Much has been said concerning this generation of students exiting church. So how do we address this issue? For many the answer is bigger programs that strive to capture students’ hearts and direct them to the heart of God, but this tends to lead to “spiritual highs” that quickly fade – has “Acquire the Fire” solved this issued in their years of existence? For others the answer is to teach moral purity, but that hasn’t worked either – new statistics show that only twelve percent of students who pledged “True Love Waits” remained pure until marriage*. Others say teach the word, but if students do not see the word lived out, then why would they follow the teaching?
In twelve years of student ministry, I have observed a consistent pattern – though I must admit this observation remains undocumented and a few exceptions exist – students who are passionately in love with Jesus Christ and live to love others have parents who are passionately in love with Jesus and live to love others. It is also my observation that these students seldom exit the church upon graduation – instead they continue to grow in loving God and loving others as active leaders in the church and community.
This raises the question: can a student, whose parents lack spiritual maturity and leadership, passionately love God and love others? Yes. But not likely. The spiritual maturity and leadership of a student will seldom exceed that of their parents during their adolescent and college years. Though, by the grace of God, they might surpass their parents later in life – yet, this is still unlikely.
As long as parents continue being pathetic spiritual examples of loving God and loving others, our students will continue to walk away from the church. But then again, this is no surprise. Deuteronomy 11:18-20 reads: “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
God gives the primary responsibility of spiritual formation of children to parents – not the church!Now this does not mean that the church cannot have a role in the discipleship process, but the primary source is to be parents. Children learn from watching their parents; they mimic their parents’ attitudes and beliefs. Perhaps if parents started being the church, students would capture a passionate love for God and others – maybe then the church would begin to grow.
For George Barna’s thoughts on this topic click here.
* The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, by Ron Sider, pg 23. A research study based out of Columbia University and Yale University.