Some years ago the Barna research group studied a question that has weighed on the hearts of thousands and thousands of parents: why do young people leave the church? Their findings boiled down to these six things. Young people left because:
- Churches seem overprotective.
- Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
- Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
- Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
- They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
- The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
These all warrant significant discussion, but I believe number six is the real killer. Our young people are leaving the churches they grew up in, and the faith they were taught, not because they’ve weighed the evidence and found it to be wrong, but because they were never allowed, or at least encouraged, to weigh the evidence in the first place. They are leaving a faith that they were never really able to claim as their own because they were never allowed to ask the hard questions and develop a deeper faith. Of maybe they just grew up in a church where no one examined the hard questions. You can’t be part of conversations that aren’t happening.
It’s an understandable dilemma. We want to stand for truth. We want to provide answers. We want our children to know the truth. We want new Christians to know the truth. We want to know the truth. We want certainty. Questions are okay as long as they are immediately supplied with clearly defined and accepted answers. Uncertainty is to be avoided at all costs, and the easiest way to do that is to only raise questions we feel we have answers for. And of course, to silence those who are less certain or who reach different conclusions…
One example: at present there are some expressing a strong point of view that you cannot be a Christian unless you believe in a literal six day creation. There are of course some basic aspects of what it takes to be a Christian. It’s hard to see how someone could be a Christian without a belief in God. Or without believing in Jesus, the actual Christ in Christian. There is debate about how one becomes a Christian, and this is certainly important enough for future discussion. But let’s assume someone has taken the initial step of faith and has become a Christian. And now they enter your church, read your pamphlets, log onto your website, or otherwise enter a conversation with you. They’re still trying to sort all of this “creation, evolution, or both” stuff out, and they hear from you that unless they’re committed to your point of view they are not, in fact, a Christian at all. Not that they’re a Christian who you feel is wrong about something, or that they’re a Christian with whom you’d like to explore this important topic. But that they’re not a Christian. You have decided their relationship with God. You have decided their eternal destiny. You have made the decision on their salvation. And you’ve shared this information with them. Whatever your intentions, you have excluded them from the body of Christ.
Matthew 18:6 tells us that if anyone causes a little one who believes to stumble “it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Setting either barriers or stumbling blocks in front of those who are beginning to believe is high risk territory, and we should proceed very carefully.
I’d like to look at various points of view on creation in a later post. For now, I’d just like to address whether we’re even allowed to discuss it. Can there be differing points of view by people who believe in God, and who believe that God created the universe, but who differ on how He did it? Can our children ask questions? Even if we think the answer is yes, if we’re not discussing the hard questions in front of them, how will they possibly know it’s okay?