Along with potlucks, bad hair, and cheesy TV, another favorite past time of Christians is hand-wringing. I say this as a lifelong Christian and a pastor. For some reason, we think we’re more spiritual when we’re beating up ourselves. The easiest sermon to preach for a pastor is the one that beats up on “the Church” and points out some spiritual deficiency.
And in the last few years, we’ve had a merry band of Christian pollsters who’ve given us fresh batches of alarming statistics to prove our points. But maybe, just maybe those stats are wrong. For instance, one of the most tried and true dire warnings for the American church has been the refrain, “The divorce rate is higher in the church than in the culture.” This has been used to beat up the soft theology of the American church and call it to more robust, cross-bearing discipleship. I think the call to such radical obedience is necessary, but the alarmism is often misplaced. Expecially when you consider that those marriage statistics we’ve been spouting may have been wrong all along.
A recent article by Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family uses solid research to debunk the “Christians have worse marriages than non-Christians myth.” Apparently, being in the church actually does have a transformative effect on marriage. Like a 35% better chance at staying married. That’s pretty high odds. Perhaps we preachers should just preach the Word, call people to obedience and faithfulness and marriage–without having to scare people with false statistics.
Perhaps we might skip the alarmism across the board, unless we have concrete evidence of a disturbing and unbiblical trend. Still, we should tread carefully. After all, what motivates men and women to follow Christ is the same as it has always been. The radical nature of the gospel of grace, the fervent preaching of the Word, and love for the brethren.
Recently I spoke to a group of pastors and I share a few thoughts on shaping the next generation of Christians. I shared just a few minutes on perhaps the unnecessary alarmism when it comes to Christians and teens. We’ve been told for years that somewhere around 75% of teens are leaving the church after they graduate high-school. And I’ll admit having believed this trend and used it in preaching, to motivate (guilt) parents into being better parents. But a closer look reveals that while there is a disturbing exodus among young people, it may not be any worse in our generation than in past generations. I did say and do believe that every generation needs to preach the old truths and not take the faith of our young people for granted. But perhaps we avoid the alarmism and just pursue faithful, biblical parenting.
Here’s the point, it’s good for us believers to be discerning and watchful. I’m currently reading Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxes. I’m stunned by the naiveté of the German Church in the 30’s and 40’s. But it seems we are prone to alarmism. We have to believe there is a conspiracy, a new red threat on the horizon. Every year there is something new to be scared of.
But Paul wrote to Timothy and reminded him that God has not given us “the spirit of fear”, but of “power, love, and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7). This was written in a dark age of persecution for the church. And yet Paul said we can be hopeful and girded up by a sound mind. Why? Because we have the hope of the gospel in our hearts and we look forward to the coming of Jesus as our King.
That’s not to say we should be ignorant or keep our heads in the sand. But perhaps a bit more balance. Yes, the Church has issues and problems. Yes, there are menaces in the culture. But God didn’t call us to irrational alarmism, but courage, grace, and a balanced discernment.