For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12
There is a battle for the souls of our youth. It is a battle being fought—and lost— in our families and churches. It is a battle that can not only sink the U.S. evangelical church but our nation as a whole.
Like many from varied walks of life, I’m deeply troubled by accounts of youth who are recruited by ISIS. In the face of a 2015 Pew Research Center survey that shows a nearly 8 percent drop in U.S. adults identifying themselves as Christian (70.6 percent in 2015 vs. 78.4 percent in 2007), coupled with a previous Barna Group-USA Today study showing an exodus of 75 percent of young people from the Christian faith with which they were raised, some things become clear:
- Our churches are inadequately discipling adults.
- Parents are inadequately discipling their children.
- Faith is losing its position as the foundation of the home.
- True saving faith is losing its relevance.
As CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke put it in a 2015 story, “Older generations of Americans are not passing along the Christian faith as effectively as their forebears.”
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, faith was the familiar bedrock of the average American’s life. The family was at the core of society, and the church was at the core of the family.
Fast forward a few hundred years through a black hole of existential superficiality, and faith has been pushed aside as a defining characteristic of the socially acceptable individual, whose identity is no longer rooted in family—and certainly not in the church.
As families and churches fail to engage young people and provide a compelling case for taking ownership of their faith, something must fill that God-shaped void in their hearts. As the number of Christians declines, the number of those unaffiliated with any faith system increases. Interestingly, the numbers of Hindus and Muslims have increased.
Perhaps by converting to Hinduism, people seek an alternative—however false—to eternal judgment. And perhaps in Islam, young people are seeking empowerment. Freedom and empowerment are attractive, after all.
But we as Christians must stop believing the lie that we must appeal to what young people want. We must appeal to what they need, and what they need is the gospel. The gospel is not about us. It is about what God has done for us.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-5
This is not a message that requires updating or softening or strategies or apologies. This is a message that needs to be broadcast into every heart at every opportunity. It is the only message that can renew life in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches and in our youth groups.
Our social landscape has changed. Technology has changed. The role of the family has changed. They will continue to change. But God and His word are unchanging. And they are the only agents of change that offer hope in the battle for our youth.