I recently did an email interview with a college student who was writing a research paper about the departure of students from church once they graduate. Thought I would post my answers up here on the blog as well – would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, too!
1. What kind of doubts about the Bible and Christianity do you hear Christian young people express?
Can the Bible be trusted? If God is so loving, why is there so much evil in the world? Is Hell real? What about the inconsistencies in the Bible? Why does the Bible disagree so clearly with what we KNOW is true from science?
Students in our ministry have all sorts of doubts, and honestly, I’m so glad they are sharing them with us. I think a crisis of faith in high school where they are trained, card for, mentored, loved and further educated sets them up for much higher rates of personalizing their faith than those in less fortunate environments who aren’t allowed to express doubts until early in their college years when it is challenged very directly and their faith crumbles in a heap.
2. What non-biblical beliefs do you see Christian young people embracing?
Evolution is taught as scientific fact in our culture, so it is a common belief that theory is how our universe was created. I would also say there is a surge in a more inclusiveness to different faiths, not just within various Christian denominations, but even non-biblical faith systems. Just Google “I’m a Mormon” and you’ll see how great of a job the Mormons are doing of fitting in with Christians and see why Christian teens may be misled.
3. What social issues are young people struggling with?
Bullying is huge in the news and the bookstore these days – it is funny since it has been around forever but just now getting the attention it deserves. In addition to that the homosexual issue is now very much at the forefront of youth culture (see Born This Way and Glee as examples), along with depression, identity issues, self-esteem and suicide. We just finished up a teaching series called Secrets, and have over 400 anonymous cards returned with real issues that our students are struggling with. It was powerful stuff and will shape our teaching topics for the next 1-2 years I would imagine.
4. What do you think are the biggest reasons Christian young people question their faith?
I think it is natural to question your faith. If you test it, and it checks out, your faith is deepened. I may even go as far as suggesting that I think that faith should be questioned, and it is a normal part of believing in something without seeing it. For that matter, I’m not sure it can (or should be) helped. I say that as a youth pastor who knows that to be true, but also as a father that fears that statement because I so desperately want my children to know and walk with God. Look at Doubting Thomas as example A for doubting leading to devotion. Sad he gets such a bad rap – his doubt led him to a depth of faith that would lead him to literally change the world for Christ.
5. What do you think are the major reasons Christian young people reject their faith?
Unsatisfactory answers. Poor foundational teaching. And I also think that the rejection of a parent’s values/belief/ideals is a somewhat normal part of adolescent development as well – we have to remember that the teenager years are leading up to this big burst of freedom to live their own life free of their parents and their past – and the run with the newfound freedom. I have a feeling that teenagers and young adults have long been leaving the church (perhaps to return as a young parent) and it has only recently come to light.
6. What do you think would help Christian young people keep their faith after they leave home?
I think parents are the first and most important key. A Godly, consistent home that reinforces the truths of the Bible is critical. I think helping graduated students find a new church in their new college home and walk through that transition is huge. The importance of the right circle of friends cannot be overstated. And a relationship with someone from back home (a mentor, Life Group leader, etc) to help walk with them through this time of freedom, tempation and maturity. The book The Slow Fade might give you some more specific insight here.
7. What are you doing to prepare your youth to face future challenges to their beliefs?
Every year we do several practical series and give out tons of usable tools to help students grow on their own. Our goal is to make sure that students have a faith of their own and not just riding the Christian culture or the pressure to conform of their parents. We also do regular apologetics teaching series and offer several workshops on these subjects to help ground them in the faith. Life Groups are the opportunity for mentorship and modeling of faith by a trained, screened and loving leader.
8. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Do you see a correlation between how little it costs to be a Christian in America and the loss of faith that is occurring in Christian young people?
Maybe so, I suppose? I would suggest it isn’t as easy at you might think to be a Christian (outside of the Christian private school/bible college/home bubble I grew up well within myself). In the real world I see my students having to stand up for their faith, be persecuted (mildly by Tertullian standards of course) and perhaps it costs them more than we think on the surface.