My motivation for writing this blog is twofold: First, there is a slow apostasy that is creeping in to many so-called Christian denominations. Many groups that claim the name of Christ are advocating anti-Christian principles. Second, it seems that the majority of Christians are not adequately trained nor sufficiently motivated to carry out the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . . “(Matt. 28:19-20). To carry out this commission, Christians need to be disciples and disciple-makers. It means knowing basic Christian doctrine, knowing the Bible, and being able to defend the Christian faith.
I’m not saying that every Christian has to be seminary trained, memorize the New Testament, and stand on street corners shouting about Jesus. I am talking about the basic knowledge of God’s word as well as the basics of evangelism and doctrine that helps to lead us to do what Jesus charged us to do: make disciples.
Apostasy means to fall away from the truth. To the degree that Christians adopt the ideas of the world above scripture they are committing apostasy. The world wants us to let things be, to adopt a policy of tolerance about other religions and ideas in contradiction to Scripture, and let the culture simply continue on its way towards increasing immorality and irreverence. Jesus has given us a commission to make disciples and to do this means we have to be prepared and Bible-focused in a world that is hostile to Christianity. Carrying out the Great Commission means that we have to be praying, studying, tithing, learning, being trained, being active, supporting the church, supporting missionaries, etc. Some churches do this. Others do not. But, all should be evangelistic–not for church membership or church growth but for making people followers of Jesus.
The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is the charge of Jesus to believers, to every believer, to be disciple makers. It is not aimed at just the pastor and the missionary. It is aimed at everyone in the church. But, perhaps you feel that you are not called to be a pastor, a missionary, or an evangelist–that just isn’t your calling. That’s okay. But, are you praying for those who are pastors, missionaries, and evangelists? Are you supporting them in your tithes? Are you using whatever gifts that you have in support of the church so that the Great Commission can be carried out by those God anoints to minister in whatever capacity it is?
The Great Commission is a commission of love given to us by the God of love. It is what Jesus asked us to do. People are going to hell. Jesus wants us to help as many as possible find salvation in Him. He wants us to beHis disciples and then make others into disciples as well. This is what He wants. Is this happening in your life and church? Are you contributing in some way to the building of the body of Christ, or do you only go to church and take in. If this is all you are doing, then you need to make some changes.
In America, too many Christians are comfortable with their lives, their DVR’s, their remote control TV’s, their air conditioned cars, retirement funds, and their polished preachers. Our comfort is important to us. But, it can lure us into a casual relationship with God because all our earthly needs are met. Such casualness destroys the urgency–the intimacy of dependence upon God that excites and motivates the believer into action when God miraculously and continuously provides our needs. I also believe that many pastors are failing to do what the Bible says to do: equip the saints (Eph. 4:12). I suspect far too many pastors are more concerned about not offending their own congregations with the whole gospel than spreading its truth lest people go find another church to be comfortable in. Growing in Christ means to become mature and daily pick up your cross to follow Jesus. The pastor is not there to baby-sit Christians. He is not there to simply comfort them and to make them feel warm and cozy, nor is he there to reflect the current social trends and morays of the secular environment. He is there to equip the saints, to call them to repentance and holiness, to present God’s word, to train them up to be more like Jesus (Eph. 4:12), and to help them mature in Christ so that they can become a people of action as well as a people of love.
The gospel is not only about being born again but is also about picking up your cross and following Jesus (Luke 9:23), about prayer, about supporting Christians who teach, about bearing one another’s burdens, about defending the faith, about standing up for righteousness, and much more. For too many Christians, picking up the cross and following Jesus is too much to ask. But it is, however, easy to drop a check in the offering plate and think that they’ve done their part as a Christian. This is nothing more than buying a way out of their responsibilities.
Is this too harsh?
If you think I am being too harsh, let me say that I know that there are many Christians who take their faith seriously, are learning and applying God’s word, and doing what they can to expand God’s kingdom whether it be by praying, tithing, witnesses, teaching, church work, or living godly lives. Likewise, I know that there are many pastors who labor to equip their congregations and who lovingly work to shepherd them with all sincerity and obedience to Christ. For you all, I praise God for His miraculous work in you.
Pastors have a huge job before them. They are to preach God’s word, teach the congregation, counsel, model godliness, and equip the saints. This is difficult to do, especially when secularism is slowly making inroads into the hearts and minds of Christians. Regarding moral issues, Christians, statistically, are in bad shape. According to Barna Research online, of those claiming to be born again, only 23% believe abortion should be illegal; 34% believe homosexuality is alright; 36% believe that a man and a woman living together is okay; 37% says profanity is acceptable; only 20% believe it is wrong to get drunk, etc. This is truly sad and dangerous. Oh sure, you may say they are not ‘real’ Christians. I hope you’re right. But, the statistics are real, and those who are truly born again should be out there fighting against abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc., as well as praying for and seeking revival in Christian churches.
People are going to hell. The enemy is making converts to false gospels in the cults, false world religions, humanistic principles in schools, and moral relativism in society. Christians are not supposed to be keepers of the aquarium. They are supposed to be fishers of men. Christians are supposed to confront the world in a wise and loving fashion. This is what the Bible says to do; and to accomplish this, the Christians need a truly Christian Worldview with the desire to spread the gospel everywhere.
The Christian Church needs to wake Up!
Christianity is under an ever increasing attack. Here in America, laws are being passed to reduce and remove our religious freedoms. Prayer has been removed from schools, the 10 Commandments removed from courtrooms. Movies and TV routinely portray Christians as ignorant bigots. Universities constantly attack the absolutes of Christianity and some even promote Eastern Mysticism, witchcraft, relativism, and a homosexual agenda by having representatives of these lies come in and teach! Secular society as a whole is imposing its moral agenda upon all people, the church included, and it is working! Christians are starting to listen to the false teaching of a fallen world and recanting on biblical doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, of Jesus being theonly way, of moral absolutes, and of their being a Day of Judgment with the unsaved going to hell. This is the sign of apostasy within the church!
Again, let me add that not all Christians are apathetic and worldly. There are many churches with godly pastors who are teaching all of God’s word. There are many churches out there with members who are learning God’s word, who are making converts, and who are standing up for righteousness. It is because of people like them that the gospel is spreading throughout the world. There are more Christians alive now than ever before. But, there are also more Muslims now than ever before–more Mormons, more Jehovah’s Witnesses, more atheists, etc., than ever before. Let’s not give up nor become discouraged. Let’s support one another in prayer. Let’s study to show ourselves approved to God. Let’s tithe properly. Let’s witness. Let’s take risks for Jesus. Let’s do what He asks of us.
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NASB).
In March of 2014, I began my visitation to three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:
These kids know almost nothing about their faith.
It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges. And yet, their teachers are discovering that when it comes to the Christian faith, most of them are blank slates.
Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of that?”
Indeed I have. MTD is the name that the top sociologist Christian Smith gave nearly a decade ago to what he calls the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” Simply put, it’s a pseudo-religion that says faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace.”
Three-quarters of Millennialls agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” but strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent), and “anti-gay” (64 percent).
You’ve seen the statistics. If you’re in ministry, you’ve probably witnessed the problem firsthand. The Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are leaving the church in droves, and staying away. Approximately 70 percent of those raised in the church disengage from it in their 20s. One-third of Americans under 30 now claim “no religion.”
There are 80 million Millennials in the U.S.—and approximately the same number of suggestions for how to bring them back to church. But most of the proposals I’ve heard fall into two camps.
The first goes something like this: The church needs to be more hip and relevant. Drop stodgy traditions. Play louder music. Hire pastors with tattoos and fauxhawks. Few come right out and advocate for this approach. But from pastoral search committees to denominational gatherings to popular conferences, a quest for relevance drives the agenda.
Others demand more fundamental change. They insist the church soften its positions on key doctrines and social issues. Our culture is secularizing. Let’s get with the times in order to attract the younger generation, they say. We must abandon supernatural beliefs and restrictive moral teachings. Christianity must “change or die.”
I think both approaches are flawed.
Chasing coolness won’t work. In my experience, churches that try to be cool end up with a pathetic facsimile of what was cool about 10 years ago. And if you’ve got a congregation of businessmen and soccer moms, donning a hip veneer will only make you laughable to the younger generation.
The second tack is worse. Not only will we end up compromising core beliefs, we will shrink our churches as well. The advocates of this approach seem to have missed what happened to mainline liberal churches over the last few decades. Adopting liberal theologies and culturally acceptable beliefs has drastically reduced their numbers while more theologically conservative churches grew.
There is no one silver bullet for bringing Millennials back to church. But here are a few actions to help us reach the next generation more effectively.
Adopt a Different Tone
As the culture has grown more secular, many Christians have struggled to adjust. The church once had pride of place in North American society. Now it seems we’re increasingly getting pushed to the margins. Christian morality is no longer assumed and our beliefs are suddenly considered strange.
This loss of cultural capital has caused many to shout louder in hopes of regaining influence. But adopting a shrill, combative tone only exacerbates the problem. It’s the surest way to alienate outsiders, especially Millennials. Author and historian John Dickson urges Christians to move from a posture of “admonition to mission.” Dickson lives in Australia, a decidedly post-Christian country. In our increasingly secular culture, it’s a lesson we need to take to heart. Let’s stop being shocked when our unbelieving neighbors fail to act like Christians and take a more winsome tone when we communicate the gospel.
Foster Intergenerational Relationships
I’ve read virtually all of the books on Millennials and the church, and I’ve adopted my own thoughts about Generation Ex (Read Generation Ex -Christians byIf there’s one lesson to take away from this corpus of literature, it’s this: inter-generational relationships are crucial. The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.
We’re surprised when even our most ardent young people walk away, but we shouldn’t be. If they didn’t have relationships with older Christians in the congregation, in all likelihood, they’re gone. When they age out of youth group, they age out of the church. Churches must find ways to pair older Christians with teens and to engage Millennials outside the church (many of whom are starving for mentors). This is a touchy subject for me because I’ve seen my own kids abandon their faith and cultural teaching to the point of going to prison for life and living contrary life styles. My going to prison and losing their respect I feel contributed to their posture now, but I am going to worship and believe God for their return.
The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.
Present a Bigger God
Many evangelical churches present a one-sided vision of God. We love talking about God’s love, but not his holiness. We stress his immanence, but not his transcendence. How does this affect Millennials? I like the way Millennial blogger Stephen Altrogge puts it in Untamable God.
Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God?
Millennials have a dim view of church. They are highly skeptical of religion. Yet they are still thirsty for transcendence. But when we portray God as a cosmic buddy, we lose them (they have enough friends). When we tell them that God will give them a better marriage and family, it’s white noise (they’re delaying marriage and kids or forgoing them altogether). When we tell them they’re special, we’re merely echoing what educators, coaches, and parents have told them their whole lives. But when we present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God, it just might get their attention and capture their hearts as well.
I’ll be talking more on this topic at http://www.yelp.com/biz/world-conquerors-church-oakland on Febuary 20th-22. Pray for our travel and a deeper dive into how churches can convey a compelling vision of God for Millennials, as well as the whole congregation.
I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words— love God, love your neighbor. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth, and it is—God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.
So if that is true, I am proposing the following: first to lay down the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness; secondly, to give some New Testament examples of this; thirdly, to draw some practical conclusions. And it all relates to becoming like Chris
So first is the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness. This basis is not a single text: the basis is more substantial than can be encapsulated in a single text. The basis consists rather of three texts which we would do well to hold together in our Christian thinking and living: Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and 1 John 3:2. Let’s look at these three briefly.
Romans 8:29 reads that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: that is, to become like Jesus. We all know that when Adam fell he lost much—though not all—of the divine image in which he had been created. But God has restored it in Christ. Conformity to the image of God means to become like Jesus: Christlikeness is the eternal predestinating purpose of God.
My second text is 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” So it is by the indwelling Spirit Himself that we are being changed from glory to glory—it is a magnificent vision. In this second stage of becoming like Christ, you will notice that the perspective has changed from the past to the present, from God’s eternal predestination to His present transformation of us by the Holy Spirit. It has changed from God’s eternal purpose to make us like Christ, to His historical work by His Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.
That brings me to my third text: 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We don’t know in any detail what we shall be in the last day, but we do know that we will be like Christ. There is really no need for us to know any more than this. We are content with the glorious truth that we will be with Christ, like Christ, forever.
Here are three perspectives—past, present, and future. All of them are pointing in the same direction: there is God’s eternal purpose, we have been predestined; there is God’s historical purpose, we are being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit; and there is God’s final or eschatological purpose, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All three, the eternal, the historical, and the eschatological, combine towards the same end of Christlikeness. This, I suggest, is the purpose of God for the people of God. That is the biblical basis for becoming like Christ: it is the purpose of God for the people of God.
I want to move on to illustrate this truth with a number of New Testament examples. First, I think it is important for us to make a general statement, as the apostle John does in 1 John 2:6: “he who says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way as he walked.” In other words, if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christlike. Here is the first New Testament example: we are to be like Christ in his Incarnation.
Some of you may immediately recoil in horror from such an idea. Surely, you will say to me, the Incarnation was an altogether unique event and cannot possibly be imitated in any way? My answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, it was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to Himself in Jesus of Nazareth, once and for all and forever, never to be repeated. That is true. But there is another sense in which the Incarnation was not unique: the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. The Incarnation, in that sense, was not unique but universal. We are all called to follow the example of His great humility in coming down from heaven to earth. So Paul could write in Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped for his own selfish enjoyment, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.
Secondly, we are to be like Christ in His service. We move on now from his Incarnation to His life of service; from His birth to His life, from the beginning to the end. Let me invite you to come with me to the upper room where Jesus spent his last evening with His disciples, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 13: “He took off his outer garments, he tied a towel round him, he poured water into a basin and washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished, he resumed his place and said, ‘If then I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example”—notice the word— “that you should do as I have done to you.”
Some Christians take Jesus’ command literally and have a foot-washing ceremony in their Lord’s Supper once a month or on Maundy Thursday—and they may be right to do it. But I think most of us transpose Jesus’ command culturally: that is, just as Jesus performed what in His culture was the work of a slave, so we in our cultures must regard no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other.
Thirdly, we are to be like Christ in His love. I think particularly now of Ephesians 5:2—“walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Notice that the text is in two parts. The first part is walk in love, an injunction that all our behavior should be characterized by love, but the second part of the verse says that He gave Himself for us, which is not a continuous thing but an aorist, a past tense, a clear reference to the cross. Paul is urging us to be like Christ in his death, to love with self-giving Calvary love. Notice what is developing: Paul is urging us to be like the Christ of the Incarnation, to be like the Christ of the foot washing, and to be like the Christ of the cross. These three events of the life of Christ indicate clearly what Christlikeness means in practice.
Fourthly, we are to be like Christ in His patient endurance. In this next example we consider not the teaching of Paul but of Peter. Every chapter of the first letter of Peter contains an allusion to our suffering like Christ, for the background to the letter is the beginnings of persecution. In chapter 2 of 1 Peter in particular, Peter urges Christian slaves, if punished unjustly, to bear it and not to repay evil for evil. For, Peter goes on, you and we have been called to this because Christ also suffered, leaving us an example—there is that word again—so that we may follow in His steps. This call to Christlikeness in suffering unjustly may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures in the world today.
My fifth and last example from the New Testament is that we are to be like Christ in His mission. Having looked at the teaching of Paul and Peter, we come now to the teaching of Jesus recorded by John. In John 20:21, in prayer, Jesus said, “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I send them into the world”—that is us. And in His commissioning in John 17 He says, “As the Father sent me into the world, so I send you.” These words are immensely significant. This is not just the Johannine version of the Great Commission but also an instruction that their mission in the world was to resemble Christ’s mission. In what respect? The key words in these texts are “sent into the world.” As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people’s worlds. It was eloquently explained by Archbishop Michael Ramsey some years ago: “We state and commend the faith only in so far as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubters, the questions of the questioners, and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.”
This entering into other people’s worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are to be like Christ in His mission. These are the five main ways in which we are to be Christlike: in His Incarnation, in His service, in His love, in His endurance, and in His mission.
Very briefly, I want to give you three practical consequences of Christlikeness.
Firstly, Christlikeness and the mystery of suffering. Suffering is a huge subject in itself and there are many ways in which Christians try to understand it. One way stands out: that suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration, or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good of His people, and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Secondly, Christlikeness and the challenge of evangelism. Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given and I do not want to over-simplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we are proclaiming. John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled, A Today Sort of Evangelism, wrote this:
The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. Deep down inside people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.
That is Christlikeness. Let me give you another example. There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.” I think India would be at their feet today if we Christians lived like Christ. From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said “If all Christians were Christians—that is, Christlike—there would be no more Islam today.”
That brings me to my third point—Christlikeness and the indwelling of the Spirit. I have spoken much tonight about Christlikeness, but is it attainable? In our own strength it is clearly not attainable, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it—I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it—I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.
So I conclude, as a brief summary of what we have tried to say to one another: God’s purpose is to make us like Christ. God’s way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit. In other words, it is a Trinitarian conclusion, concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.