On “Churchy Phrases” Scaring Away Millennials

February 3, 2014

     In Addie Zierman's recent blog, "5 churchy phrases that are scaring off Millennials" she purports to explain why the new generation of adults are leaving the church. She goes on to explain that for many, such as herself, the departure is only a temporary hiatus. In their 30s many are reluctantly returning with families in tow, but not without an attitude. It seems that according to her brief survey of followers on Facebook, they left at 18 because of shallow clichés. Now they want back, but don't want to hear those simplistic catch-phrases anymore. They have been surfing the internet and know better than to have confidence in the Bible and in the God who wrote it. After all, they saw it on the internet--it must be true. For those who are curious, here is the list. "The Bible clearly says…" "God will never give you more than you can handle…" "Love on" (as in, "as youth leaders, we're just here to love on those kids.") Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as "Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding." "God is in control…has a plan…works in mysterious ways."

     Okay, I grant that these words often precede truly vacuous comments/sermons. I agree that often they are voiced when someone finds themselves in a situation (such as with a grieving parent) where they just don't know what to say and don't know that all the person needs is presence and a tender touch. But, really now…is this the best they can come up with? How shallow is their Christianity that they can abandon God's church--the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, because they hear too many clichés?

     Living beyond three score and ten years may give some advantage here, but it seems to me that these "stats" Addie cites have been around at least as long as I have been alive. I recall the same statistics cited in the 60s bemoaning that young people were leaving the church about the time they went off to college and didn't reconnect until they were married and realized that the church they had been neglecting while they were prioritizing career, relationships, marriage, and children, may just be important once again to establish healthy friendships and to teach Christian truth and values to their children.    

     I know she doesn't want to hear this, especially from an old guy, but a young person's cliché may just be an old saint's short-hand for a worldview perspective that has worked like a road sign to guide them through many a stormy night for longer than Millennials have been alive.

     She complains, "the Bible clearly says…" sounds too assertive to the internet-savvy post-adolescent who has downloaded the shared ignorance pervasive in his world. I was reading the recent interview with the renowned NT scholar, Dale C. Allison concerning the current internet driven rash of Jesus mythicism. Recent skeptics are claiming that a case can be made for the notion that Jesus never really existed. He was created as a sort of midrash on OT narratives. Allison's response was (to paraphrase)," Move on--nothing to see here. The issue is a century old. We studied this in Grad School. It was debated and debunked by scholars a hundred years ago." Before the internet, there were scholars who screened material that was published as serious scholarship. Now, all one needs is a computer, a fertile imagination, and a blank slate. Maybe if we would read the Bible more we might actually discover what it does say. And if we would be considered "scholars," perhaps we should read a few real scholars before we imagine that we belong to the guild.

     Addie scoffs at the saying, "God will never give you more than you can handle." Most people don’t seem to know that it didn't come from the Bible. Perhaps, but 1 Corinthians 10:13 is in the Bible and Deuteronomy 31:8 is in the Bible, and yes, life is more complicated than what this catch-phrase may suggest. Maybe God's purpose is to "break" us. But when a believer is unable to see their way, sometimes the only thing they have is the promise of God's presence and protection. So if the misappropriation of the phrase is problematic, the denial that it is based on biblical truth is equally problematic. 

     I agree that some of the clichés cited can be a bit hollow and maybe even sound a little creepy. So change them! We don't love the people to whom we minister as "objects," but as "subjects." We are agents of God's love. With that we all agree, but to complain about how we "say" this is shallow and immature in the extreme. 

     On that note I wish to make one more comment/observation. A few years ago, The Lighthouse Community Center was formed as two people opened an empty building in the inner city in order to (if you please) "love on" anyone who came through the doors. People who came were lost, they were hungry, and they were homeless. Many suffer from mental illnesses and addictions that have brought them to their present state. We just loved them in concrete ways. We fed them. We clothed them. We sat with them and treated them with human dignity. Some are "believers," and some are "back-sliders." Some are "unbelievers." How else can you say this? We preached the gospel, "using words when necessary." We formed them into a worshipping community. A "church" was born as "believers" began to worship and serve the God they have just come to know and experience in a new way. They know from experience what the consequences of sin are. They already know the sulfuric smell of hell. When they discover the new life in Christ they begin to develop a new mind through daily reading of the Bible, prayer, and in communion with one another. They are not so sophisticated and nuanced in their new faith to be anything but filled with exuberance and joy. The thought of complaining about such silliness as annoying clichés doesn't cross their minds. They are thrilled that despite their situation, God is with them and will never forsake them.

     If Millennials have enjoyed the luxury of surviving a decade and a half of neglecting the church and now they want to re-engage I suggest they take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror. If the church has suffered it isn't always because of those that stayed. Maybe it's because of those who left. If all they want to complain about are the clichés, maybe they should sit behind a dumpster and talk with some of our parishioners. Maybe they should try to get beyond the smell and "love on" people they have never looked in the eye. 

     The new wave of emerging Millennial adults will bring a refreshing change in our churches as they put away childish things and take on the mantle of leadership for the next generation. I promise you that they will create their own clichés at which their children will balk. Paul's words are timely: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:11-13).

 

- Dan Mitchell, PhD

Professor of Theological Studies

Contemporary Evangelism

January 27, 2014

            Regarding contemporary evangelism, I concur with Dr. Kennedy Adarkwa that the idea of proclaiming the Gospel has become less and less popular in the US. As one considers this trend, we should avoid any type of reasoning that would lead us to think that our contemporaries feel inadequate to proclaim the Gospel, and therefore, proclamation is down.

 

            This anti-evangelical trend has its roots in Satan’s advance in His war against God. Whenever local churches allow Satan and his angels to shape our contemporary culture, Satan takes advantage of the circumstances and develops further his anti-Creator milieu. It is time to wake up from our slumber and start fighting for the lost. If we have not noticed, most churches in the US have become very similar to the Laodicean church as described by Jesus Himself (Rev 3:14-22).

 

            Over the years, this anti-evangelistic trend has become more and more apparent. In many cases, our churches are becoming country clubs that our youth find inept and avoid as they become adults. I believe that the root of the problem is a salvation issue for many. Without a genuine conversion, without being born again, there is no new or renewed creation (2 Cor 5:17), and therefore, there is no genuine concern for the lost. Consider my thoughts from an excerpt taken from Experiencing Jesus’ Joy:

 

Jesus said that only those who had a desire to do the will of the Father would come to know Him (John 7:17; 8:39–47; cf. Matt 25:31–46; Rom 2:13). He also said that there would be some who called Him “lord” who would not be with Him in Heaven because they had not done the Father’s will (Matt 7:21). If someone wants to know God, he or she must be willing to follow His lead. God does not weigh people’s good and bad activities throughout their lives to see if they have done enough good to enter Heaven. Perfection is required and no one other than Christ has lived a perfect life. In reality, God only accepts people into His eternal family who are willing to allow Him to shape them into Jesus Christ’s moral image and obediently follow Him. There is no place in God’s eternal holy family for lukewarm followers of Christ (Rev 3:16). God requires commitment with corresponding action! (p. 151)

 

            In reality, people change when they truly start following Jesus: they want to see the lost saved:

As people consider God, His holiness, and His great love for all, “I am reminded that we all need Jesus as both lord and savior in every aspect of our lives. I know that God will lead all who listen to Him out of an unfulfilled life into one filled with inner peace, joy, and great expectation. In addition, I know that as individuals start listening to God, their lives change for the better immediately and forever. Within a relatively short period of time, their family and friends will be blessed right along with them. There is no greater gift for a parent, spouse, or child than for a loved one to start following Jesus.  . . .  There is nothing more important that any of us can do than to witness about God and His glorious nature to those who are living out their lives on that wide road leading to destruction.” (p. 147)

 

            As we consider this anti-evangelical trend, there is a second key to this alarming trend: many in our local churches think that they are saved yet exhibit none of the attributes of a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:26-33). Can a person really be saved and not be a follower of Jesus? I do not think so. Consider this from Experiencing Jesus’ Joy:

 

If we would be honest with one another, most of us would admit that we want things our way and want everything to be as easy as possible. From what I see from God’s Word, it takes commitment and effort in order for anything to advance, whether good or evil. From the side of evil, Scripture is clear that Satan has been and will continue to work hard to overthrow God and His children until he is permanently confined in Hell after Christ’s thousand year reign. He will not win, but he is putting as much effort into bringing as many of God’s children with him as possible. . . . If all advancement takes commitment and effort, why do so many think that God, who is fighting on our behalf, wants His children to sit on the sidelines and do nothing? Everything in Scripture teaches that God’s children are to be fully involved in living holy lives and allowing God to lead them in righteous works overcoming evil with good. Yet there are many people who claim to be Christians (Christ-like), who do not live according to God’s holiness nor try to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. These same people will tell you that they are confident that they are going to Heaven when they die. This way of thinking is totally contrary to what God’s Word teaches. . . .  Nowhere in Scripture does God teach that someone can come to Him, pick up a pass into Heaven, ignore the battles going on around them, die physically, and have Jesus escort his or her spirit into Heaven. . . . Satan has sold the world one of His biggest lies since the beginning of the Creation. Many believe that salvation is nothing more than obtaining a pass into heaven for when one dies. This lie causes people to think that they have to wait until they get to Heaven for anything to be better. What a lie! Sanctification, being molded and shaped by God, and good works starts immediately for all who truly start following Jesus (Rom 6:22) (pp. 106-108).

 

- James Joseph, PhD

Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies

Reflection on the State of Evangelism Today

January 16, 2014

            It is doubtless and well documented that the passion for evangelism has waned in the twenty-first century (Bobby Welch, "Revitalization," in The Southern Baptist Texan, December 16, 2013, p. 7. Welch provides growth status of SBTC Churches in 2012). Some of the reasons given for the decline are not new. It is similar to the question that the ultra-Calvinists posed to William Carey when he was getting ready to launch into world missions in the Orient. Some are saying today that God does not need our help in reaching the lost world. This is a lie from the enemy. If God does not need our involvement then, Jesus would not have come to save us in the first place. He would not have invested His life by choosing disciples to pour His life in them and train them to take the gospel to the world (Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1972), 21). The second reason for the decline in evangelism is that evangelism is hard work. If you want to be a good farmer and reap bountiful harvest, you have to work hard (Dave Earley and David wheeler, Evangelism Is . . . (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010), 85-91). Third, there are inconveniences in evangelism and today people do not want anything to occupy their time because they already have too much on their plates. Some say that many people are preoccupied with the pressures of life such as job loss, dysfunctional families, etc. However, this is the reason why people need the gospel. Jesus is the one who can restore the broken family and give rest to a person who is under the pressures of life (Matt. 11:28-30). Fourth, some people have rejected the gospel because of past hurts and bad experiences they had with "Christians." This is where believers have to have empathy, listen to their grievances, and become authentic as we offer our support and help. When we do this, the Holy Spirit will help them to overcome their past hurts and open up to Christ's offer of salvation.

           Evangelism is not telling others how bad you were and how good you have become. It is pointing others to the salvific work of Christ. The Scriptures should become our primary weapon in evangelism. However, a believer can share his testimony if he learns to weave Scripture into the testimony and not draw attention to self. Furthermore, prayer should be the context in which evangelism should be carried out. Evangelism is hard work and I am afraid that we are rearing believers today who are lazy and do not want to toil for the Lord. I believe that is why some pastors have kept evangelism at the back burner of the Church.

          The myth and fallacy that many believers have bought into hook, line, and sinker in evangelism is that we are to leave it for the "professionals" (Will McRaney, Jr., The Art of Personal Evangelism (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2003), 197). I do not blame some of the people who come up with this line of explanation or excuse. Some churches do not preach and teach that every believer is an evangelist and that the Great Commission was not for select elite of the Christian faith. Some Christians do not really believe that when a person dies without Christ, he/she goes to hell. We have allowed secular humanism and moral relativism to invade our lives and churches that we do not consider the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God. Furthermore, we do not believe in the exclusivity and finality of Christ. If we believe in these things then, we would be driven by love and compassion to share the gospel with others as the first century believers did. One thing we need to understand is that evangelism should become our lifestyle. If evangelism is a lifestyle, we can always have a smooth transition to share the gospel with anyone that we encounter in our lives. That means we have to go our way to build relationships with others. Jesus did that and we must emulate His example.

          There is always a temptation in getting involved in the lives of unbelievers. However, Jesus has set up a perfect model for us. For example, when Jesus accepted the invitation of Matthew (tax collector) and went to dine with him, Jesus knew that there would be other tax collectors there. However, He was not tempted to do anything that would soil His reputation and mission. Yes, the Pharisees accused Him of eating with sinners and tax collectors and yet they missed His motive and mission. Therefore, in our efforts to reach the lost with the gospel, we must know who we are and whose we are. We must understand our mission is to point others to Christ, who is the Fountain of life.

          Many believers do not realize that when we engage in evangelism, we are entering the territory or the domain of Satan. Therefore, there is going to be a fierce battle to be fought. We see this in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. When people reject the gospel message, some believers take it personal and become discouraged. They do not realize that there is a spiritual battle raging. That is why we have to pray and go in the name of Christ and in the power and discernment of the Holy Spirit. The "god of this world has blinded the eyes" of some unbelievers. Therefore, we should pray that their spiritual eyes would be opened so that the Word of God can penetrate their heart and mind.

          I would say that in evangelism we do not even have to be "expert" in the Scripture. The Gerasene demoniac who was healed by Jesus did not know the Scriptures. However, he was able to share with others what Jesus has done in his life (Mark 5). Some Christians give excuses for not sharing the gospel because they do not know the Bible thoroughly. Therefore, one does not have to attend a Seminary or have a theological degree to share the gospel. The love for Christ, and people, and compassion for the lost should be our motivation and passion for sharing the "good news." Therefore, let us lay aside every excuse and objection and go in the name of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit to share the good news with those who are yet to know our Lord and Savior, who came to seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10).

 

- Kennedy A. Adarkwa, Ph.D.

Instructor of Practical Studies

Reflections on the Incarnation: Incarnational Ministry (A follow up post to An Empty Christmas)

December 20, 2013

The incarnation of Christ serves as a model for ministry and missions, often called incarnational ministry. The primary biblical passage for this approach is found in John 20:21: “as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” (See also John 17:18.) The following observations are the foundations of incarnational ministry which should characterize our personal ministry as well as that of our churches.

 

First, we should be motivated by love. John 3:16, which you know, clearly spells out that the Father sent the Son out of a motivation of love for the world. Our motives for reaching people should be fundamentally about glorifying God and reflecting His love for others. The desire to see our church grow, personal fulfillment, etc. are all secondary in importance.

 

Second, incarnational ministry takes the initiative to reach people. God the Father sent His Son as the pivotal point in His mission to redeem a lost world.  Throughout the Bible we can see God’s mission of salvation. As co-laborers together with Him (1 Corinthians 3:9), we should be faithful to be on His mission (google Missio Dei). Taking initiative means that we are active as Jesus was to “seek and serve” the lost.

 

We should not be content to sit in a church building, but should actively engage the lost where they are. A phrase that would summarize this characteristic of incarnational ministry is “Go and Tell, not come and hear.” Of course, in practice, we should do both, but too many churches are passive. “The lost know where we are,” is an un-expressed philosophy of ministry in the churches that have forgotten their mission.

 

Third, incarnational ministry is characterized by humility and service. Part I of this article explored how God the Son emptied himself as described in Philippians 2. The direct application of this passage is humility towards one another within the body of Christ (see Philippians 2:1-4). The application of service to the lost is made by Jesus himself in Mark 10:45 “For the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.” Steve Sjogren and others have done a great job alerting churches to the opportunities of “Servant Evangelism.” Meeting needs is a practical way of demonstrating the love of Christ. “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Acts of service put one in contact with lost people and provide the basis for forming relationships.

 

Perhaps the most common single reason unbelievers give about why they do not attend church is that they perceive those in the church as judgmental and “holier than thou.” This perception, while often wrong, does have enough truth to it to warrant a fresh self-examination of the needed attitude of humility.

 

Fourth, incarnational ministry has at its heart faithful obedience. The Son was obedient to the Father, even to the ultimate sacrifice of death on a cross. Maybe the second most common reason unbelievers do not attend church is that “the church is full of hypocrites.” Sometimes I wonder how many church goers are sincerely seeking to be faithful, obedient and setting the right example of following Christ. A verbal testimony of Christ should be backed up with a visual testimony of obedience.

 

Fifth, incarnational ministry means getting on the same wavelength or level as those we are seeking to minister to. Missiologists use the term “identification” for this idea. Christ became a man to get down on our level. Missionaries and ministers will have to cross cultural barriers in order to identify with a different culture. This is most readily apparent in communicating to others in their “heart” language or language they grew up speaking. For missionaries it also means learning the culture and effectively adapting to it, in addition to learning the language.

 

Identification is often difficult because of the extent or degree to which one identifies with the culture. If Christians are too separate, they are viewed as irrelevant, foreign, a sect etc. (such as the Amish).  On the other hand, if there is too much identification, there is a risk of becoming “enmeshed” in syncretism with a loss of biblical authority and obedience to Christ. As Jesus himself prayed in John 17: 16-18, His followers are to be in the world, but not of the world.

 

The apostle Paul expressed the idea of identification in I Corinthians 9:19-22:

 

 “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.”

 

Many years of research have consistently demonstrated that the vast majority of people who become Christians do so because of relationships. To establish a relationship with another person, you have to identify with them. Jesus, as He became incarnate, took the initiative to establish a relationship with us. I hope you will follow His example and take the initiative to establish relationships with those that need to know Him! Merry Christmas!

 

- Stephen Parks, PhD

Instructor of Global Studies

An Empty Christmas

December 5, 2013

The real meaning of Christmas has at its heart, the word “empty.” Let me explain. As Christians, the reason for the season is to celebrate the birth of Christ. The turning point of human history was when the second person of the trinity, God the Son, became a man.  Jesus was born being fully God and fully man. The theological term for this is “incarnation.”

 

One of the clearest passages in all of the New Testament explaining the great mystery of the incarnation is Philippians 2:5-8 (All passages are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted):

 

            Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although

            He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to   be

            grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made

            in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled

            Himself by becoming   obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

 

The King James Version translates v.7 as “made Himself of no reputation” while the NASB uses the word “emptied” to translate the Greek word (ekenosen). This is the literal meaning of the word.

 

This passage raises three important questions. First, of what did Jesus empty himself? It is clear from this passage and others that he did not empty himself of his deity. To this day he remains fully God and fully human (though his humanity now has a resurrected body). The teaching of this passage is that God, the Son, laid aside, emptied, or voluntarily gave up some of his God characteristics as God in order to get down on our level. Some of these characteristics include his omnipresence, his omnipotence, his glory and his omniscience. For example, the child Jesus had to learn like other children (Luke 2:52). As a man on earth, Jesus was dependent on God the Father when doing miracles or manifesting his divine characteristics.

 

To illustrate the point, I used to be a pretty good basketball player. Sometimes when playing with children, I would voluntarily play with one hand behind my back to get down on their level. I still had the full capacity, but chose to limit myself to get down on their level. This is what Jesus did. He voluntarily limited himself to achieve his purposes.

The incarnation of Christ is not an empty story, but a story of emptying. As the hymn, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing puts it: “Veiled in flesh the God-head see, Hail the Incarnate Deity. Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.”

 

This leads to the second important question, “Why did Jesus empty or limit himself by becoming human? Jesus became human to get down on our level. Throughout history, God has revealed himself in various ways, such as dreams, visions, and the prophets. But the ultimate revelation is through the incarnation (See Hebrews 1:1-3). We can personally know God because he revealed himself as a person. The apostle John uses the terminology that we can have fellowship with God because of the incarnation.

 

            What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our

            eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life, and the

            life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the

            eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us, what we have

            seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us;

            and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. I John 1:1-4

 

The writer of the book of Hebrews goes into detail about how Jesus’ incarnation made it possible for Him to be our high priest. Becoming one of us, he became the ultimate high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). The ultimate reason he became a man was to atone for our sin. The book of Hebrews has a lot to say about Jesus being our high priest. Notice especially Hebrews 5:7-9.

           

As the culmination of all the Old Testament sacrificial system, Jesus became a man in order to become the perfect sacrifice, to be a substitute for us (see Hebrews 10:4-14). We can know and have fellowship with God because the barrier of sin has been dealt with through Jesus’ incarnation, perfect life, death, and resurrection. Forgiveness is found in Jesus, the great High Priest.

 

The last important question is, “What does Jesus’ emptying himself mean to those who have trusted Him?”

 

First, trusting Him brings an incredible peace and a clear conscience. Hebrews 10:19-22:

 

            Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood

            of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil,

            that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us

            draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts  sprinkled

            clean from an evil conscience...

 

We can come before God empty handed, not trusting in our abilities, good works, or religious affiliations, but only in Christ.

 

Second, trusting Him produces humility. The application that Paul makes in Philippians 2:2-5 is that we follow the example of Christ emptying himself by treating one another with humility.  Humility and love for others are core values for those who have trusted him.

 

Third, trusting Christ is the fulfillment of the Christmas message. If you focus on the materialism of Christmas, you risk losing your soul. Despite what the advertisers would entice you to believe, the yearning for more and more possessions will only lead to an empty Christmas and life. I hope you don’t have an empty Christmas, but experience the fullness of the Christ who emptied himself for you.

 

- Stephen Parks, PhD

Instructor of Global Studies