The Bible tells us that Christians, although in the world, are not to be of the world (Romans 12:2); we are to be set apart for His special purpose (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). However because we are imperfect, fallen people who still sin, remaining set apart from the world and not allowing ourselves to be conformed to it is a constant battle in which we must remain vigilant, cooperating with the Holy Spirit in submission to the authority of the Word.
I am 39 years old. Although I was not regenerated until the age of 30, I did grow up in the church. Throughout my lifetime the church has really been struggling with being set apart from the culture. In my opinion, much of the world/culture has come into the church influencing how the church operates, rather than the church remaining set apart and allowing only the Word to dictate what it is conformed to. This is most easily seen in the toxic Church Growth movement made famous by Rick Warren. We also see it in the redefinition of roles within the church mirroring our secular culture (Egalitarianism/women’s rights resulting in female “pastors”) rather than the prescriptive Word.
Another area in which we see this is the apprehensiveness about what youth think about going to church. Today on Twitter, I came across a Table Talk magazine article by Stephen Nichols: Youth-Driven Culture. Mr. Nichols laments the Church’s capitulation to worldly influence by adopting the worldly obsession with youth. He writes:
The subtle and not-so-subtle pulls of the idolization of youth manifest themselves in three areas. The first is an elevation of youth over the aged. This reverses the biblical paradigm. The second is a view of being human that values prettiness (not to be confused with beauty and aesthetics), strength, and human achievement. Think of the captain of the cheerleading squad and the star quarterback. The third is the dominance of the market by the youth demographic. That is to say, in order to be relevant and successful, one must appeal to the youth or to youthful tastes.
Mr. Nichols is exactly right. The Church’s obsession with youth is at odds with the Biblical paradigm. It is a secular mindset, not a Biblical one, that says relevance and success are determined by the appeal to youth.
To be fair, I believe that many in the church are motivated by a genuine love and concern for youth, especially for their own children and grandchildren. For the Christian parent or grandparent, there is nothing more important or dear than to see one’s children and grandchildren come to saving faith. The problem begins when individuals, either from ignorance, incorrect theology, or fear, operate from a position of believing it is up to them. They convince themselves that they must, in their own strength and ingenuity, will those youth they love into belief. But we know from the Bible that that is not how it works.
God is the one who builds His Church. Our job is to proclaim the Gospel and leave the results up to Him. That is hard for us to do sometimes. We want to be in control. We become impatient for God to act. Our faith can be weak, and we default to taking action rather than prayerful reliance on the Sovereign God who alone can transform dead men into living trophies of grace. This is why it is important to base our belief, theology, doctrine, and practice on God’s Word, the Bible, rather than man-made techniques or philosophies. We are weak vessels that need to constantly be reminded of the Gospel and of Biblical truth so that our minds are renewed by the Word, which then informs our actions. If we are not continually washing our minds in His Truth, then we become easily confused, or forgetful, and capitulate to doing things in our own strength.
When we have a correct understanding of the order of Salvation and our role in evangelism, then we are less likely to rely on gimmicks, manipulation and our own strength in reaching the lost, recognizing that we don’t build the Church, God does. True sheep are drawn by the Father and will come to churches where the Word is faithfully preached. If the church’s strategy is to bring people in and keep them through appealing to their felt needs, style preferences, and being entertained, they will most likely be hauling in a bunch of goats, not sheep. If they are there for the coffee bar, hip music, or the appeal of a pastor in trendy clothes, they are there for the wrong reason. The saying goes something like “whatever you win them with, you win them to.” Let it be The Gospel of Jesus Christ, and no other.