A few years ago, I had one of the most disturbing conversations regarding church planning I’d ever had with a supporter of the Answers in Genesis–Canada ministry (let’s just call him Bob for the sake of anonymity). We had been discussing the need for our churches to help train our youth in apologetics, especially in the areas dealing with Genesis chapters 1–11 (the most attacked area of the Bible), when Bob mentioned a recent interaction he’d had with a local pastor.
Bob designs buildings as a profession, and he had been contracted to put together drawings for a new church. While discussing the details of some of the rooms, Bob noticed something peculiar. The area devoted to kid’s ministry was large, with plenty of room to facilitate the numbers projected. The junior youth area was smaller but still sufficient. But the senior youth (for older teens still living at home within the community) room had a very small footprint.
When Bob asked why it was designed that way, the pastor said matter-of-factly, “Well, by that age, there just aren’t that many left.” Older teenagers just weren’t coming to church anymore.
Bob’s retelling of that conversation felt like a gut punch, and he confessed that it had left him feeling ill as well. The pastor was making an honest and yet frightening admission regarding not only to the state of youth within his home church and denomination but also to the decay of the Christian church in Canada as a whole.
And it was explained in such a practical manner (the floor plans of a church). It wasn’t contested but simply accepted as a harsh reality. Why not find out the root cause of the teen dropouts rather than just live with it?
Various studies from a variety of denominations, independent investigations by broad groups of secular and religious analytic organizations such as the Barna group and the Beamer report commissioned by Answers in Genesis have shown that young people from Christian homes declare in their own words that they abandoned the Christian faith for two reasons:
It should be noted that the “hypocrisy” aspect (although it may deal with a wide variety of Christian behavior that does not comport with Christ’s teachings) also includes believers that insist that the Bible’s moral teachings (all of which doctrines are all grounded in the first 11 chapters of Genesis as real history) should be adhered to, while at the same time proclaiming Genesis 1–11 does not need to be taken as plainly written.
Can pastors and church leaders really shrug their shoulders when youth leave the church when the data answers why?
Many Christian leaders themselves have compromised their understanding of Genesis and accepted evolution, at least in part.
Often, the Bible colleges and seminaries they were trained in supported some form of evolutionary/long-age interpretation of the creation account, so they have settled with one of the various non-biblical positions regarding Genesis, such as gap theory, day-age theory, progressive creation, or theistic evolution (now termed evolutionary creation by some, likely to lessen its perceived obeisance to materialistic naturalism and still lay claim to believing in a creation of some sort).
Having done so, they have made themselves incredibly vulnerable to the most common of Bible skeptics’ questions used against Christian long-age believers, such as “Why would a loving God have used billions of years of death and struggle to ‘create’ and call it very good, all before Adam sinned against God?”
The resulting viewpoint is obvious: “Do you Christians believe Jesus created a world full of mayhem and bloodletting (supposedly the wages of sin), all before the crime (sin) had been committed? What a nice guy your Messiah is.” And of course, if they can’t fulfill 1 Peter 3:15 and give a ready defense of the Bible, can they equip their congregation’s youth to give a cogent, biblical answer?
Even if they’re open to the idea of supporting a plain reading of Genesis 1–11, they are often trapped in a cyclical reasoning process as follows:
Even many pastors who believe in a literal understanding of the Genesis account are often paralyzed into non-action because of the pressures they face within their church, particularly their church leadership. A perfect example of this occurred when we first launched the AiG–Canada ministry five years ago.
I had just met with the pastor of a large congregation to discuss having an Answers in Genesis conference at his church. He was a biblical creationist, fully supportive of AiG, and was excited to put something together. He told me that he had a large budget set aside for a multi-day conference and would be interested in having some of the AiG–US speakers come up as well.
What a great opportunity to equip many believers and get resources into their hands! All seemed as if it were full speed ahead until I followed up with him a week later, after he had discussed it with his church board members.
I could tell immediately when he picked up the phone that all his previous enthusiasm had been sucked out of him, and he said that he didn’t think he would go ahead with our conference. He explained that one of his board members was a theistic evolutionist who vigorously protested having Answers in Genesis in, causing division with the other members as well.
He told me he’d decided to go in a different direction with his conference and was going to deal with the gender issue since it was such a hot topic. When I asked him how his theistic evolutionist board member was going to feel when I pointed out that the only way to defend a biblical understanding of gender was to quote Genesis the same way Jesus did, as plainly written (God created male and female, Mathew 19:4¬5), he grew impatient and said something to the effect that “it was complicated” and hung up.
I don’t recall their ever having a conference dealing with gender either.
Probably the earliest encounter with a church leader in Canada regarding the lethargy in many churches in helping fortify the faith of youth (and one that lit my enthusiasm for speaking about creation apologetics more than any other) took place over 20 years ago. Working with the youth in my home church and seeing the youth fallout, I decided to arrange a meeting with the overseer of Youth Pastors. I had seen the effectiveness in teaching apologetics to youth, and I wanted to share the results.
As I raised my concerns during our discussion, he seemed aware of youth fallout and nodded in agreement when I quoted statistics from Barna that on average 70% of young people from Christian homes that attend state-run schools abandoned the faith by age 18. He leaned toward me and said, “Cal, actually in [our denomination], it’s more like 90% right now.”
Assuming that if he was armed with this knowledge (and seated in a senior position in one of the largest denominations in Canada and overseeing several other pastors who were responsible for the future of the church), he would implement a solution, I said, “So what’s the plan?”
He leaned back and shrugged his shoulders with an “I have no idea” look on his face. And my heart sank.
Ask anyone trained in the military, and they will tell you that leaders have a duty to be decisive. Why? Because it can mean the difference between life and death for their followers. And because of the seriousness of the situations these commanders are in, military leadership is often referred to as a crucible for decision-making training.
Indecisive, procrastinating leaders can damage those they are responsible for because the leader’s inaction is often multipled through the inaction of the followers. Imagine the CEO of a large company made up of 365 employees taking even one day longer to make a decision as to how to mobilize his people than he should. The result is a full year of wasted time! What about if he takes a month, three months, or a year longer than he should?
This concept is critical in any situation (from a frenzied firefight to a hostile takeover) where there is a competing adversary involved, and your ability to respond and initiate more rapid countermeasures than your opponent could lead to a major advantage. This is exactly why military leaders are trained to react decisively, without procrastination.
Pastors and Christian leaders, you have been called to lead God’s army. You’ve been tasked with a mission and are entrusted to shepherd those under your care, especially the most vulnerable. You’ve received the intel. You’ve received the intel, know what the enemy’s plans are, and where the main assault on the sovereign ground you have been commissioned to defend has been aimed: the foundation of the authority of God’s Word—Genesis.
You may feel inadequate, unprepared, and without sufficient influence or command. Regardless, we should all do our duty to the best of our ability, and serve our King, the Lord of Lords Jesus Christ, with every bit of ability and courage you can muster.
For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. (Psalm 95:3)
Don’t worry about the approval of man. Uphold the Word of God. The next generation of the church is in peril. We cannot afford another wasted minute, making the same mistakes over and over again and expecting different results. Doing so is simply planning to fail.