[Next Generation] Losing the “Saved”

With just over 20 years in young-adult ministry, Chris has served with the ABSC since 2009, first as a BCM Campus Minister and now as the Assistant Team Leader for the CYL Team. He and his wife, Shawnee, and their 7-year-old son Hudson live in Northwest Arkansas where Chris has also served in pastoral ministry, Christian higher education, and as a business owner in the community.

“Guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge” – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you.” 1 Tim. 6:20–21.

Let me start by saying that God is at work on our university campuses and in particular He is at work among our Baptist Collegiate Ministries across the state.   That being said…things could be better. A lot better.

I could list the results of studies and polls for pages on-end related to the exodus taking place from our churches as students graduate high school. The fact is, if you sit on a Sunday morning and look around, 2/3 of the youth ministry students you see will no longer be in the church by the end of their college careers. That’s 2/3 of your children & grandchildren! 

For the ones that manage to stay somewhat involved in the church into their adult years, in many, there is a significant drift from what we as Southern Baptists would consider Orthodoxy (right-belief) and Orthopraxy (right-practice).  They are more likely to compromise on their views of marriage, the authority of Scripture, and Biblical morality in general.

So the question is…Why are we losing the “saved?” 

There are many facts and opinions on this and I want to try my best to not make the age-old mistake of confusing the two, as happens so often in today’s society. The overarching reason for this, I believe, is simply a lack of discipleship. I recognize that is probably too broad so let me narrow it down to some particular aspects of discipleship.

The Bible has been thrown in with the “fake news” in our culture:

We live in a day when so much is not to be trusted, and 99% of the time rightfully so. Unfortunately, this mistrust has also extended to the Bible.  We have often allowed the Bible to be viewed as a collection of “stories” from which to glean some good morality or teachings rather than being viewed as real-world history set on a real-world timeline.  In a recent conversation with apologist, and 2022 Lead>Defend speaker, J. Warner Wallace, he said often as the church we are starting far too late in educating our young people in the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible.

We need to expose them to the abundance of evidence for the inspiration of the Bible. We need them to see that the Bible is more than “stories.” It is the inspired, inerrant, Word of the Living God. It is true and it is powerful in addressing all of life’s questions. Questions on values, identity, origins, and so much more.

Presenting a humanist gospel rather than The Gospel: 

To address this one, I’ll first give a short definition of humanism.  Humanism boiled down to its most basic form is a philosophical mindset in which “the end of all being is the happiness of man.”  This mindset has permeated the church in so many ways, but in order to better understand this, we must go back to around the 1850s. 

At this time the church was divided into two tribes. One tribe was the liberals, who accepted the philosophy of humanism, and tried to find some relevance by saying something like this to their generation; “We don’t know that there’s a heaven. We don’t know that there’s a hell. But we do know this, that you have to live for about 70 years! We know there’s a lot of benefits from poetry, from high thoughts and noble aspirations.

Therefore, it’s important for you to come to church on Sunday so that we can read some poetry, and give you some little adages and axioms and rules to live by. We can’t say anything about what’s going to happen when you die. However, we’ll tell you this, if you’ll come every week and give, serve and stay with us, we’ll ‘put springs on your wagon’ making your trip more comfortable and you’ll be happier while you’re alive.”

There is another group of people that took offense with the liberals. This group is where our SBC people mostly reside, who are often called fundamentalists. They say, “We believe in the inspiration of the Bible! We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ! We believe in Hell! We believe in Heaven! We believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ!” But remember the cultural atmosphere is that of humanism. Humanism says, “the chief end of being is the happiness of man.”  Humanism is like an infection, a pandemic much worse than the likes of COVID-19, it just goes everywhere.

So, it wasn’t long until we arrived at the following: the fundamentalists knew each other because they said, “We believe these things and these are the things that establish us as fundamentalists!” The second generation said, “Believe in this checklist of beliefs and thereby become a fundamentalist.” And so, it wasn’t long until it got to our generation, where the whole plan of salvation was to give intellectual assent to a few statements of doctrine.

A person is considered a Christian because he could say “Ah-hah” at four or five places that he was asked. If he knew where to say, “Ah-hah”, someone would pat him on the back, shake his hand, smile broadly, and say “Brother, you’re saved!” It has gotten down to the place where salvation is nothing more than an assent to a scheme or a formula, and the end of this is that salvation is for the happiness of man because humanism has penetrated it.

To summarize, the liberal says the end of religion is to make man happy while he’s alive, and the fundamentalist says the end of religion is to make man happy when he dies. Neither of these is the Christ-centric Gospel of the Bible. The effect of this on our students is that they develop a mindset concerning the Gospel that is self-serving and in which man is primarily a good man in trouble with a bad/angry God rather than the reality that we are all bad men in trouble with a good God. 

This makes God a means to an end.  The Gospel says He is both the means and the end! They then question how God could allow so much suffering and pain in the world out of a basic misunderstanding of the sinful nature that has permeated us all. Inevitably when the Gospel/Christianity doesn’t serve them… cater to their wants and desires, they have easily been led away. Oh, the number of times I’ve heard, “Christianity just didn’t do anything for me” or “It just doesn’t work for me.”   This view of the Gospel confuses their concept of who God is and who they are in relation to Him, which leads to the last point…

Identity confusion:  

You can’t spend a lot of time around me in discipleship and not hear me use the phrase, “focus on the root, not the fruit.” In this particular context what I am referring to is how at times we as the church focus more on morality and behavioral modification (fruit) rather than looking at “why” behind this behavior (root).  Students may correct the behavior for a time (at least externally) but internally the same “why’s” are at work.

They are finding their identity and value in places/things that are not Christ, such as finding their identity in their sexuality despite the fact that they were created for far more than sex.  They also often find their value and measurement of success in life on the world’s standards rather than Kingdom standards. This seeking of identity and value outside of Christ is what makes worldliness become attractive to them, especially when coupled with the anti-Christian atmosphere of most higher education institutions.

How do we combat all of this?

Start young in helping students understand that the Bible is relevant and trustworthy, that the Gospel is about God receiving the Glory He deserves in and through them, and helping them understand that their identity and value is found in Him.

As the ABSC (Arkansas Baptist State Convention) one of the instruments we use in conveying these Truths is the Lead>Defend conference. We started Lead>Defend several years ago as a leadership & apologetics conference for juniors in high school through young professionals. We are now seeing a need to expand the conference and starting in 2022 we will add “Lead>Defend Foundations” for 6th-10th grade students. For more information on this years’ conference check out leaddefend.org and register today!

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3 Responses

  1. The young people I’ve watched continue in the faith have had good fundamental discipleship training and shortly after they get some discipline’s in their own walk they get some encouragement and training to help others in their walk. I appreciate your experience and insights and am very thankful for the men who poured their lives into my life of which your are one who I have to thank for the years we spent together.
    Thanks Chris, tell Shawnee hello .

    1. Thanks so much Cory. You and your family have been such a blessing in our lives over the years. Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. Miss you guys. I get to see your son-in-law at some pastors events! Excited that God is using them so much.

  2. Keep up the good work🤠
    I’ve been substitute teaching at BHS for18 years. I find that high schoolers are interested in spiritual things, because of the questions they ask me. One student told me that he found God. My question was, do you know who Jesus is. The expression on his face was, tell me. So I did, he was later baptized at Cross Church.

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