not to abandon biblical authority for mushy feel-good clichés but with deeper Bible study.
The church should be a place where all of us, whether young or old, should be nourished. The church is worth preserving. Neither government nor charity can do what the church does.
Young people, don’t leave the church; stay and help us build!