By Jack Wilkie
In my previous article on the second biggest reason young people leave the church we looked at how they have often not been taught to think like Christians. For this reason they have trouble standing firm against the world’s challenges and can be led astray.
But if that second biggest reason could be classified as the head, I believe we could classify the biggest reason they leave as the heart.
They leave because their hearts have not been given to God.
While this reason (like the last) seems simple, it is what it is. If a person has been discipled to follow Christ and has the heart to do so, they will remain faithful regardless of what life throws at them. But if their hearts have not been won, it doesn’t matter how many Scriptures they know or how many times they enter the church building as they grow up. Remember the rich young ruler of Luke 18 knew the commandments and practiced them regularly… but he refused to give God his heart. Like him, too many young people in today’s church leave with heads full of knowledge but hearts empty of zeal and love for God.
I understand that there are those who leave out of frustration with the church, but that just solidifies the point at hand. First, those who play a part in driving such people away clearly are not showing what a Christ-adoring heart looks like in day to day life and in the relationships we build with each other. I am sorry to anyone whose experiences while being in the church played a role in pushing them away. The church is made up of people and that means a lot of imperfection. But secondly, a person who has given their heart completely to God will not let anything or anyone knock them off course, regardless of how much a person or congregation has done to them. If a person’s life is guided first and foremost by a love for God, nobody can take that away.
But while there are those out there who hold resentment and bitterness toward the church, a large number of people just… drift. As they go to college or start their careers, being part of the church just slips down the priority list until one Sunday morning they wake up and realize they can’t remember the last time they attended worship. Others begin abandoning the biblical teachings they know to be true one by one as their crowd’s influence begins to sway them. In either scenario, the heart doesn’t belong to God and therefore it doesn’t prioritize Him.
So many things compete for a person’s heart. Sports, school, work, entertainment (video games, TV, etc.), friendships, relationships, and so many other things want first place in the lives of Christians. It’s up to parents to guide their children’s hearts toward God. There is a time and place for those other things, and they each have their value. But in far too many lives they become idols that do exactly what idols did to the people of Israel – lead them astray more with each passing generation. That’s why developing hearts for God has to be priority #1 in every Christian home. Everything else – all the sports and activities, all the entertainment, all the friendships – must be filtered through that goal.
While nobody can make another person follow Jesus and people are ultimately responsible for their own decisions, parents (and ministers, elders, and whoever else can help) have to take the time to strive to lead the hearts of the young to the Lord. This happens through Deuteronomy 6-style teaching, where God is emphasized every day. This is done by showing what it means to love God. This is done by demonstrating how to have a personal study and prayer life and how to serve as part of the church. This is done by not putting the emphasis on just getting baptized and showing up to church but on feeling God’s love and grace.
As much as it is in your power, show your children how (and why) they should love God. As they reach the age of considering Christianity, help them realize the weight of their sins and the depth of God’s love for them. Help them fall in love with Jesus and want to be just like Him. Win their hearts, and you’ve very likely won their souls.
For last week’s article on the second biggest reason young people leave the church, click here.