We are losing our young people

The Youth Committee of our Church has become deeply concerned. As a Church we are failing to keep our young people. In the last fifteen years there has been a 33% decrease in the numbers attending our Sabbath Schools. The Youth Conference in 1997 had to be cancelled due to a lack of interest. The number of children attending Free Church summer camps has declined dramatically in the last two or three years. Students and young professionals are choosing to attend churches of other denominations. Many of our young people are turning their back on church altogether. The Youth Committee is proposing the appointment of a National Youth Co-ordinator who it is hoped will help reverse this trend. But how? Do we need more national events and young people’s meetings? Are the young people themselves in possession of the answer? Could a vivacious young person leading a youth crusade turn the tide? Would this be a long term solution or merely a blip in the downward spiral? Surely the time has come to turn to the Scriptures for the answer. Does the Bible give us a reason as to why we are losing our young people? This is a vital question which it is imperative for us to address if the Free Church is to survive.

The home
Really the problem starts here. We are a Church which believes in God’s covenant love for us and our children, and so we practise infant baptism. Our homes should be covenant homes, close-knit centres of godliness, where the law of God is the established rule of life and the gospel of Christ the supreme source of joy and hope. We should consciously belong to God. The worship of God by the family should take a priority over everything else. The godly example of the parents should fill the hearts of the children with the fear of God and so encourage them to love and serve Him. Children should be made to feel that their parents’ greatest ambition is to see their family converted and following Christ. Are your children aware that it will break your heart if they rebel and turn away from the Lord?
Too many parents are worldly and materialistic and their children learn from them. At baptism, parents promised to bring up their children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” - the teaching and discipline of the Bible. But the sad fact is that there is often very little Biblical instruction and discipline on the part of parents. The law of God should be drilled into our children. The gospel of Christ and the Christ of the gospel should be warmly commended. Prayer, praise and the fear of God should be the atmosphere of our homes. Love and constant sharing within the family are vital. Television and home entertainment must not be allowed to fill our children’s lives, choking the good seed of God’s Word. Some parents are excellent at instructing their children when they are young but as they enter their teenage years they are terrified of alienating them and so tend to leave them to develop on their own. This is disastrous. The teenage years are the most crucial. This is when barriers can develop between children and their parents. Do we always know where our children are, what they are doing and what their interests are? Do we lovingly restrain them from harmful activities? Do we guide them into what is wholesome and profitable? Are we still teaching our children? Are we praying and weeping over them? Do we warn them of the awfulness of the hell that is at the end of a life of sinful pleasures? Is the eternal salvation of our children our great passion?

The Sabbath School
Sabbath Schools were started as an outreach to unchurched children. It is important to remember this. Christian parents are expected to teach their own children and the children are expected to be under the preaching of the Word with their parents. They were present in the audiences listening to Jesus and are addressed by Paul in the Epistles. Today however, many children seldom hear sermons. A short children’s address with minimal Bible content is supposed to be all they can bear. Too often today parents regard the Sabbath School as the main source of religious knowledge for their children. We thank God for the excellent work done by many Sabbath School teachers. But what can a Sabbath School teacher achieve in one hour or less a week? Children spend five days per week in the less important task of learning the things of this world. How many parents use even the Sabbath afternoon for teaching their children? Some are so tired after their week’s work that they spend the Lord’s Day afternoon sleeping. They provide their children with TVs and videos and hi-fis and computers and designer clothing and lots of pocket money, but what about their souls? Further, children are so used to entertainment that, because attendance at Sabbath School is voluntary, teachers, if they want the children to keep coming, must spend the time entertaining the children. The amount of actual content is becoming less and less. It would be a valuable exercise to examine our children on their knowledge of the Bible and particularly of the law and the gospel. It is tragic how little the average Free Church child now knows. Sabbath Schools should be primarily an evangelistic outreach to children who otherwise will receive only minimum teaching. Christian parents should shoulder their own responsibility to teach and train up their own children for the Lord.

The Youth Fellowship
Over the years Youth Fellowships have done much good work. Yet the time has come to assess their impact. Today a whole youth culture (cult) has emerged where young people separate from the older folk. They are supposed to have such different interests and values that they are encouraged to meet on their own. Sadly the effect is that young people tend often to be arrogant and contemptuous of older people. They despise their wisdom and experience. This focus on youth is a relatively recent phenomenon. There is no evidence of its existence in the New Testament, nor indeed for almost two thousand years of church history since then. Neither has the emphasis on the young strengthened the church or brought more of them to Christ. The church is the body of Christ. Young and old should constantly be in fellowship with one another. The old give wisdom to the young and the young give life and zeal to the old. Too much emphasis on youth groups tends to have an effect similar to that of a greenhouse where young plants appear to do well for a while but when away from the warm atmosphere they fade and wither. Let us reject “ageism” and concentrate on developing the fellowship of young and old with one another.

The Youth Camps
Again the Youth Camps have over the years encouraged many young folk. But they have dangers. Some camp leaders have put too much pressure on children to make a decision for Christ. There are too many cases of children making a profession at camp who within days of returning home fall away. Leaders had tried to perform the Spirit’s work for Him but it is not the real thing. Such decisions have a hardening effect on those who feel that they have tried religion but discovered that it does not work. Another problem with camps is that unconverted young folk (or even worldly Christians) can be a bad influence on vulnerable young minds. Out of evangelistic concern all sorts have been welcomed at our camps. However two or three extrovert unregenerate children can affect the whole atmosphere. It is sad if our children learn evil things when at camps run by our Church. Further, if the leaders have little love for the Free Church’s form of worship this can have a detrimental effect. The Big Free Rally with its guitars and drama presentations seems more like a concert than a Free Church gathering. Most importantly, Youth Camps must not take over from the family holiday which is invaluable for cementing relationships in our busy world. Otherwise there will be a further break-down in the covenant family and the consequent straining and weakening of the lines of communication.

This is the teenage magazine of our Church. It is attractively produced and contains some very good articles. Yet the overall emphasis conveyed is one which is quite different from that of our Free Church heritage and indeed that of Reformed theology. It seems to start with secular teenage culture and tries to tag Jesus on. It talks of clubs where you “have fun and also learn about God”. One article recently began with the words “Football, football, football, I could write about it for ever”. Surely as Christians we could only write about Christ forever. Are our young people expected to have their minds full of sport, pop-music, films and entertainment? Surely if the new birth takes place young people will have a different set of priorities and a Christian magazine should highlight these. We must warn our young people in the words of the Beloved Apostle: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1Jn.5:21).

The Pulpit
Some of the blame for the present crisis must lie with the pulpit. Are we teaching our people the full-orbed Reformed faith? Are our young people being enthused with the glorious gospel? Are they excited about sovereign grace, about biblical morality and about our rich, Scriptural form of worship? Some ministers appear to have such little enthusiasm for the distinctive beliefs and practices of the Free Church that it is no wonder that those who listen to their preaching see no reason why they should continue in the Free Church. In some congregations the attempt is made to follow every gimmick that other churches have in the hope that this will bring numerical success. It seems to work for a while but as time passes people will look for more and more gimmicks and will eventually leave for churches which specialise in these things. Novelty is counterproductive. It soon leads to boredom.
Fashions come and go but a church built on the solid rock of Scripture will last forever. We have a wonderful heritage as a Church. Let us be excited about it and inspire our young folk in the same way. Sabbath schools, youth fellowships and youth camps must be mere extensions of the home and do all in their power to help the parents in bringing up the children for God. All our youth activities should be carefully designed to help the Church in its task of discipling young people for Christ. Our children need to become strong members of the Free Church which we love. This means that they need to become converted and to be convinced that our Free Church principles are right.

Any comments or questions please E-Mail me or Rev William Macleod the editor.

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