Saturday, March 26, 2011

A review of "Already gone"

What has happened to the swarms of people leaving the church? Why have they left? Did they simply decide one morning to stop going or was it a gradual decision they reached over time? These any many more questions were asked by America's Research Group and its founder Britt Beemer to get to the heart of the issue. Their concern was not only the generation coming up in the church but those previous who have become completely absent from the church. What they uncovered and published in the book "Already gone" was that many sitting in our churches today are already making plans on steeping away even during their pre-High School years.

For a while now I have been an avid reader and teacher of Answers in Genesis' material. My family and I visited their Creation Museum in June of 2007 and wished we had spent more than a day there. We have plans in the future to visit again, hopefully during their live nativity in December. I expected nothing short of ground breaking from this latest book and that was exactly what I found.

Its introduction begins with several pictures of former church buildings in England which are now tattoo parlors, clubs, insurance agencies, indoor rock-climbing facilities, and Sikh temples. These shocking and depressing photos paint a sobering picture of what the future of America will be in the next few decades if Christians do not make some drastic changes to how we are operating. Ken says

"(t)he abandoned church buildings are of Europe are really just buildings, yet they are graphic symbols - warnings to those of us who are seeing the same trends in our local congregations: we are one generation away from the evaporation of church as we know it." (p. 25)

I will not spend much time going into their research specifics since it is rather extensive, but I will reveal some of the statistics later in this blog. They interviewed 1000 twenty-somethings, who had been solidly raised in church but no longer attended. The basic results showed that many who have left the church had begun to doubt the applicability and sufficiency of Scripture and how it directly related to tangible reality beginning in their middle school and continuing on to their high school years.

"Most people assume that students are lost in college...Almost 90 percent of them were lost in middle school and high school." (p. 31)

They had, in a sense, disassociated the Bible's teachings from their own lives and seen the Word has simply a collection of stories or "fairy tales". This comes as a shocking surprise to many, myself included. But hold on to your seats because Mr. Ham notes that their

"...research uncovered something very disturbing: Sunday School is actually more likely to be detrimental to the spiritual and moral health of our children." (p. 38)

Now that is likely to be a slap in the face to many but, addressing Sunday School teachers, he also says

"We are not questioning your dedication, intentions, or passion. In fact, we believe that your efforts are far too often taken for granted and never thanked enough. We don't question your integrity and we certainly don't doubt your sincerity." (p. 40) But "(t)he results show that Sunday school is actually having an overall negative impact on beliefs..." (p. 41)

Hard to swallow? Of course it is. Sunday school has been a staple in many churches. But we must admit that Sunday school is not a ministry that was started from Scripture. The book gives a very short summarization of this on page 47. Beginning on page 46 Ken addresses the question "Should we eradicate" as a possible solution to the problem seemingly brought about from Sunday school and Youth ministry. He even quotes from a Reformed Baptist Church blog site "The World from My Window" which is bold enough to take the issue beyond Sunday school and ask

"Has it crossed anyone else's mind that maybe youth ministry shouldn't be fixed because youth ministry IS a major part of the problem?!" (p. 46)

Ken summarizes these two issues up saying "Part of the concern is that the mere existence of youth ministry and Sunday school allows parents to shrug off their responsibilities as the primary teachers, mentors, and pastors to their family." (p. 47)

But before you think this is the solution Ken Ham has come to, he states "It's not just Sunday school, it's the sermon, the VBS, it's most of the teaching programs..." (p. 49) However, this left me scratching my head a little. This statement does not match up with the research. What their numbers found was the issue had noting to do with the sermon, it had to do with...age-segregated "teaching" ministries. Ken believes that

"(r)egardless of what's happening in the Sunday school, youth groups, pulpit, and Bible studies of your church, the responsibility for ministry to our kids has never been removed from the parents" (p. 50)

While it is true many in the church would never believe they are guilty of such, the fact still remains that this is what has happened. Parents are unknowingly on a sort of "spiritual welfare" system where many, well-intentioned believers are doing what the parents themselves are commanded in Scripture to do: TEACH THEIR CHILDREN. Is there ever a place for children to be taught by others? Yes! But it must be under the guidance and discipling of the parent as well. (The sermon is a prime example of this.) This comes as the older men and women teach the younger (Titus 2). However, this is not a license for teaching ministries such as Sunday school and Youth ministry. This speaks of gender specific mentoring and not age-segregated teaching.

The issue is the usurping of the parent's responsibility in teaching their children. A "leave this to the trained professionals" mentality has only served to bring about immaturity and false-conversions with the end result as most of the young men and women in our churches are "Already gone". Should this really be any surprise? No!

While I agree with every aspect of their findings the solution they come to is not what I expected. Ken says the solution is a revitalization of the material used in teaching, a greater emphasis on apologetics, and teaching Scripture as reality with direct implication on life and tangible indication in reality. I agree that we need to be more discerning of teaching material, that apologetics should be a part of teaching and preaching, and that application should reveal the reality and applicability of the Word. But revitalizing something, age-segregated ministries, only serves to perpetuate the evident problem.

Here are a few of the statistics in the back of the book that I found to support this:

If (you) often attended Sunday School-Feel lessons close to/different from (public) school? 70.96% said yes

If (you) often attended Sunday School-Did classes teach how Bible could be defended? 56.77% said yes (This shows that the majority of Sunday schools were teaching some form of apologetics.)

If (you believe the Bible) contains errors-Can you identify one of those errors for me? 10.08% said "Wrong about the earth's age" while 5.29% said that "Genesis is disproved by science" and 2.02% said there "Never was a global flood" (Look at these low numbers!)

If you don't believe (in the Bible)-What made you begin to doubt the Bible? 17.9% said "Science shows the earth old" while 24.37% said it was "Written by men"

But this here are some of the more eye-opening stats:

Believe in creation as stated in the Bible or in evolution? 71.8% said Biblical creation (You read that right; the majority of those polled admit they believe in Creation as recorded in the Bible.)

Do you believe in the creation of Adam & Eve and the Garden of Eden? 74.9% said yes

Do you believe Adam & Eve sinned and were expelled from the Garden? 74.8% said yes

Believe in the story of Sodom and Gamorrah-Lot's wife turned to salt? 61.8% said yes

Do you believe in Noah's ark and the global Flood? 77.3% said yes

Other stats showed that these people were not taught to believe in evolution, millions of years, or anything along those lines from leaders in the church. Ken believes this is because of a disconnect between the teaching and application (they have the head knowledge of the Truth but do not apply it). I agree this is true but I also believe the reason their is no application is because they were only taught the Bible once or twice a week and almost never at home. No matter what is taught on Sundays or Wednesday evenings if the parents are not teaching 5 times as much during the week and living it out daily, they will only see Bible as a collection of "stories". But most parents don't see the need of doing this because teachers in the church are doing just fine. And besides, isn't that why we send there? For someone other than ourselves to teach them while we enjoy some "adult time" teaching?

The book ends with a chapter of application addressing parents, Christian educations, Youth Pastors, and Pastors. The section for the Youth Pastor begins with Proverbs 22:6, but this verse is supposed to be given parents. In fact, you will find not verse anywhere in Scripture given to any positions such as Youth Pastor or Children's teacher. Why? Because neither actually existed until they were created in the last century.

This book brings out incredible research that should shed a light on the more serious issue that has crept into our church. I do not believe it is a compromise solely on the Creation account but on the entire validity and sufficiency of Scripture. While their solution is not what I expected their findings actually were. The more I understand of the problems coming from age-segregation the more I find the principles of Scripture speaking volumes to the solution.

I recommend buying this book and using the findings from it to drive you to the Word for the solution. Be a Berean and search for the answers from the only reliable Teacher.

Thanks for stopping by!

In Christ,
Pastor Adam (and family)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Family worship? Never heard of it!

It is very likely that you have heard of family Bible studies. I struggled for years to find a way to start this in our home. But even after we did, I was always left feeling that I was missing something.

Some time ago I came upon a ministry website called Titus2.com after seeing them featuring in a blog from Answers in Genesis. They produced material geared toward equipping families to biblically structure their homes. Of particular interest at that time was a guide to help manage family chores. My wife dove into this book and since then we have developed a very structured way of handling chores with the kids. Their site has a wealth of great information but the one that struck me the most was their CD set titled "Feed my sheep". In this CD, Steve Maxwell gives helpful hints and tips to develop consistent Bible study time in the home. At the end of the CD he allows you to listen in to a typical study time with his family in which they read verse by verse in John 3.

Then it hit me: expositional study time. I had fought my way through different types of studies and never even contemplated just reading verse by verse. Since we were already in the middle of a devotional study, we finished it over the following months and started looking for a book to begin with. I first contemplated John but it seemed that we were meant to study elsewhere for the time being. I eventually picked out 1 Samuel and we were off. The study proved to be very rewarding and it was a blessing seeing my children ask some pretty in depth questions. But there still seemed to be something missing.

I added a memory verse to our studies and we were amazed how quickly the kids were able to recite verses such as Isaiah 53:5, Ephesians 2:8-9; and Solomon's favorite Psalm 19:1. But again, something was lacking and I just couldn't put my finger on it.

It wasn't until I read a post talking about Family Worship. "Family worship? Never heard of it."

Without giving many details and strict how-to's, some of what I was finding and reading pointed to how the study time could be a full worship time for the family. For example, I had usually been the one to open our study time and sometimes my wife or one of the kids would want to close in prayer but we had not made prayer itself an integral part.

Another point I found I had missed was the blessing of songs in our time. My kids love to sing and have almost every song by the Go Fish guys memorized. My daughter is probably the most inclined to singing but the boys join in if they know the song.

This was one of those "slap to the forehead" moments. How had I missed such wonderful blessings as prayer and song? The first time I introduced these two new elements there were the anticipated brow furrows. "Daddy wants us to pray and sing?" But I had a plan.

My wife and I had previously assigned buddies for each kid. Whenever we were in a store, each of the kids was to pair up with their buddy and help them in whatever they needed. My oldest daughter, Savannah, was buddied with our youngest son Esaias. My oldest son, Elijah, had our second to the youngest son Solomon as his buddy. Our middle son Ephraim was given daddy as his buddy (he was rather elated, I am pleased to say). Daddy was assigned to both Ephraim and Mommy while Mommy was assigned to baby Silas (who is only about 6 weeks from being brought into this world). The last assignment was rather obvious since both Silas and Mommy were inseparable :^)

I decided that since we had the buddy system in place this pairing would serve as our prayer buddy system also. Each person is to pray for their buddy during our worship time and throughout the week. While they can pray for anyone else also, they focus more directly on their buddy. The kids have really enjoyed this and I think it has helped them to see the importance of prayer and truly loving their siblings. What a blessing it is to bow in prayer and hear each of our children lift their praises and petitions to God.

Prior to the prayer time though we break our a few hymnals, which we have borrowed from our church. Each night one child is assigned to pick out an opening hymn and a closing hymn while my wife and I help the younger ones. Since the latest Go Fish album "Kickin' it old school" is almost entirely hymns, the kids were already familiar with several ('This is my Father's world', 'Blessed Assurance', 'The Lord's Army', 'Before the throne of God above', 'I'll fly away', 'Shelter in a time of storm', 'The solid rock', and the 'Old rugged cross'). As we have learned new hymns the kids are always delighted when Sunday morning comes and they get to sing along with the congregation in a hymn they are already familiar with. Again...a priceless blessing.

Family worship time is a great joy for my family and I. Sometimes it is a struggle and there are even times when our schedule just gets in the way, but we are consistent and will prayerfully do everything we can to continue to be. Our studies have become richer, our singing has become more praise filled, and our prayers have become more direct.

How about your family study time? Have you considered turning it into a time of family worship? Find what structure works best for your family. Maybe it is easier for you to set aside time during the morning rather than the evening. Maybe you have a piano and can play along while the family sings. Maybe you can develop a prayer list for the family to pray from. Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God and the spiritual enrichment of your family.

Thanks for stopping by!

Soli Deo gloria,
Pastor Adam (and family)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A review of "A weed in the church" part 3

After diving into a book with this wealth of information I am left with a simple but penetrating question: What now? Reading what I have and seeing the potentially destructive results of age-segregation what am I as a Christian, husband, father, and Pastor to do?

This is not an easy answer for me. As you have read, my family and I are members of a traditionally age-segregated church. I am one of the three Pastors and minister more directly in the areas of Evangelism and Education. This book has done more for my family and me than I can express. It has brought me to a more sobering understanding of how I have failed in my role to my wife and family. This in turn has brought me to a place of sincere repentance and diving more deeply into the Word to answer the questions that now plague me. Each of these questions cannot be answered simply because they branch off and affect more areas than just those mentioned. That you may know how difficult this is for me, let me share just a few:

1) Should I continue to send my kids to Sunday School? If not, how then can I continue to teach in my Sunday School class? Even if I do not teach others this view, my absence from Sunday School will be noticed and have an impact. Am I ready to say that I believe Sunday School is not the biblical way the church should operate?

2) How silent should I remain about our church separating children from their parents during the worship service? While the parents who are there evidently have no problem with it, what about those who are starting to come to our church? Should I simply remain silent so to not cause a division? What if they ask me?

3) I have already admitted that my daughter will not be a part of the youth group when she turns 13 in 2 years. Should I talk with the Youth Director now and explain why? If so, should I advise him against youth group?

4) I have already shared this with my Senior Pastor but he vehemently disagrees. While I have agreed just to remain publically silent about it, how far should I take this? If someone asks, should I tell them why and offer them the “Divided” movie and/or “A weed in the church” to review for themselves?

Each of these has reaching implications and are only a taste of what I am wrestling with. Scott gave his book its title for a good reason, of which has become more evident to me over the past few months. In my meeting with Scott he reiterated this point (paraphrased): “Age-segregation is the weed. When you pull on the weed you will find that its roots are tied to everything else in the church. From the immature activities of the youth to the sweet elderly woman in the nursery who has faithfully served there for decades. From the building itself to the entire church budget. When you pull on the weed, expect opposition.”

And opposition is exactly what I have received. This teaching has not been well received by others. While some appreciate the basic intentions of the book they see them as dangerous and supported not by the teachings of Scripture but by narrative. To be honest, the latter point eludes me. But I have tried to explain what seems to be the clear passages from which this is based only to be told I was wrong and am just inferring what is not really there.

This book has caused an upheaval in my own walk but has left me wondering what to do next. At this point my decision is to stay where the Lord has placed me. I am serving faithfully in this church and will continue to do so until the Lord leads me elsewhere. I am and will continue to submit to the leadership and guidance of my Senior Pastor. My children remain with my wife and I during the worship service but still attend the Sunday School classes. This will prove to be an issue in the coming years though since the youth Sunday School class is basically part of the Youth Group. I remain teaching a Sunday School class myself and have decided to not publically speak out concerning age-segregation. .

However, if anyone asks of me I will tell them of the dangers of age-segregation. I will point them to the Scriptures and exhort them to study it for themselves. I will show them the negative effects it has had on the children in our own church. I will show how divisive it is to the family to remove children during worship. I will point out the immaturity of the youth in our church and how the Youth Group cannot help but add to this problem. I will answer if asked but not to cause division. I believe that the Lord will use my family and I in being an example for others. This decision was not reached easily but I believe, for the time being, it is what the Lord would have my family and I do

As always, do not take my word for this book. Get a copy for yourself, review it, and then ask “What next?”

Thanks for stopping by.

That He may be glorified,
Pastor Adam (and family)