Posts tagged youth
Why the Modern Church Has Failed

I grew up in a traditional church that was more interested in hanging on to its formalities than it was in open-mindedly assessing why it was losing its youth. My own youth group was quite large but by the time we had reached 18 the vast majority of us had walked away from the church. As a result of these experiences I have, for a long time, been quite interested in the topic of youth and church.

Enter the modern church. Among many other things, the modern church was an attempt to create a church culture that was both attractive and retentive of its youth. However, after many years of going down that road we are still publishing books on how youth are leaving church in droves. It appears the modern church has failed.

But why? The answers are as complex as the problem, but allow me to present a paradigm that I believe contributes, perhaps more than any other reason, to the youth exodus that plagues churches everywhere.

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Before I do so, allow me to dissect the church into three chunks. The first chunk we will call the "heart beat" of the church. This is what gives the church its life, breath and relevance. In other words, the heart beat is the purpose of the church. The second chunk we will call the "muscle". This is what enables the church to live out its purpose. In an Adventist local church this would include- in part - the "business meeting" (most powerful meeting in the church which involves every church member), the "board meeting" (where appointed leaders of the church meet to implement the decisions of the church and to steer the church through representative decisions) and "ministry meetings" (where ministry leaders of diverse ministries get together to plan for the year). In other words, the muscle of the church is its system. The third chunk is the cosmetics of the church. This is the stuff everyone sees like the age of the building, its cleanliness and it's upkeep. But this also involves the church's style like its dress code, its musical niche, its interior design etc. In other words, the cosmetics of the church is its style.

Now that we have divided the church into these three chunks allow me to introduce what I believe is the major problem with the church today. Jesus gave the church a heart beat: the great commission. This task to make disciples of all nations is why the church exists. It is its purpose. The muscle of the church is thus fully employed in bringing this purpose about. And the cosmetics of the church adapt to the different cultures and generations that that particular local church is speaking into. However, at some point in history the church seems to have lost its heart beat. Once it lost its heart beat (making disciples of all nations) it became obsessed with itself. As a result the muscle of the church switched from an outward focused system set up to facilitate the accomplishment of the great commission to an inward focused system set up to keep the church members happy. The end result of this was churches that cared little of how they were perceived in their communities and instead focused on keeping one another happy. The cosmetics of the church thus evolved, not as a tool for speaking into culture, but as a celebration of nostalgia.

Then one day, a well meaning member realized that all the youth were totally not clicking with church. So this well meaning member spoke with another well meaning member and together they decided something had to be done. What can we do to attract and retain our youth? They asked. And the answer was always the same: We have to make church cool.

OK, maybe no one ever used those exact words. But that's what it all boils down to. Most of the modern church is ultimately concerned with being "cool" enough so that its youth feel comfortable and perceive the church as relevant. But it hasn't worked. We are still publishing books and funding research on the "youth exodus issue" and church leaders across the board know that youth are still leaving. In addition, the modern church's attempt has become the object of scorn both in the church and in the culture the church is supposedly reaching. Check out the video below, by Nick Thune, which communicates exactly how many secular post-moderns perceive the church of today.

This video is both hilarious and sad. Hilarious because the dude is funny! Sad because the modern church has become so predictable, shallow and "cool" that it can be so easily caricatured and ridiculed. And the worst part of it all is it hasn't worked.

But why? Well, here is my theory. Remember the whole heart-beat, muscle and cosmetic thing? When the church lost its heart beat its muscle became useless and its cosmetic gradually lost touch with its culture. When well meaning members decided to seek a solution, however, rather than go to the core of the issue and fix that (the church had no heart beat) they simply tweaked the cosmetics. But what do you get when you wash a tomb white? You get a white washed tomb. Its pretty on the outside, but inside its still full of dead men's bones. So what do you get when you take a church that has no heart beat with an atrophied muscular structure and simply change the cosmetics? You get a church that's pretty on the outside, but fundamentally it is still dead, irrelevant and useless. It only takes the youth (who might be initially attracted by your coffee bar and contemporary Christian worship band) so long before they figure out that your contemporary church is, apart from the cosmetics, no different to the traditional church that they ran away from. It's still boring. It's still irrelevant. It's still exists for nothing more than the appeasement of its own membership. It has no lasting, impacting or legitimate reason to exist. And without that heart beat you can change your cosmetics all you want and you will end up with nothing more than a shallow and cheesy version of Christianity that hardly resembles the world changing movement Jesus intended us to be.

Am I against the cosmetics? Of course not. There's nothing worse than walking into a church and it feels like you just stepped back 100 years. There is nothing worse than churches who clearly have no interest or knowledge of the culture and its language. But here's my point - the cosmetics should be the result of having a heart beat. They are not the thing that causes it. Change them all you want, but it wont revive your church, keep your youth or attract your neighbors. But a church with a heart that beats for the broken and lives to share the gospel to its community by acts of mercy, justice and service is a relevant church that will impact its sphere of influence for decades to come.

Lets be that kind of church.

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
How the Church Failed Mo


Mo is a pretty cool dude. I don't say super cool because, after all, he is my brother and so pretty cool will have to do. (I'm sure such a "theorem" would be reciprocated by a hearty "my sentiments exactly" on his part.) Anyhow, the point is he's pretty cool.

Now Candice, my special lady, is awesome. This awesome lady of mine was clever enough to plot a secret reunion between my pretty cool brother and my pretty cool self. She said it was a surprise to celebrate my recent liberation from the tyranny of biblical languages (I just recently finished my last ancient Greek class), but I'm sure having my mother in town for a visit had more to do with it. 

Now onto my main point. Mo and I were raised Seventh-day Adventists all of our life. At the age of 17 I decided to follow Jesus. Mo went a different direction and has stuck to it ever since. For many years I have wondered why he walked away from the faith of his youth. Being highly intelligent, scientific, and analytical would have been a challenge for him especially when my father rejected his scientific explanation of where the wind came from and instead insisted, very dogmatically of course, that God had a room in heaven with wind trapped inside. Whenever he wanted the wind to blow he would open the door. Whenever he wanted it to not blow he would shut it. Though I have no proof of this, I wonder if Mo's brilliant mind wrestled with such an irrational concept thus planting the seed for a growing discontent with Christianity. 

Regardless of what reason (or perhaps reasons) led Mo out of the church one thing is certain: his experience was, to be quite generous, bitter. You see, Mo and I share a craving for authenticity that we acquired from our culture. We want answers, not cliches. We want truth, not opinion. We want a faith that is logical and rational - free from fanaticism, phobias, and unreasonable superstitions. We want Bible not dogma and traditions. We want relationship not religion. And most of all, we want honest and open dialogue not absurd, irrelevant, and simpleminded solutions. Authenticity. That is what we crave. And that is what the church failed to give.

You see, Mo grew up in a church culture that told him it was bad to go to the movie theater even though we could go to the elders house and watch mindless killing and gore. It was OK, was the message, so long as it is in a house. But don't go to the theater! Your angel wont follow you in there and if you die there you will go to hell. Irrational anyone? Mo grew up in a church that told his lady friends it was bad to wear pants to church, or anything too revealing for that matter, even though every Saturday night half of the members were glued to the infamous Sabado Gigante game-show with half naked women parading their curves on the TV screen for all the choir singers, elders, and deacons to enjoy. Hypocritical anyone? Mo grew up in a church where the leaders were only concerned with whether or not you were a good church member. Do you cry yourself to sleep at night because you are lonely and depressed? We don't care. Just make sure you don't let your hair grow too long and you have a tie on when you show up on Sabbath. Absurd anyone? Yes, Mo grew up in a church where the leaders spoke to you when you were in trouble and ignored you the rest of the time. A church that wanted to erase him from membership because he joined the Army even though not a single one of those involved in this proposition had ever sent him a letter of encouragement or called him to offer a prayer. A church where lack of biblical knowledge prompted an "Ellen White said" that was supposed to settle the issue once and for all. A church steeped in simple-mindedness, irrationality, and flat out extremism at times. For a mind craving authenticity, I conclude that the phonyness was simply too much to bear and the highways and by ways of the world, complete with their own set of phonyness, somehow seemed more fulfilling than the dictatorial corridors of his childhood faith.

This, I believe, is how the church failed Mo. This, I believe, is how it fails so many of its youth. It is not because it lacks entertainment. It is because it lacks authenticity. It is not because it lacks programs. It is because it lacks relationships. It is not because it lacks answers. It is because it lacks questions and somehow marginalizes those who seem to have many of them. Yet over the years I have come to shed many of the absurd and nonsensical standards of my upbringing and have come to discover a simpler yet infinitely more complex relationship with God. With all of the cultural baggage that my traditional Hispanic culture brought to Christianity gone I can now see Jesus and his love much clearer than ever before. I no longer believe that a true Christian is only the one who fits into my brand of Christianity. I have met wonderful Christians who are covered in tattoos, who enjoy the bouncy feel of dread locks, and who go to church without a tie on. I have experienced Hawaiians who worship God in Hula shirts and flip-flops. I have experienced theologians who enjoy sporting a fro-hawk. I have experienced Jesus among the real, the genuine, and the broken. I have experienced doubts and wrestled with them. I have come to realize that God, the multiplex deity of the cosmos, is paradoxically simple. He invites me to have a relationship with him and to let my life be an outflow of that relationship. As Jesus once said,
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." - Matthew 22: 37-39.
And as my friend Amir Davis once said, "Do the Ten. Love God. Love Men. Take care of your body. And live your life. That's all God requires of you." It really is that simple.

I wonder where Mo would be today if the church had focused on Jesus' words more than they focused on their own traditional discomforts? What if they had loved the culture instead of demonized it? What if they had shown us a God who cannot be caged, the wild lion of the heavens who cannot be controlled, and taught us to live on the edge with him? What if they had embraced questions? What if they had let go of the pretensions and gone on the journey of doubt, struggle, and pain? What if they stopped misusing Ellen White? What if they had forgotten the opinions of men and taught us to live by the Bible only? What if they had looked past the long haired guys, the braids, the jeans, and the baggy t-shirts and shown us the love of Jesus? And I don't mean shown it to us in a Bible study. I mean shown it to us with a life. I pray I wont have to keep wondering. I pray the era of the Mo's will come to an end. I pray we learn our lesson.

But that is not the only point of this article. I also want to take the opportunity to appeal to the Mo's of today. While the church has failed you, it is still within your reach to recognize that Christianity is extraterrestrial and as such it cannot be defined, contained, or limited by human culture. We may have messed it up, but you can look past our faults in the same way we should have looked past yours. While we may look at the church and find much to criticize we can find neither spot nor wrinkle in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I leave you with a challenge from Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias and it is this: "Look at Jesus and ask yourself the question, Can I find anything wrong with him?" The answer may just revolutionize your life.
How to Be a Christian in an Anti-Christian World



Being a Christian is difficult, especially when you are surrounded by anti-Christian hostility. Sometimes, the hostility is due to misconceptions of who and what Christians are. Other times, the hostility is due, not to misconceptions, but to truth. So how can we be faithful Christians in a culture that grows increasingly intolerant of who we are? Below are some points to get you thinking in the right direction.

Recognize Your Identity

The Bible says that those who have accepted Jesus as their King belong to a new family. God adopts us as his own children. This means that the moment you accept Christ you are no longer a member of earth-family, but a member of heaven-family. Your identity is no longer attached to this planet. Your identity is now in heaven. This means that you will live forever with all those who love God. But it means something more. It means that that "forever" has already begun. So when you encounter intolerance and bigotry because of your faith, remember you are a traveler in this world. You do not belong. So don't expect to always be treated as though you do.

Embrace Anti-Conformity

Because of your new identity life does change. Your life will now be in harmony with your identity. This means that you will no longer fit in to the status-quo of earth culture. You will swim against the current. You will go against the wind. You will walk opposite the crowd. You are an anti-conformist: one who refuses to conform to the norm. Embrace it. And if you really think about it, its pretty cool. The most memorable people in history were often anti-conformists. Moses who chose to side with slaves instead of empire, Daniel who refused to pray to a King, John the baptist who was not afraid to challenge authority, Jesus who stood against everything the religious powers of his day lived for and you. You who belong to a family of wayfarers. Sojourners at variance with popular culture. Your heritage is steeped in non-conformers. Brave men and women "who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and... who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated - the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground" (Hebrews 11:33-38). This is your heritage. These are your ancestors. Anti-conformity.

Live with Fearlessness

Being an anti-conformist is not easy. Jesus lived a counter-cultural life and if we follow him we too will be counter-cultural. This doesn't mean we reject or demonize culture, but it does mean that we influence it in a different direction. Where the culture is intolerant, we embrace. Where the culture is exclusive, we include. Where the culture is indifferent, we stand up. Where the culture objectifies, we uplift. Where the culture is sinful, we are holy. This kind of life requires courage. And God has promised all of his children that he will give them a spirit of "fearlessness". So live with fearlessness. Its a gift from God. 

Love, not Religion

There is only one Biblical reason to be faithful to God - love. God doesn't accept obedience based on fear, or self-preservation. Only the service of love is acceptable to him. Living as a Christian in a secular world is hard. You can get bullied. You can be ostracized. You can experience moments of intense loneliness. Its not easy. But you'll do it anyhow because of your love for God. That love-relationship far outweighs anything this world has to offer. This is something those who don't know God will never understand. It's like a guy falling in love. All his friends think he's suddenly gone all weird. He stops hanging out with them as often. He sings silly songs. He spends all his time thinking about and talking to this girl. Her photograph is his cell-phones wallpaper and he might even get a tattoo of her name (bad idea!). None of his friends get him. But it doesn't matter. He's in love. This is what Christianity should be like. Love, not religion. It is that love - and that love alone - which will give you the drive to sacrifice anything and everything for God.

Thirst for God


Abraham is the father of anti-conformists. Why did he live his life this way? Paul says, "He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). For Abraham this world was nothing. He literally didn't desire it. He lived each day longing for another city, one not found in this world. He lived each day yearning to live in the very presence of God. The more we immerse ourselves in him and long for him the less we will care what other people think, say, or do to us. We thirst for God, not men, and that's how we live our lives.
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John 15:18 If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. 
John 15:20 Remember the word that I said to you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you...
2 Timothy 3:12 Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
1 Peter 4:16 If any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God...
Matt 5:11-12 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Replacing Our Outmoded Terminology
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For some readers this post may seem like nothing but nit picking, but hear me out. As a pastor who constantly preaches and listens to sermons I have learned that it is important for us, whether speaking in public or in one on one, to be mindful of the words and phrases we use. Over the years many of us become comfortable with our Christian lingo. We become so comfortable in fact that we think we are still speaking English when in reality we are speaking Christianese. The problem becomes worse when our Christianese is supplemented with the use of Lutheranese, Baptistese, or Adventese, etc. Thus, our language ends up twice removed from the real world and we don't even notice it. Then we get up to preach, teach, or share something with a friend and wonder why the youth are totally uninterested and why we can't seem to connect. I would like to propose that the problem is, in many cases, our hyper-religious vocabulary. In addition, these words often carry connotations that make younger listeners shut their brains off almost immediately. Here are a few words which I personally find irritating, why I find them irritating, and how we can convey the same message by simply using a different word.

Doctrine. What in the world does this word even mean? It's actually quite simple-it means teaching. But when was the last time you heard a teacher say "We will now study the doctrine of math"? Its a word which is highly alien outside of Christian circles and typically frowned at even within since "doctrinal" sermons have historically been characterized by the nouns boring, irrelevant, and dogmatic. Since doctrine is simply the teaching of the Bible - a teaching which tells a story about God - I prefer to use the phrase "God-story" instead.

Brothers and Sisters. Seriously, no one goes around in every day life calling people brother or sister. The closest I have come to this is in certain African American settings where it is cultural for them to call each other brother or sister. If that's your context then by all means have at it. But whenever I hear "brothers and sisters" from the pulpit I automatically think the speaker is out of touch. I often just use the word "guys" instead since that's how I talk in every day life.

Peculiar. So we are supposed to be a peculiar people. I get it. But how about we communicate that message by using a less peculiar word? Seriously, whenever I hear someone use this word my mind automatically conjures up images of people living in the 1800's. It's simply an old word, seldom used except maybe in poetry, and even has a boring sound to it. I prefer to use words like unique, counter-cultural, unusual, or even rebellious.

Beloved. OK everyone, Shakespeare lived and died a long time ago. No one says beloved anymore, its a relic of the past, so maybe calling the people in the audience "beloved" should be a relic of the past as well. Seriously, unless your entire audience is stuck in the 1800's this one should definitely go. As in "brothers and sisters" I have replaced this one with a simple "guys".

Revival & Reformation. Whenever I hear these terms I think of long faced rigid Christians who have no desire other than to make the entire Christian church as rigid as themselves. Of course, this is not what the terms mean but because so many have misused them in the past this is the connotation that they have come to have. In addition, the terms - especially the word "reformation" - are outdated. Reformation was a popular word in the 1800's and was being used all over the culture in the realm of social action but today the term is seldom used. I prefer to use the terms "reclaim, reboot, revolution, or restore".

Other examples include words and phrases such as: end times, last days, reverence, born again, slave to sin, fellowship, altar call, pulpit, benediction, call to worship, vespers, main service/ worship service, amen etc. All of these are words which are highly irrelevant to both younger and secular audiences and if we use them flippantly, without taking into consideration the linguistic gap we are creating and fostering by refusing to update our terms, we alienate people that we are meant to be serving. 

Now of course, we can't always replace the word and neither should we feel that we need to, but at the very least we should explain the words with modern illustrations so that the audience learns what it means. I do, however, recommend replacing the outmoded ones entirely as they present a barrier of understanding to those who speak a different generational language. In my own life I have discovered how easily truth is received when the right words to convey it are used. Instead of trying to be so fancy and religious all the time let's bend over backwards to make truth simple and accessible to those who don't share our church-culture.