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)

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