There are various theories floating around today about why "millennials" (ages 18-33) are "leaving the church." But do most of these theories hold water? Or is there a deeper reason why many young people of that generation are not living with a passion to see others come to know Christ and live for Him?
Thankfully, not all millennials are "leaving Jesus." Some of them have become wise "for the long haul" due to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Many of them received daily love and spiritual mentoring from their parents, as well as biblical preaching and teaching from their church. Others have come into this life-changing relationship with Christ after leaving home. Those who have experienced this reality and continue to live in it daily are the ones who look like the Christians in the early church.
When we examine the lives of Christ's original 12 disciples, 11 of them pressed on toward the goal even when things got tough. In fact, there have been people in every generation since Christ who have done the same thing. But why?
Well, they were grounded in the truth. They were also filled with the Holy Spirit. And they were convinced that Jesus is absolutely the only path to forgiveness and eternal life. This message tends to get a person labeled as "intolerant" in America today. But those who have remained faithful to Jesus have always been seen as "out of touch" with the spirit of their age. This creates many awkward encounters between those "walking in the light" and those "walking in darkness." Meanwhile, multitudes of millennials feel lots of pressure to "fit in" and not go against the tide of "cultural normalcy."
But let's not kid ourselves. Millennials are not "leaving the church" today because of traditional biblical teaching about sexuality, or because of some perceived conflict between science and faith. Those who are "leaving the church" are doing so because they are not convinced that Jesus and His bride, the church, are the only hope for sinners to be saved and discipled. In other words, their religious upbringing by parents and the church did not result in the same convictions as the original disciples after their period of mentoring by Jesus, and then an impartation of power on the day of Pentecost.
What every millennial needed was to see parents who believed these things with all of their heart and soul. They needed to know that their parents and their pastors were passionate about seeing people saved from sin, death and hell, while being redeemed by Jesus for joy, service and heaven. Every millennial needed to grow up in an environment where Christianity was not just something for Sunday morning, but rather, a life of compassion, forgiveness and commitment all week long.
Many millennials did not experience that needed spiritual environment in their home or in a church. They needed it, but they didn't get it. They were placed in a hospital incubator at birth, but not a "spiritual incubator" at home as children or teenagers. The relatively small number of those who did receive that spiritual care and discipleship training are among the millennials today who are trying to figure out how to "keep it going" spiritually. It is a challenge today amidst a culture where so many of their peers don't have that biblical foundation in their heart and soul.
Discipleship today isn't really any different than it has been for 2000 years. Disciples are people who have been saved through faith in Jesus and His blood which was shed for them on the cross. Disciples have repented of their sins. And disciples are not self-absorbed, but rather, consumed with a desire to honor Jesus and to reach the lost with the Gospel message. That is just what disciples do as they serve others in a spirit of love and compassion. A fairly small percentage of millennials seem to be at that point. The road is narrow, just like Jesus said. And our culture isn't making it any easier for young people in that generation to get to the Savior.
Millennials have been preached to from the world concerning what they are "supposed to believe" about sexuality and about science. Most of them, however, have not been grounded in God's perspective on sexuality and science. Theology is above science. All science can do is look at some of the things which God has made, but it cannot provide you with faith or with a Spirit-filled commitment to love others with Christ's love. The millennials who bow at the altar of "politically correct science" or "promised sexual freedom" are the ones who are only doing what they have been conditioned to do by their culture, and in some cases, by their parents and their church.
When parents and churches look more like the culture than the New Testament, the result is that their children are not likely to resemble Christian disciples. The reason so many millennials are "leaving the church" isn't because some churches are still preaching the same traditional Christian teachings from the New Testament. It is because so many of these millennials did not grow up in a home and a church where the Holy Spirit was filling both parents and children with power and grace. Apart from that Pentecost power, "followers" of Jesus end up looking more like the 1 who strayed than the 11 who went on to further ministry and even martyrdom.
When a millennial comes to a point through the power of the Holy Spirit where he or she is willing to die for the Gospel if necessary, then he or she is at a point that could rightly be compared to Christ's original disciples. Until then, I guess we are just playing church.
God loves millennials. Christ died for millennials. If you are a millennial, please know this: The Lord can bring you to a place where you would literally be willing to die for Him.
Are you open to having God do that deep work in your soul, or not? It's no longer about what you did or didn't receive from your parents or your church. Now it's about how you are going to respond to the Gospel, and how you are going to raise your own children in relation to science, sexuality, and most importantly, Scripture.
In other words, would you rather be a "product of your generation," or a living testimony of what happens when someone is emptied of selfish ambitions and instead filled with God's Spirit? Just because you are a millennial doesn't mean you have to be "normal." Do you honestly think that disciples in the New Testament were seen as "normal" by the majority of those in their generation?
It's time to rise above normal to a higher place and a higher purpose. Are you ready for it? Your entire life has been leading up to this moment. Now is your time. Now is your opportunity. But will you seize it, or simply settle back into normal and comfortable? There was nothing normal or comfortable for the disciples after the day of Pentecost. So you can seek God for His power, or you can do what so many of your generation are choosing to do. It's your life. It's your choice. And at the end of the day, God will not allow you to blame your parents or your church for your own spiritual decisions.
I believe by God's grace you can do it my friend. And I sure hope you do, because I know how much God loves you and what a beautiful future you could have with Him. Look beyond the culture and the debates over science and sexuality. Look to the One who transcends all of it. Believe in Him. Follow Him. Die to self. And if necessary, be prepared to die for the sake of the Gospel.
Isn't your life worth that investment? Only you can answer that question, and you will do so with the choices you make as you move forward. I hope and pray you choose the path of discipleship on Christ's team. Just because you may hear His voice calling you doesn't mean you will choose to make His voice the most important thing in your life. Of Christ's original disciples, 11 did just that, and 1 didn't.
So are you going to be like the 1, or will you join with the 11 as you follow the Savior of the world? Cultures change, and generations come and go, but "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)