Posts tagged relevance
My Take on Why Teens Leave Church

Young people are leaving the church in droves and despite our many attempts to keep them, they continue to fall away. Growing up, my church had more than a hundred kids and teens running through its corridors, but today few of them remain in the church. For some time, many concerned Christians have sought to understand the reasons why young people leave the church. I believe that the answer is simple. They leave because they find no relevance in Christianity and most importantly, they have not fallen in love with God.

Christianity lacks relevance for many young people.To them, being a Christian involves nothing more than following senseless rules and participating in church services that are disconnected from their reality. Ask any teen in church about how they perceive Christianity and nine out of ten will most likely describe to you three things: the church service, good behavior, and telling others about Jesus. While none of these things are wrong, in and of themselves they have no relevance. Teens today are faced with multiple obstacles such as drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, self-mutilation, rising divorce rates, promiscuity, homosexuality and abortion among many other things. So the question is, How does the church service empower them to deal with this? What exactly is good behavior? Is it what the Pastor says? Or is it what society accepts? And why tell others about Jesus when our post-modern culture embraces the philosophy that there is no such thing as truth? When Christianity fails to answer these questions and fails to provide direction and practicality to everyday life, teens begin to see it as unessential to life. This sets the stage for disregarding God altogether and embracing the godless culture of the day. “What’s wrong with godless?” They might subconsciously ask, “God was never that important anyways.”

A friend of mine recently told me a story that I believe illustrates this point very well. He had just returned from a mission trip to Malaysia. During the trip he and several other students had preached to the local people. Among the sermons where many interesting topics, but for one student, as interesting as they were, something was missing. In her attempt to express how she felt she asked the question, “What does this have to do with the price of rice?” This question, silly as it may be, underscores the foundational flaw in our Christianity – irrelevance. In order to keep our teens in church we must demonstrate to them that Christianity is applicable to everyday life and that is has the solution to the problems of our lives.

While many teens leave church because they think it is not important, the greatest reason for falling away is that many have simply never fallen in love with God. In the Bible, the apostle John writes, “We love Him because He first loved us.” The idea is simple, Gods love for us awakens in us a love for Him. That love motivates us to have a relationship with Him. However, in the church we often seem more concerned in teaching our young people how to be good church members instead of helping them fall in love with God. For many, upholding the standards of the church is more important than leading young people to experience the love of God. The end result of this model is catastrophic because it fosters a spirit of division between the old and young generations. The old generation assumes the role of “good behavior police” while the young are left to feel incapable of ever living up to the standards imposed on them.

I once knew a pastor who would never speak to the youth. He had no relationship with them whatsoever and the only time he would speak to them was when he was correcting them for dressing inappropriately in church, and in my experience, having hair that was too long. This is a perfect example of trying to force teens in church to look and act like good church members while avoiding relationships with them that help them to experience the love of God.

Without the two foundational principles of relevance and love, young people are set up to fail in the Christian life. As Christians, leading the youth into a love experience with God and demonstrating to them the relevance of Christianity in our world must be our top priorities.

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Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com
The Price of Being Relevant

I have a frustration I want to share. As an Adventist pastor, the number one complaint I get from church members - particularly the millennial and post-millennial generations - is that the church isn't relevant. So as a pastor with a heart for youth, I have a vested interest in nurturing relevance in our churches. But here is what I have come to discover: the price of relevance is always offense. You simply cant be relevant without offending someone. 

So here is the dilemma: When the church is silent on current issues we say shes boring, irrelevant and out of touch. But when she speaks up we say shes too political and should focus on evangelism. Many pastors hesitate to stand up for relevant causes because they don't want to be marginalized by their congregations but in doing so they become irrelevant in the eyes of their youth and society. So its a lose lose it seems. Be quiet and you are irrelevant. Speak up and you are too political. 

My conclusion is this: the price of relevance is offense. You simply cant be relevant without offending someone. And the price of not being offensive is being irrelevant. The more irrelevant you are the less people you will tic off. So I say, lets stand for whats right. Let's not be like the church that stood idly by as the Nazi Reich gained power but like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who took an active stand against them. Let's emulate our pioneers who stood against slavery and alcohol, joined activist organizations like the temperance movement and the abolitionists - both of which were political - and let's do something other than speaking to ourselves and our own SDA patriotism. In other words, though the world hate us for it, lets do something meaningful for once. 

In today's scenario this means standing up for the rights of refugees and immigrants. Whether we agree with Trump or not, the least we can do is reach out to the immigrants and Muslims in our communities and let them know we welcome them and that they matter because regardless of what side of the issue you are on, the truth is a lot of people are hurting right now.
The Problem with Reconstructing Christianity (Bricolage? pt 1)

Several years ago I spoke with a friend who had just spent the night partying and clubbing. He was disappointed in himself and felt that his life was heading in the wrong direction. God, he felt, was calling him to himself, but my friend was headed the other way. With a look of remorse on his face, he told me he didn't want to live the party and booze life but the God-honoring one instead. I was stoked about our conversation until the next day when he got on the phone and spoke to one of his friends. For some strange reason the remorseful "I-want-to-follow-God" person was replaced by the "I had a great time at the club last night" person. At first I was blown away by the change in his story until I remembered that my friend was helplessly addicted to being the center of attention. This internal motivation led him to do and say whatever he could in order to get noticed. If telling a Jesus-follower that he was repenting of his sin got him attention, he would do so. But if telling his secular friends that he was enjoying his sin got him attention he would switch his story. In short, he would do anything and say everything just to get noticed. Perhaps, in the words of Chris August, he felt "alone and undiscovered"[1] and was willing to play moral, ethical, and personality bricolage so long as he got the attention he was craving.

Most of us have done the same thing in our lives. At the very least, we know someone who we can easily identify as the proverbial people-pleaser. They are willing to tinker with their personality just to be accepted and liked. People who live this way are often referred to as phony, fake, wanna-be's, spineless, chameleons, untrustworthy and  the list goes on and on. At the end of the day people who catch onto their game lose respect for them. The saddest part is this: Phony people may feel as though they are gaining popularity, but ultimately they damage themselves. Our likes and dislikes, our fashion, our morals, our values, our ideologies and beliefs, our personality and uniqueness all makeup who we are. Seen together all of these tiny elements are like paragraphs and chapters which together make up the story that is you. But when a person tinkers with these elements for the sake of popularity they damage their story, their authenticity, and their identity.

In 1941, a German theologian by the name of Rudolf Bultmann proposed a theory known as demythologization. Although the theory did not originate with Bultmann, this was arguably the first time it was popularized. Bultmann's basic contention was that mankind had become too enlightened to believe the miracles in the Bible and that if Christians were to succeed in spreading their faith they would have to demythologize (erase the myths) from the Bible (ie. Noahs Ark, Miracles of Jesus, etc.) in order to make it more appealing to modern thinkers. 

Weird as that may sound, Bultmann was not the first, and neither would he be the last theologian to propose a redefining or restructuring of Christianity in order to make it more appealing to the culture. In recent years movements such as the Emergent Church[2] have attempted to redefine Christianity in order for the secular world to notice it. Matt Slick expressed the post-modern challenge well when he stated that,
The danger of postmodernism is that it tends to deny the ability to know things for sure. It even undermines the construction of language by stating that words can be interpreted differently, that language is fluid, and that the Bible, written in ancient languages, is open to various interpretations of equal validity."[3] 
In an attempt to reach this rising relativistic generation, many emergents have proposed a redefining of Christianity. For some, it is not enough to simply rethink the way we "do" church. Instead, we must also rethink our beliefs as a whole. One proponent of emergent theology summarized it well when he said,
"We do not think this [Emerging Church Movement] is about changing your worship service. We do not think this is about…how you structure your church staff. This is actually about changing theology. This is about our belief that theology changes. The message of the gospel changes. It’s not just the method that changes."[4]
As a result, many emergents have come to deny core Christian beliefs such as baptism and the sacrificial atonement of Jesus. Brian McLaren, a popular emergent church proponent "went as far to trivialize baptism as being no more than a statement of 'We are clean; they are unclean.'"[5] In his article "A Generous Apostasy", a first hand account at an emergent convention, Aaron Muth said,
After lunch, I spotted McLaren making his way to the table of the young freshman girls... that I had just had lunch with, so I made my way to their table. One of the students sheepishly asked McLaren, 'Do you believe in the blood atonement of Christ.' McLaren confidently and forcefully answered, 'Absolutely not.'[6]
Noble as their intentions may be, Christians who play theological bricolage in order to gain popularity among the secular, post-modern generations damage Christianity. By subverting core biblical truths, they are damaging the story the Bible tells about God. Much like the personality, values and beliefs of a person each biblical doctrine (teaching) is best seen as a paragraph or chapter within a book. Alone it makes little sense, but when united with every other chapter and paragraph, a beautiful, authentic, and genuine story of God emerges. This story is perfect, attractive, powerful, and experientially life-changing. And whenever limited human minds attempt to tinker with doctrine for the sake of popularity they inevitably change the story of God. And unless we are willing to suggest that we can tell a better God-story than the one God has told of himself then any attempt at theological bricolage only serves to make God less attractive, less powerful, and consequently, less experiential and life changing. In the end God becomes a people-pleaser, a chameleon, and a phony capable of altering his story for the sake of approval.

Thankfully, the emergents are wrong. The God-story of scripture does not change. "Jesus the Anointed One is always the same: yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb. 13:8).[7] David the poet said of him, "...You are the same, You will never change..." (Psa. 102:27). The seer Malachi quoted him saying, "I am the Eternal One, I never change" (Mal. 3:6). And James the brother of Jesus said, "Every good gift bestowed, every perfect gift received comes to us from above, courtesy of the Father of lights. He is consistent. He won’t change His mind or play tricks in the shadows." (Ja. 1:17). 

It was because of the truth of this unchanging God - a genuine, authentic, for-real kind of God -that Peter the friend of Jesus could say, "false teachers will rise up in the future among you. They will slip in with their destructive opinions, denying the very Master who bought their freedom and dooming themselves to destruction swiftly, but not before they attract others by their unbridled and immoral behavior. Because of them and their ways, others will criticize and condemn the path of truth..." (1 Pet. 2:1-2). John, the student of love, also said "do not trust every spirit. Instead, examine them carefully to determine if they come from God, because the corrupt world is filled with the voices of many false prophets" (1 Joh. 4:1). And Paul, the converted tyrant warned, "No matter the source of the false gospel, even if it is preached by us or a heavenly messenger, ignore it. May those who add to or subtract from the gospel of Jesus be eternally cursed" (Gal. 1:4)!

This is who God is. Consistent. Steady. Unchanging. Unvarying. Unswerving. Undeviating, Unwavering. Unfluctuating. True to type. God is not phony, fake, a wanna-be, spineless, a chameleon, or untrustworthy. He is who he is. He has revealed himself as he is. And he will always be who he has been. His story never changes. His message to mankind never alters. His word is not up for auction. His truth is not for sale. He will not lie for as Solomon the wise said, "Lying lips disgust the Eternal" (Pro. 12:22). He is transparent, trustworthy, authentic, genuine, and honest. In a word full of scams, charlatans, and liars we need a God who is for-real. And the moment we decide to play theological bricolage we take away the very thing this starving generation needs - someone they can trust.

Not only do we ruin the God-story when we attempt to redefine Christianity, but we also damage the authenticity and identity of Christianity. These elements are ruined because the God-story of Christianity is rooted in the ancient self-revelation of God known as the Bible. Therefore, any attempt to reconstruct the story must deny the reliability of this book. Inherent in this book is also the identity of Christianity. Emergents say that it's OK to question or reinterpret the book because words don't have real meanings but then they go on and publish books on which they teach their views and expect others to place their faith in those words. So words do have meaning so long as the book has been published by an emergent author. But when it comes to scripture - that we can question all we want. The self-refuting and hypocritical nature of this position is evident. Emergent's are not attempting to reinterpret scripture. Instead, they are effectively creating their own religion complete with its own set of sacred writings and practices which are loosely based on Christianity (and other religions) and heavily rooted in post-modern philosophy. This "new" Christianity cannot be demonstrated from the faith-journey of the ancients who experienced God and, inspired by his Spirit, wrote the story for future generations. As a result, to call this "new Christianity" Christianity is disingenuous and perfunctory. The story it tells does not gel with the story the ancient seers and apostles told; thus, it cannot be the same faith or even the same God. Emergent Christianity is an ersatz Christianity - a faith without foundation, roots, and identity.

But true Christianity stands firm. Its story continues to change lives all over the world for it is grounded firmly on the testimony of God-lovers who were moved by God himself to write the Bible we now hold. In the Bible is chronicled the memoirs of a God who loves so relentlessly and recklessly that he was willing to be separated from his son in order that he might reconcile a rebellious race back to himself. God made mankind, but mankind rebelled against him and was consequently lost. But Jesus Christ gave everything he had in order to win us back. Jesus himself tells the story of a merchant who found a precious pearl. When he did, he sold everything he had and purchased the pearl. The pearl was so valuable to him that he was willing to give all in order to have it. The merchant is none other and Jesus himself and the pearl is you. That pearl is me. The broken, destitute, cast aside, broken, rebellious human race. That is the central story of scripture and every doctrine it teaches adds to the beauty of this story. Thus, to change one doctrine is to damage the story. But the story is charming, delightful, graceful and satisfying. It doesn't need to evolve. It doesn't need to be changed. It stands on its own beauty as the most life-altering and propositionally experiential narrative that has ever been told.

While this post is far from complex or exhaustive I would like to suggest that, apart from all of the other more "scholarly" reasons for rejecting the reconstruction of Christianity, the damage such a reconstruction poses to the beautiful God-story of scripture and the authenticity/identity of Christianity is reason enough to avoid the temptation to play bricolage with theology.

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[1] Christ August. 7 x 70, Song lyrics.
[2] Note: The Emergent Church movement, as all movements, has its conservatives and liberals, its original proponents and its fanatical/ extremist wings. The ideologies I refute in this article are more often found among those extreme wings of the movement. It is not my intention to paint the entire movement on the ideas of those fanatical proponents. However, because those proponents tend to be the most influential and popular it is their overall concepts that I refute.
[3] Matt Slick. "The Emerging Church and Postmodernism", [web: http://carm.org/emerging-church-postmodernism].
[4] Tony Jones (“A New Theology for a New World.” A workshop for the 2004 Emergent Convention in San Diego) [Web: http://www.alwaysbeready.com/emerging-church?id=142].
[5] Brian McLaren as quoted by Cherie Lynn Milliron. "Student Responds to Third Way Conference," [Web: http://advindicate.com/articles/2013/10/3/student-responds-to-third-way-conference].
[6] Aaron Muth. "A Generous Apostacy," [Web: http://advindicate.com/articles/2013/10/3/a-generous-apostasy].
[7] All texts are quoted from The Voice Bible version
Enigma (part 3): The Secret to Reaching Our Culture
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc


Whenever the topic of reaching post-moderns comes up eager theologians and ministers (myself included) jump into the convo-pool with their radical ideas. One suggests that the language we use to communicate theology must be updated, another suggests that church architecture must be reinvented, then small groups, community, and relevance enter the discussion. After a few minutes of chatter the wise ones calmly remind everyone that the message can never be altered, only the method, to which everyone responds heartily. Then the conversation starts over, only now the focus has shifted toward the radical ministry of Jesus and how we as ministers need to emulate it. We need to connect with the addicted, the broken, and the ostracized. We need to have ministries at the clubs, bars, and strips. Then someone jumps in and talks about the church that meets at a club and ministers to prostitutes and how its reaching hundreds of people for Christ. The group is on fire now, everyone is excited and ready to go be unorthodox, revolutionary, and radical. Best of all, they have Jesus as their example. The stage is set. The goals are made. The vision is cast. And nothing happens.

I love the above scenario. I have participated in it many times. But none of this chatter is ever going to get us anywhere unless we discover the secret to making it all happen. Now before I continue allow me to make a disclaimer. I am not an outreach and evangelism guru. I have not had 50 years of post-modern outreach experience on which to base this from. Instead, what I offer today is what God revealed to me one evening as I prayed to him seeking an answer to the problem of reaching a lost and confused generation that does not respond to any traditional methods of evangelism. In that moment of prayer I experienced one of those rare instances when the voice of God is clear, and his message to me was this: "If you want to make a radical difference for me you must first have a radical relationship with me." 

The thought hit me like a ton of bricks, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how profound and true it was. As a pastor I always want to do something radical. I want to, in the words of Ellen White, "study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are... do something out of the common course of things... arrest the attention." I want to plant that amazing church that succeeds in reaching post-moderns. I want to preach those relevant sermons that shock the church and the culture with the glory of Jesus. Its not OK for me to do what the church has been doing for 50 years. I want to spark a revolution for Gods kingdom. I want to be radical. Yet, while its not OK for me to do the same old thing in ministry I am perfectly content with doing the same old thing in my relationship with God. I want to be radical in the church, but not in prayer. I want to shock the world with ministry, but I still read the Bible the same way I have for years. Well, Jesus burst my bubble and now I am here to burst yours. Unless you are willing to be as radical in your prayer life as you want to be in your ministry life forget about ever reaching this generation. Unless you are willing to be wild in your Bible time, then give up all dreams of being a world changer for God. As the phrase goes, "Ain't gona happen."

The secret to reaching this generation continues to be the secret that has ignited men of every generation and culture to impact their world for Christ - an out of the ordinary, unorthodox, wild, radical, and revolutionary relationship with Jesus. I once asked a professor how I as a writer could write profound things instead of shallow ones. Her answer to me was, "if you want to write profound things you must first be a profound person." And I conclude, that if we want to reach this post-modern culture with radical ministry we must first connect with God in a radical way. There is just no way we can do the great things necessary for reaching this culture of skepticism and indifference while continuing to pray and read our Bible the way many of us currently do. It's going to require a new and out of the ordinary connection with God in order for us to be ignited with the wisdom and fire necessary to carry this movement forward.

Perhaps some of you are reading this and thinking, I want to do that but you don't know how. Allow me to provide you then, with a practical resource that will get you going in the right direction. It is a small book called Secret Power by D.L. Moody, one of histories greatest evangelists. I have been reading this book this past week and so far it has revolutionized my view of outreach and evangelism.