The Common Good

Stop Blaming Youth for Christianity’s 'Demise'

Expressions like "the world is getting worse and worse" and "we are living during the end times" are commonly thrown around within evangelical circles, and it needs to stop.

Youth concept, Kjpargeter / Shutterstock.com
Youth concept, Kjpargeter / Shutterstock.com

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Are things really getting worse? Sure, church attendance might be down, fewer people are identifying themselves as 'Christian' on surveys, and the percentage of atheists continues to rise, but that doesn't mean the apocalypse is right around the corner.

Yet, I continually hear pastors and Christian leaders lament these evil times and Depraved Generation. They emotionally and emphatically condemn this fallen world and seemingly fulfill their own false prophecies by promoting a pessimistic outlook of the future of Christianity — simultaneously validating their theories by judging our future of Christianity: the youth.

The common scapegoat for Christianity's current “demise” is often blamed on young people, who are stereotyped as being more liberal, progressive, post-modern, and susceptible to spiritual relativism than ever before. They're the ones who have bought into the lies of the Emergent church, the temptation of the Prosperity Gospel, the sinfulness of our media-saturated world, and have become addicted to entertainment and denied the inerrancy of Scripture.

Blaming youth (both spiritually and socially) is an old habit. Ever since flappers danced, jazz clubs buzzed, rock n' roll roared, disco lights sparkled, hippies smoked, and hip-hop blared, people have use youth as a convenient target of their communal scorn.

And who is supposed to be spiritually leading these youth?! Let's blame them, too — the youth pastors! Oh yeah, they're the ones who simply show trendy videos, have pizza parties, and fail to teach deep theological truths. Youth groups have evolved into babysitting centers for teens, where they can play video games and hang out with their friends under the guise of spiritual development.

This phenomenon recycles itself every few years, and it’s almost always a reaction from those who have the most to lose. In this case, it’s the traditional religious institutions that are losing popularity, power, control, and influence.

It’s obviously not their own fault, so they must find a excuse — that’s where the youth come in.

If you ever hear of people who are absolute in their condemnation and guilt of a community — beware! It’s most likely false.

Sure, present-day Christianity is far from perfect, but in many ways, the ideals of the young generation are inspiring Christianity and saving it from becoming irrelevant — and these "radical" ideas of theirs are often based on Christ's life and teaching!

Loving the poor, promoting peace, taking care of creation, sacrificing, serving, healing, and promoting peace and justice has become the new norm among young (and old) Christians alike, and a rebellion is occurring, driven by the desire to return back to the simplicity and clarity of following Christ’s example.

Acceptance, grace, and love have trumped the institutionalized doctrines that have been infected by power, control, influence, and agendas. Christians are fed up with hypocrisy.

Generally, there are two attitudes Christians use to guide their life: either hope or fear. For those that are fear-based, the youth are predestined to fail, and are in fact leading us to our own destruction. But for those who have hope, Christianity has never looked brighter, and the youth are striving to bring redemption and freedom.

For the pessimists, the world is lost. Christianity is losing power and being overrun by demonic influences. They’ll point to numbers that seemingly show the death of the church, but their idea of “church” and “Christianity” is twisted.

Our finite perceptions of “righteousness” are always flawed. This is why Jesus continually warns us not to judge others, because we often end up putting ourselves on a pedestal while self-righteously judging others.

For example, people who point to declining church attendance as a sign of Christianity’s downfall paint a revisionist history. Because when attendance was near its greatest in America, our society was steeped in blatant racism, segregation, discrimination, gender inequality, and a fear of Communism and nuclear war. This was the Golden Era of Christianity?!

It’s easy to glorify the past. But if we look at reality, Christianity wasn’t any healthier or holier back then as it is now. In many ways it was worse.

Change is hard, and it’s easy to find the faults in new, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable ideas, but in many ways this “new” Christianity is not new at all, but simply an attempt to follow Christ’s example of changing the world — something Christ showed us how to do hundreds of years ago.

Can we accept this? Or are we too invested in our own agendas to risk this dangerous brand of Christianity? God help us.

Stephen Mattson has contributed for Relevant Magazine and the Burnside Writer's Collective, and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Image: Youth concept, Kjpargeter / Shutterstock.com

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