Why do 70% of youth quit going to church when they start college?
Why do Christians who we perceive as strong end up falling away?
Where do people slip through the cracks in church and can never be recovered?
These and many others were questions that plagued me recently. I started attending my current church at age 18. I moved to Greenville to begin my 4-year stint at Holmes Bible College. I started off as the shyest teen in the back of the room at their youth ministry called Planet Red. I had no idea what a great youth ministry was but I knew what it wasn’t. I interned under College Park’s current senior pastor, then youth pastor Mark Wagnon. He met with me weekly, held me accountable and made sure that I was involved in the church as much as possible. This all began in Fall of 2010. Cut to Fall of 2015, when Pastor Mark asked me if I’d be willing to take an interim youth pastoring position at the church and eventually be the youth pastor. I accepted it. The 30-minute drive from his house to mine at 2 am was filled with joy, fear and a few tears. I knew that I wanted to be in full-time ministry, but when the opportunity presented itself, I was more indifferent than anything. The main reason for this was because I didn’t want to just “do church.” I didn’t want to have a great 30-minute message and Applebee’s with 20 students. I wanted more. More from God, from myself, from my staff and from every student who shadowed our doors.
My first main gripe was that youth ministry doesn’t have big results. Why have seemingly “on fire” students disappeared, never to be seen again? How can I encourage and influence my young people to treat their Christ-like living as more than just a phase? I mean, we all go through phases. Some are better than others. At the time, the phase we’re in is the most important thing in the world. We live for people’s approval. Rarely do we ever get above that, due to small-minded thinking. I have deduced that the difference is a foundation. I learned the value and importance in Matthew 7:21-27 but I noticed it better put in Luke 6:46-49. (I’ve boldened and italicized what stood out to me.)
Building on a Solid Foundation
46 “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?
47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.
48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.
49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation.When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”
Jesus clearly distinguishes two types of people here. They both hear His teachings. Obeying is equated to building a house on a solid rock. Not obeying is equated to building a house without a foundation. (Matthew recounts it as “building a house on sand.”) What shocked me most about this passage is that BOTH GROUPS ARE BUILDING! So therefore, someone is either building a solid foundation on God’s word or they’re building a flimsy foundation on sand.
They were taught to go to church twice a week, pray at the altar when it’s opened, surround themselves with “good” people, and tell people that they’re a “Christian.” I was frustrated about being a youth pastor because I didn’t want to see young people around me do the Christian phase and nothing more. I also knew that as a leader, it would completely change how I go about leading them. Unlike many Christian leaders, I’m not concerned about what happens to Jimmy in the four walls of a church. I’m more concerned about what Jimmy makes happen on a Monday morning when he’s at school, Tuesday when his parents are cussing him out, or Friday night when he’s with his buddies. How Jimmy hears and obeys Jesus’ teachings day in and day out is gonna determine if the church thing will be a foundation or a phase.
My parents are the most passionate Christians I know. My mom prayed and still prays for hours every morning. My father has a PhD in theology. I watched and helped them plant a church. But when I wasn’t playing the drums on a Sunday morning, setting up chairs in the evening or praying for my peers at the altar, I was cussing, trading porn DVD’s with my church friends and putting on a front. No one cornered me, no one questioned me, no one batted an eye. Gone are the days of assumptions. The Bible is clear. Jesus is not a liar. If you see someone who isn’t sold out on God, they’re a sandcastle king.
“I read a couple of verses once a week and I learn more then.”
“I pray for 1 minute a day and it’s better than spending too much time praying.”
“You can’t gauge my spiritual life! How I grow is up to me.”
Luke 6:43-45 (NKJV)
43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.
44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.
45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
If your foundation is more Netflix than the Word, there’s something wrong.
“Well, I can’t just worship, read my Bible, pray, and find ways to grow with the Lord all the time!”
Okay. Tell me what’s more important and will matter in eternity so I can reevaluate my life and follow you.