The Generation of Young Secular Christians: The Response of Youth Ministry

In a modern youth ministry culture, it’s sometimes hard to talk about difficult controversial topics such as abortion and same-sex relationships (SSR). Political correctness is running amok and many within the church have been affected by its pervasive control on the way we express ourselves. Young churchgoers aren’t immune to the secular influences this culture is rapidly propagating. Today’s generation of young adults are falling victim to secularism at a greater rate than any previous generation in the United States over the last century. Secularism is widely spreading throughout all facets of society, including the Christian church. Sadly, our culture is becoming desensitized to the reality of abortion and SSR, and is oftentimes celebrated (even among certain Christian communities). Does this reality have an implication on young Christians and their future walk with Christ? Absolutely and we should strive to mitigate the negative impacts these influences are having on our young adult Christians.

Many young Christians are looking to forcefully align secular ideas with their Christian worldview because the culture demands a devout affirmation of these ideas by projecting Christians as an intolerant, narrow-minded, bigots if they don’t gleefully embrace secularism. For a young adult, there is an enormous amount of pressure from society to think that the things of this world are better than the things of God. This explains why young Christians compromise their principles to reflect a more secular ideology so that they may better fit in with a culture that largely doesn’t celebrate Christianity.

It’s difficult enough to have a secular society influence young Christians but what about when secular ideas infiltrate the church and weave into the fabric of church cultures undetectably? This is the motive of certain organizations which proclaim to represent Christianity but were designed to infiltrate the church with these earthly ideas and influence Christians to accept and celebrate these ways of secular thinking.

Same-Sex Relationships (SSR)

Gay Christian Matthew Vines wrote the book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships in an attempt to persuade the traditional conservative Christian that SSR has a rightful place in the Christian worldview. Vines seems to be a genuinely nice person, as most people are, but he has allowed his lifestyle to influence his theology rather than his theology to influence his lifestyle. His book is filled with exegetical inaccuracies throughout that are too numerous to list in this blog post. However, I would recommend that you watch a debate between Dr. Michael Brown and Michael Vines on the topic, ‘Can You Be Gay and Christian?’ The debate illustrates the numerous exegetical flaws that are inherent within the nature of Vines’ argument for SSR…

In addition, Vines founded The Reformation Project which,

exists to train Christians to support and affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Through building a deep grassroots movement, we strive to create an environment in which Christian leaders will have the freedom to take the next steps toward affirming and including LGBT people in all aspects of church life.”

The Reformation Project has grown an impressive following of people because of the increasing amount of people, Christian and non-Christian, who are becoming more open to welcoming the idea of SSR. Regardless of how society has grown to accept this behavior, Christians are called to live Godly lives that reject sin. Embracing worldly behaviors does not resemble the life that God has called us to live. The Reformation Project has effectively convinced many people that there is no moral distinction between SSR and traditional relationships, which has directed many young adult Christians towards the acceptance of a lifestyle that was never intended by God.

The world’s standard of morality and that of some liberal Christian organizations (i.e. The Reformation Project) does not compare to the unreachably high moral absolute standard found in God’s nature. However, that is why we embrace our Savior Jesus Christ as our Lord. Given how prevalent the acceptance of SSR has become, grounding our faith in Christ and becoming familiar enough with the scripture to outline why SSR are not embraced by the Word will allow young adults (as well as Christians of any age) to combat the seemingly attractive influences of a growing secular world.

Abortion

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) describes its mission as, “The mission of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is to be the leading religious voice for reproductive justice in the country.” While the RCRC doesn’t claim to represent one particular religion (i.e. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc…), its sole mission is to advocate for the pro-choice position among those who subscribe to faith systems. Since it is operated out of the United States and the United States is presently characterized by a majority of its citizens as being ‘Christians’, this organization would seemingly have a large impact on Christians who are looking to have an organization who religiously affirms their pro-choice leanings.

RCRC provides ‘resources’ to religious leaders and describes their purpose and function of their assistance,

For over four decades, religious leaders have worked to protect choice and to provide compassionate pastoral support to women and families facing difficult circumstances. Our leaders come from many faith traditions, but share the common call of striving for a world where every person and every family has the resources they need to be healthy and whole. This is what reproductive justice means

RCRC contributor Cheryl Anderson wrote that, “Christians usually have not heard the texts that assume a fetus is not a person” and cites Exodus 21:22-25 and Numbers 5:11-31 as such texts. Let’s briefly examine these two scriptures that allegedly support the pro-choice position,

Exodus 21:22-25 –  22 If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. [emphasis mine]

From Anderson’s perspective, she says,

Specifically, Exodus 21:22-25 describes a situation in which a pregnant woman who intervenes in a fight between two men is injured and suffers a miscarriage as a result.  The penalty is just the payment of a fine which would not have been possible if a human life had been taken

A clear reading of the text does not indicate ‘miscarriage’ but rather ‘serious injury’. However, her logic is not grounded to cogent logic either way because the text says that if a serious injury were to have occurred then, “you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” The unborn child is equated as a human life in the phrase, “life for life.”

Next, Anderson cited Numbers 5:11-31 in support of the pro-choice position, which describes a situation under the Old Covenant when a husband suspects his wife has been unfaithful, he would take her to the priest so that the Lord may issue judgment if she had sexual relations with another man. If the wife was impure by committing adultery with a man that was not her husband, “may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

Again, this is a basic misunderstanding of scripture and the Old Testament laws. Harsh laws were written that issued capital punishment for those who committed adultery. This is a specific description of a judgment that God would issue for this particular behavior in this particular circumstance. It does not diminsh the intrinsic value of the fetus as a human life. Anderson made the claim that “many Christians haven’t heard the texts that assume a fetus is not a person” but failed to provide textual support for her claim.

Any organization that supports, affirms, and celebrates unbiblical behavior while hiding behind a Christian (or religious) banner has the power to become an influential force in the life of the young Christian who’s constantly surrounded by the secular world. Secularists are looking at Christians as though we’ve missed the train and wonder why we’re sticking with our old archaic outdated ways. As we’ve seen, RCRC is irresponsibly masking their position with scripture to sound credible to the untutored Christian crowd with the goal of advancing their secular Christian agenda.

How Should We Approach It?

Young adult Christians who attend youth groups are there for a reason. Whether that reason is social or they have a genuine interest in learning about God, the reason is arbitrary to a large degree. As youth leaders, we have an obligation to make the most of the time God has given us regardless of why they’re there. We shouldn’t squander this precious little time that we have to influence them towards a stronger relationship with Christ. By no means should we avoid controversial and challenging topics because these are the topics that they’ll inevitably face as young adults. Not because everyone is gay or everyone will get an abortion but because they need to be confident about what their Christian faith says on these matters. If these secular ideas are beginning to be embraced by the certain churches, it’s only a matter of time before this generation (and following generations) begin to uncritically accept secular ideas without filtering them through a Biblical filter on a much larger scale.

Our young Christians must learn how to critically think about these topics as devout Christi-followers rather than as secular pawns in a godless culture. If the biggest demographic leaving the church is young adults, why would youth ministries shy away from tackling controversial issues that are causally linked to the reasons for why some ultimately leave? Are we too afraid of discussing challenging topics because of how we may be perceived among our youth congregation or their parents? Are these fears intimidating us so far into submission that we can no longer deliver a message that has the capacity to influence young adults towards Christ? These are difficult questions that need to be asked if we are going to diagnose the problem within the church that is potentially prompting young adults to exchange their Biblical worldview for a secular one. We can’t just blame the big bad culture for the shift in Christian ideology (even though it does play a part). We must examine whether or not we were responsible in any way for the shaping of this ‘secular Christian’ movement among modern day young adult Christians.

Personally, I’m not a fan of lofty messages that sound like every other message we’ve heard before on any given Sunday. These are the messages that go in one ear and out the other and generally make very little, if any, meaningful impact on the listeners who we’re trying to influence towards a stronger Christian worldview. Obviously, these two cultural problems addressed above must be treated with delicacy. It’s almost a statistical certainty that at least one individual in the audience has a same-sex orientation and one in the audience who has had an abortion (assuming there is between 50 -100 people in attendance of high school age). This could touch very close to home for some of these kids and they may already be emotionally volatile because of their experience with it. However, what can Christian leaders do when addressing these tough issues among the young adult congregation that will affirm and articulate the Biblical worldview while maintaining the love and compassion of Christ?

There are strong intellectual arguments in favor of the traditional marriage and pro-life positions. In my opinion, these are irrefutable arguments because the cumulative Biblical, philosophical, and scientific case for each position is overpowering. However, we must address not only the intellectual arguments but use our pastoral knowledge to gently walk them through the emotional factors associated with these behaviors. Emotions sometimes override our rationality, particularly for young adults with hormones that are in constant fluctuation. However, we should never sell our young people short. Their capacity for learning and growing is undoubtedly expansive. The question is, do we want them to take their theological cues from the world because we’re too timid to step into potential controversy or from those within the church that are equipped to walk them through these matters? The church must not downplay its role in the life of a young adult by not intellectually challenging the worldview of our culture with grace and love. Young adults need strong Christian leaders to be the models they can trust to ask the hard questions to and the pastor they can rely on to love them when they need it the most.

With that said, does that automatically mean that tough topics are off-limits? Absolutely not. If young adults trust their youth leaders as people and ambassadors for Jesus, they will value their guidance and allow it to influence their personal worldview. SSR and abortions are prevalent not because they are misperceived by society as being ‘moral’ but because of the misperception that society has on those (i.e. Christians) who oppose the celebration of these behaviors as being ‘immoral’. Christians have been demonized for their opposition because society has become convinced that those who oppose the status quo must be ignorant, narrow-minded, bigoted, and intolerant. Our young adults are caving to the peer pressure that constantly surrounds them, which has played a contributing factor in their decision to leave the church after high school.

We must be persuasive yet compassionate, intellectual yet gentle, while being prayerful and studious. Is this a lot to ask of youth ministry? Absolutely but that is what is required of youth ministry in order to combat the influences of this world. Youth ministry should be fun for both the leader and the student but it shouldn’t merely be a social hour. I’m convinced that an apologetic approach to youth ministry is what is largely missing from a majority of youth ministries. Young adults crave answers to all kinds of hard topics associated with their Christian faith. SSR and abortion are highly debated topics that are often neglected because of the controversy that surrounds it. As I’ve said above, we shouldn’t speak against these cultural issues with condemnation in our hearts but with love and intellectual integrity. The truth isn’t always perceived as loving by those who don’t desire to hear it but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t prayerfully say it with the hope that the Holy Spirit will work in them to see the truth.

Conclusion

Let me clear up any confusion for anyone who might think that I’m solely picking on SSR and abortion. We should stand against all sin! I’ve noticed a trend among certain Christians of picking on gay people or people who support abortions. We shouldn’t address these sins in a vacuum and forget that there are other sins that exist. I merely picked two mainstream topics that have created a ton of controversy among society that seem to have garnered an increased support among young adults in recent years. We shouldn’t ignore the fact that these are two sins that have become increasingly celebrated in our culture and they are being used as spiritual weapons to open up many young Christians to the idea of accepting a secular way of life. These are dangerous ideas that many young Christians succumb to accepting. Do we want our young Christians to continue to fall away from Christ because of a slippery slope of accepting ‘harmless’ secular ideas? Compromising our Christian convictions leads to more compromising in other areas of life.

In my opinion, we should be tackling abortion and same-sex relationships from the pulpit. We need to deliver Godly messages that emphasize our strong opposition to these behaviors and clearly and compassionately communicate our reasons as to why. We shouldn’t approach these issues with the ‘Bible says so’ approach without further explanation but construct a persuasive message that has Biblical integrity and can pass the test of scrutiny among those in the audience that may disagree. As leaders, we must understand our faith well enough to comfortably and convincingly speak on these controversial secular topics that inhabit the news media and every day discussions with our friends, family, and peers.

We’ve seen how some organizations attempt to work from inside the Christian community to instill a secular way of thinking into a firmly established worldview that is unambiguously against their position. I’m not saying that we should discard their position before hearing the merits of their case but we should be knowledgeable enough in our Christian worldview to give an informed response that is aligned with a reliable interpretation of scripture. Our young adults cannot give an informed response if we don’t make the effort to teach them! Granted, these topics are delicate but they’re going to be delicate inside or outside of the church. Young adults need Biblical instruction from church leaders of sound mind and a loving heart. Do we place our confidence in the world to guide these young adults down a Godly path or do we take the initiate ourselves and do everything we can to help these young adults to understand these topics from a Christian perspective while emphasizing the importance of being a loving disciple for Christ? If God is for us, who can be against us? It’s not enough anymore to trust that they’ll just ‘be fine’. Without a commitment to Christ and an abundant knowledge of His Word along with the ability to critically think, we cannot expect our young adults to continue a relationship with God while being in a hostile climate. The numbers show our young adults are falling off and it’s our role as leaders to fight the culture to make strong disciples of our young Christians. Let’s not let controversy be an ‘off-limits’ topic any longer.

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