by Audrey Baker
Member of Mt. Airy church of Christ
Have you noticed occasions when young people leave the church? The loss of even one young person to the world is spiritually devastating. An article published by Lifeway Research in 2019, claims that ‘Most teenagers drop out of church as young adults.’ Their survey was conducted on protestant church members 20-30 years old, but we have seen this occur in our congregations as well, especially after the young person leaves for college.
When our young people leave the church, they are opting for a life that is not regulated by God’s laws, but by the standards and directions they create or obtain from people who do not respect God’s teachings. The consequence of leaving the church is eternal separation from God (Mt 10:28). As Deuteronomy chapters 4, 5, and 6 state, our God is supreme and provides principles and laws that are ideal for man’s physical, emotional, social, and spiritual wellbeing. God cares. He knows that we, like Peter (Luke 22:56-62), Paul (1Tim 1:12-16), and the woman with the alabaster jar (Lk 7:37-38) struggle with sin. Using these examples, we can reassure our young people that God cares (Matt 6:28), and that nothing can top what God has in store for those who love Him. Reassure them that God can solve their physical, social, and emotional stresses, along with the need to graduate from school and land that job, but we must be obedient and put God above all.
Women in the church can help by encouraging our young people. It may be a tough task, but Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep illustrates his care for one lost person (the sheep), and his willingness to leave even 99 behind as he searches for the lost member (Matt 18:10-14). We should have this same attitude; but to be effective, women should consider a three-pronged approach: (1) forge a bond with the young person based on genuine love and concern, (2) develop an understanding of the challenges the young person grapples with, and (3) provide biblical advice when trouble rears its head. Too often, we are slow to care but quick to chastise. The three-pronged approach can guide us in our interactions with our young people. Let’s investigate how it might work.
Firstly, to forging a bond takes time, attention, and brotherly love. That bond you have with your best friend was not built overnight. You likely spent time and shared joys, sorrows, achievements, regrets. 1Jn 4:7,8 and Rom 12:15 remind us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” God himself, sympathizes with our weaknesses, Heb 4:15. So, let us build those bonds of love (Gal 5:22), compassion and kindness (Col 3:12) with our young people. Sharing your time, stories, thoughts and prayers can go a long way.
Secondly, to develop understanding of the challenges our young people are facing, we must truly listen, be patient, and really understand what they are saying. Keep their information confidential and reassure them that they are not in it alone. We are charged with bearing one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2, Eph 4:2, Col 3:13). Paul said he ‘became as a Jew’ to win the Jews (1Cor 9:20). Consider sharing your own challenges and your methods for tackling sin; and coach them when the opportunity arises. Jesus trained Peter, James, and John for the huge task they had in spreading the gospel. They observed when he prayed, when he taught, when he performed miracles, and how he responded to persecution. It took time, but they learned. Let us strive to better understand and coach our young people in their walk with God.
Finally, when the young person shows signs of leaving the church, we are in a better position to approach them. Whether the problem arises from dating, self-esteem, social pressures, or coping with life, the foundation we have laid based on a bond of friendship and understanding provides an easier pathway into the more serious conversations around sin. They know that we respect and seek the best for them. Approach them by praising their past efforts and accomplishments; then, let them know you are seeing something that causes you concern. If they agree, reassure them that they can overcome their challenge, then warn them in love of the seriousness and consequences of their planned actions. Share stories of biblical characters who grappled with the problem and overcame. Psalm 1 and Prov 29:24-27 warn against following the council of the world; and 2Cor 6:14-16 and Amos 3:3 advise against being yolked or bonded to unbelievers. Further, remind them that making wise choices is important. Mention Joshua’s conviction (Joshua 24:14,15) to serve God; Paul’s conviction (Rom 8:38,39) to never let hardships separate him from God; and Ruth’s resolve to align with Naomi and God’s people, rather than choosing a heathen life in Moab (Ruth 1:16). When they accept your coaching, help them through the stages of regret, contrition, sorrow, repentance, acceptance, conviction, and transformation (Rom 12:2, 1Jn 1:7). Do not forget to pray for them often. Your support will go far.
In the church we strive to love each other as God demands (1Jn 4:7,8, Matt 22:35-40). As we seek to help our young people, let us begin now by developing that strong bond and seeking to truly understand them. After this foundation is established, we will be better equipped to council them when they are about to pursue unwise decisions. God had a special purpose for Ruth, Sapphira, and Esther. He may also have a special purpose for the young person you help. In that way, the help you offer to them could be priceless.