Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Need of Our Time

"For such a time as this," the saying goes. All Christians are called to a particular purpose and vocation. Some are called to leave their current post and try something new--something more pressing. Such was the case with Esther. The need of her day--to save the Jews--crushed her role as a quiet queen administering evening soirees. There is a pressing need of our day, not seen in ages past.

My father's generation, having been born just after World War II (baby boomers), saw its call--its pressing need--to rebuild society on getting a college education, fulfulling a vocational enterprise, and meeting it (generally) in one geographical location. My dad grew up in Coopersville on a farm (can anyone say, "manure spreader"?), earned a bachelor's degree from Hope College in Holland and went off to Standford for a master's in German. He then settled in Grand Haven and taught for thirty years, retired, and continues to live there today, always as a faihful churchman. However, it seems that more and more, people are less and less accustomed to working for a company--or even in a particular field--for more than five years. Then it's off to something new, something different, some place exciting. Even before our economic watershed, I knew back in 2002 that job stability was something of the past. Families move around, and that means church-goers move from church to church as well. There is a congruence of instability between profession and church. Perhaps the correlation is false, but the congruence is real. This is especially true among young people in the church--their stability and "anchorage" in the faith is virtually non-existent.

I recently read a statistic in World magazine on an advertisment for an apologetics conference that 75% of the church's youth leave the church after high school. If true, this is an alarming statistic! (But you know what Mark Twain said about statistics.) Nevertheless, seeing the the great, encompassing need of our time--to sustain youth attendance in church through college and beyond--the church has taken many measures and different avenues to reach the culture with the message of the gospel: there are seeker sensitive churches, purpose driven churches, felt-needs churches (an over-emphasis on the gospel as the source of therapy), teaching churches, old-time, we're-fight-to-the-bitter-end-rapture churches, "attractional" churches, and so forth.

The reason for the massive exodus of our youth, according to the progenitors of the aforementioned conference is that our young people no longer see any reason to believe what they've been taught. Therein lies the problem perhaps...that they haven't really been taught anything at all. Other studies have shown that our youth hold to a monotheistic, self-help deism: there is one god who wants me to be good and happy, and I ask him for favors when I am not happy. Not so much the doctrine of the atonement, or a study through Romans. That's no fun!

There are others, however, who contend that the great need of our time is not to indoctrinate our younglings with facts, but with experience: they need to focus on deep, existential knowledge of Jesus in a near mystical sense. This has a fine attractiveness to it, for what do humans need in times of great distress other than to run to Jesus, hold deep communion with him and find rest for their weary souls through fasting and prayer and singing psalms? This is especially attractive to us in our post-industrial, hurried lives where electromagnetic impulses practically shock us into oblivion on a daily basis (t.v. radio, internet, ipod, etc.). The voices of billboards and signs carreen our solace into fractured vases. Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men holds dear to those who want to just get away: to live off the fat of the land, live self-sufficiently and forget the cares of the world. Ah, amber waves of grain, fruit-bearing trees, green, blooming gardens, and rabbits, George, rabbits!

However, it is when we are well-fed and secure in our homes, when our money is in the bank and our jobs are providing for our aspirations, dreams and goals that we ask the deeper questions of how we know what we know (epistemology), and what is real (metaphysics) and how we are to live (ethics). These three branches of philosophy bear down with the eye of an eagle when our lives have quiet rest, relaxation, hearty bread, and good wine with fine friends.

Therefore, it is necessary for Christians to consider: what such a time is it in which we live? What great need is there? In the past, in my father's generation, the other great "need" may have been to send missionaries overseas, while church members lead quiet lives of work and family. Now, our youth are leaving the church at a rate akin to professional baseball players denying steroid use in front of congressional committees.

Well, it seems to me that Christians need to slow down, take a deep breath, and just get familiar with the story of the Bible. I guess I'd like to see our youth, for example, knowing the grand story of God's saving plan for humanity, what theologians call "redemptive history." We should know the story of Adam and Eve, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph--the whole deal, all the way through to Jesus, and his annoucement of the kingdom of God, and Paul's proclaimation that God is fusing together Jews and Gentiles from every corner of the earth to create a new humanity with a view to rescuing the whole world--including the creation itself (the whole of the environment). Youth should also know about alternative worldviews: naturalism, pantheism, relativism, existentialism, postmodernism, and other isms, so they can appropriate the world's ideas into a framework that makes sense with the worldview of the Bible. Along with this, they should know sound doctrine in the form of a good systematic theology: God, Man, Christ, Salvation, Church, Last Things. Worship should include prayer and singing of psalms, to teach them devotion. This seems like a good start, anyway...

In order to meet the needs, some therefore are called by God own out of current circumstances and vocations to do something different in order to meet the needs of his church. And his church and its mission is how God will accomplish his goals for humans on this earth, this earth which is our home both now and forevermore. Since the meek shall inherit the earth, the church must meet the challenge set before it: to rescue our youth from a mass exodus where they consequently are swallowed whole in the depths of the Red Sea along with Pharoah's army.

We have to ask ourselves what we can do to aid this process. Quit your job as a banker and go off to seminary? Maybe. Or it could be taking your youth group to an apologetics conference, while taking a few days off from selling loans. This is an important question. Not everyone can or should go off to seminary and become a pastor or a teacher. Realism means that the church is filled with doctors, janitors, tool and die makers, entrepreneurs, teachers, retirees, and maybe a pro ball player or two (well...). Individuals help run churches, and churches help meet the needs of individuals. If the church teaches the youth the whole content of Scripture and teaches them why they should believe what they believe, I think they will be more apt to stay, regardless of economic or professional instability.

1 comment:

J.R.Roper said...

Quite well said. It is a "please myself" society. I think being a good example to our youth is extremely important.

"Preach always and if necessary use words."
-St. Francis of Assisi