Focus on the Family's Teen Apologetics Director and host of Truth Talk Live radio,
Alex McFarland, became interested in apologetics in 1985, while sharing the gospel with college friends. Apologetics not only strengthened his faith but also revealed the joy of leading others to Christ.
"I got into it by desiring to share the faith with my friends," he said. They were firing questions at me like 'How do you know God really exists?' "
In a recent interview, McFarland spoke on the spiritual thirst of the American youth, the role of the church opposite ministries, and the problems of preaching Christianity in a pluralistic culture.
What is the current situation of America's youth?
Richard Ostling, AP's religion writer once wrote in Times Magazine, "Not only has the church in North America failed to convey its message to the young generation, the church in America seems increasingly unsure what its message is."
"Failed to convey the message to the younger generation" is, I think, one of the reasons why there seems to be an exodus from the church. A lot of young people learn about God, but they don't necessarily have a relationship with God.
I was speaking to some teens during Easter and we had a Q&A session with a youth group. The youth group leader said, We already know that we're not supposed to drink, have sex, and do drugs. The kids in my youth group really want to learn about Christianity We want to be taught God's Word, and we're ready for it.
I said to this group, How many in your group reflects your heart?
She answered, All of them. We know the do's and the donts. We know what not to do. We just wish adults would really believe that we're ready for the deep things of God's Word.
I'm very excited because now I'm meeting teenagers and college kids who want to know about the authenticity of the Bible.
Another thing that kids have said to me is that they want to see that it's real in the lives of adults. Graduating from high school often means graduating from the church. By the end of their senior year, only 4 percent are still involved in church, according to a Barna study. By the end of that four-year bachelor's degree, 96 percent of our youth group alumna is not involved in church any more. I'm not saying they become atheists. It's just not rules that transform their lives.
When did this issue really become apparent?
The mid-80s is when things really began to fall off. I would say that as programs in churches, such as concerts, become so prominent, it becomes an event-driven ministry rather than relationship-driven ministry. I'm not against concerts, events, camps, and programs, but if you win people with entertainment, then you have to keep them with entertainment. We've kept teens busy, but we've not necessarily cultivated their heart for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
A consistent Christian life stays faithful even in the absence of a fun event - even in the absence of a cherished leader.
We've got to show teens that Christianity is not just rules, but it's a relationship with Christ.
How do you think this can be developed?
There needs to be a two-part experience. There needs to be a Christian birth and a Christian growth. We need to make sure that kids are not just church members. They need to really have a born-again experience with Jesus Christ. Knowledge about God is not the same thing as a relationship with God. We need to clearly communicate the Gospel message.
We need to make sure kids are not just exposed to programs, but have had a rebirth. This might sound old, and it might sound evangelistic, but it's important that people have been born again.
Then there's Christian growth. We need to model healthy Christian lives in the Word in front of our young people daily. God talks to us consistently through prayer, and we must talk to God.
We've got to remember that a majority of Christian life is lived through challenging times. A lot of teens go to college and lose their faith. There are academic, social, emotional, and spiritual temptations. The Bible says that Satan comes to steal, tempt, and destroy.
I think we have to remind teens that while youth group is great, they may go through a spiritually dry spell when they go to the shark infested world of academia
To a certain degree, we have not prepared teens for the challenges to adult life. To turn this attrition rate - the falling away rate around, we need to tell kids that a Christian is faithful even when the church may go through a dry spell and even when the video clips are not as snappy.
You said earlier you dislike the entertainment method of reaching the youth. How do you feel about churches that utilize pop culture methods to connect with them?
Like so much in life, the pendulum swings and sometimes it swings too far. In the late 80s and early 90s, a lot of new ways of doing church began to come out. People made attempts to start churches that were more user-friendly for younger audiences.
I think that's great, but sometimes there are churches that have taken it too far. They become too unstructured, with no real accountability or commitment.
I think we should appreciate church history and tradition, and at the same time not be a slave to tradition.
I think a balance is struck when we appreciate those who came before us, and we learn what we can from them.
What defines a ministry?
Any ministry has got to keep the gospel and its calling in mind. Always, ministry should have Jesus as its focal point and the needs of people as their catalysts. Ministries have to be intentionally biblical in this pluralistic world.
Does the pluralistic world make it that much more difficult to share the gospel?
It's getting more difficult to share the absolute message in a pluralistic world in even western culture. Since the 1960s, our society has become more pluralistic, meaning the situation and circumstances define morals rather than God.
Heterosexual monogamy is almost an antique, and it's understood that people will have multiple partners in their lives. We have satanic churches, we have Wicca, etc.
The very building blocks: the family, government and church, these three institutions that God put his stamp of approval on are dwindling.
I think that with a worldview that nothing is fixed and absolute and that there is no Creator in our past and no Judge in our future, I just invent life as I go every single day.
It's like 'thy will be done' is now my will be done.
Then, do you believe there is hope?
The hope is in the church, which is God's representative in the world. The church is an incredibly healthy preservative influence in this world.
I believe that we as Christians must speak out, but a huge ingredient has got to be prayer. The destiny of the world has pivoted and turned when Christians got on their knees and prayed. The church needs to pray for the truth and against the era, for a revival and a strengthening.
What will help Christianity to grow?
There are four components present in a great awakening. Any time that a culture gets transformed, there's prayer, godly living, evangelistic urgency, and a rediscovery to sound doctrine.
Touted as the "newest leader in Christian apologetics," Alex McFarland's apologetics seminars reached 430 different churches, schools, correctional facilities, and organizations. His "Tour of Truth" in "50 STATES IN 50 DAYS" made waves in Christiandom from May 20 - July 8, 2000 as he evangelized all over the country.
His new book titled, Stand: Core Truths You Must Know for an Unshakable Faith, to explain theology to teens, is expected to release in August.
McFarland earned an M.A. in Christian Thought / Apologetics from Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. He and his wife, Angie live in Colorado Springs.