Scott M. Bennett
Junior in College
Will entertainment and gimmicks keep young people in the church?
Unbelievable events have shaken the world in the past several months. School shootings, parents murdering their children, children murdering their parents, the fall of the World Trade Center, brutality in the Near East, possibilities of mass killings with bio-weapons. Even nature has seemed to careen out of control. How much clearer can the signs be that the books of this world are coming to a cataclysmic close? Yet the rate at which youth are leaving the Seventh-day Adventist church is even more alarming. In this discussion, before I explain why I am still in the church, I must present the truth about why many are leaving it.
The Way It Was
Ten years ago, I could walk into a Sabbath school, church service, or prayer meeting, and in most churches I would find myself in a sacred place of worship. I would be surrounded by reverent fellow believers. They were there for two purposes, to commune with their Creator and to recharge each other spiritually through supportive socialization. Today, I walk into a Sabbath school, church service, or prayer meeting, and in many churches I find myself in a theater, rock concert, or party surrounded by thrill-seekers and entertainment lovers. What has happened?
The direction that the Seventh-day Adventist church has gone and is going is a discussion that cannot fit into the space of this article. But to summarize, the church in some places seems to have lost sight of the power of its unique gospel message and the power of the Holy Spirit to draw sinners to Christ and has decided to follow the worlds example, using advertisements, eye catchers, exciting worship styles, seductions, and even deceit to bring individuals into the church. Instead of bringing people out of the world and into the church with our unique God-given gospel, we have conformed a gospel (that isnt even ours to conform) to the wishes of the world. Sadly enough, we are now sending people out of the church and into the world.
How It Is Why They Leave
With this said, lets discuss why youth are leaving the church. First, many are seeing un-Christlike behavior in their parents, pastors, and friends. Though we are often touted as scattered, unstable, unthinking young people (which is partially true), we are not blind to the false attempts made by many of our leaders and friends to "act" like Adventists. Listen to this statement from Ellen G. White:
"Lessons of great importance may be learned from the history of Daniel and his companions. These youth were bound together in the sacred bonds of Christian fellowship. Daniels name is placed first on the record because he exerted a strong influence over the other three, who looked upon him as a leader. Had he failed to take a firm stand for the right, had he pleased and indulged self, his companions also would have failed. They would not have been handed down to us as young men signally honored by the God of heaven" (Manuscript Releases, 4:129).
Disappointment. Youth who are like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego see around them those who call themselves Christian but are unsure of their way or have no real Christian experience. This can spell disaster for sincerely struggling youth. Though this is not an excuse, it is a hard fact that there are people who at certain stages in their walk need the support of other fine Christians. If God has put someone there to support them, and that "someone" fails to exemplify Him even for a moment, they leave the church. It no longer seems genuine to them.
Second, the church appears to feel the need to entertain the youth rather than to teach them the meaning of worship. As mentioned earlier, the church has seemed to commercialize the gospel to bring youth in from the world and to "fire up" youth that are in the church. Unfortunately, this form of "spreading the gospel" spells disaster for several reasons.
Youth that are in the world come into the church many times out of what I call "heaven-sent curiosity." It used to be that they would find a place of rest, a place of love and peace unmatched by anything the world can offer. They would find a haven that was utterly opposite to the world and its attractions. This was enough evidence that there was a Divine presence, not only in the church but also in the people.
Youth who had been scarred by many years spent doing worldly things would find our church a place where they could begin a new life in Christ. If they had the urge to smoke, they could confide in church members. If they were tempted to go to rock concerts, they could attend vespers instead and flee from the temptation. If they were tempted to attend a party that could lead them to sin, they could find strength to overcome at prayer meeting.
No Different. Today, with the acceptance of the new worship styles mentioned earlier in this discussion, worldly youth are walking into our church and saying to themselves, "You dont have anything different to offer us." The church is involved in many of the practices of the world and therefore, it no longer represents a different, life-changing place. Worldly youth will look inside, and they wont see any opportunity to dramatically change their life. And if this is what brought them to the church in the first place (the desire to change their life for something better) and they dont see that opportunity because our church has embraced the world so much, they will turn away.
Youth who are in the church often are being entertained instead of being taught to reverence God, keep their lives pure, and spread the gospel to others. They need to find church and Sabbath school so inspirational that they will come week after week, and attendance will increase. Again, there is folly in the "attempting to make church fun" idea. If the church is not different from the world, then what incentive do youth have to stay in the church? If the church is focusing on entertainment, be assured that the world can do it BETTER!
The church service employs soft-rock praise songs, but there are better musicians, better instruments, and better sound systems in the secular world that can do a better job with soft rock than the Seventh-day Adventist church can. The same goes for the "magical illusions" performed at the pulpit, or the inert social gatherings we call Sabbath school. The world can do it all better. With the exception of our Seventh-day Adventist gospel, the world has everything we have and better. The church and its worship styles are causing the youth to develop an appetite for entertainment. The moment Adventist youth see through the "forest" out into the world and become aware of its superior entertainment, they drop the faith.
No matter how strong the prayers for them are, no matter how strong the influence of God-fearing parents, pastors, and friends may be, no matter how strongly the Holy Spirit impresses their consciences, all youth still have free will and will ultimately take whatever course they choose. The responsibility of any particular lost youth lies not on the parents, friends, or leaders, but on the youth themselves. In some cases, our only option is to intercede on their behalf with all sincerity. This is a sorrowful happening, but it only reminds us of the fact that this world is sinful, and that there is a devil walking about as a "roaring lion, . . . seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8).
Why I Stay
With everything said so far, it will be easy for me to state why I am still in the church:
1. I see through the entertainment ploys of the church as a whole and choose to practice a "primitive form of godliness" instead of participating in the desensitizing worship styles.
2. I believe that the Seventh-day Adventist church contains Gods chosen people and that our gospel is one that we have an obligation to share with others.
3. Having parents who are converts who came from the world and being a convert myself, I see nothing that the world has to offer me that can come even close to the promise of eternal life.
4. I feel that I can be an effective witness to my fellow youth and give them the support that they are searching for, but not getting, in the church as it is at present.
Every Friday evening our home is blessed with a youth group Bible study. In this study we learn about Gods will for our lives by reading the Bible. We do not look to "study guides" or specially prepared lessons to learn. Nor do we feel the need to make the evening a "fun night." By diligent searching of the Scriptures and the writings of Ellen G. White, and through a beautiful closing group prayer, we have enriched our lives spiritually and recharged ourselves for the coming week and the pressures it will bring. This study is neither a dry nor boring time. It balances the social, spiritual, and mental needs of its participants without giving them an appetite for worldly excitement.
Shouldnt we all "dare to be a Daniel"?