Did you grow up in church?
Do you ever doubt your faith, or wonder if you could be getting it all wrong?
The prodigal son is truly the exception to the rule today.
The heartbreaking reality is that the church is in decline. More importantly, it’s the youngest generations that are turning their backs the fastest. Something like 59% of youth, raised in the church, will leave and never come back.
Why is this?
What the hell is going on?
I mean we have bright fancy lights and loud music. We have trendy pastors who wear ripped jeans and printed tee’s right? What more do these kids want?
Maybe the church is simply becoming less ‘relevant’. Maybe they are learning the ‘truth’ at school and university. Maybe it’s social media and the ‘fake news’.
Or is it something simpler?
As usual, I think the Bible can give us some clues as to why this might be happening.
The Parable of the Sower
In Matthew chapter 13 Jesus specifically outlines four experiences of those who hear the Word, and the outcome based on how they receive it.
Matthew 13:3-8,18-23. – “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown…
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. 20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” via Bible Gateway
These are the three fundamental faith killers according to Jesus Christ:
- Lack of understanding
- Suffering and hardship
- Temptation and the allure of wealth
And that pretty much covers all bases doesn’t it?
You might think that this passage is only about those who no longer believe, but it’s about more than that. It’s about the environment that individuals are discipled in, and the surrounding Christian culture that ultimately determines the outcome.
The safety of a good, well-managed Christian bubble can shield anyone from the potentially devastating effects of ignorance, hardship and temptation. It’s only after you have to fend for yourself a little and get out into the sun you can see the cracks begin to show. Sadly, this is pretty much exactly what happens as children grow into young adults. So much the worse growing up in public school, being groomed by the public education system to make it all that much easier when they leave home.
The last thing you want to do is be skipping along thinking everything is great and then confront challenges you’ve never known before and be completely unprepared. If you’re not equipped to defend the Word of God, and be in the world without becoming of the world, one way or another you will face trials eventually.
So the question remains… what kind of Christian are you?
The Path Christian
some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.
The path Christian lacks understanding. For whatever reason, these people just don’t ‘get’ it.
Now I know that the Bible is not always perfectly clear in everything, but it is clear in basic things. More importantly, it’s clear in the critical things. But understanding all the intricate detail and nuance in all of scripture is not really the point here.
What’s more important is the big picture. The path Christian stumbles through their Christian walk not really understanding the most basic and important things until, eventually, stumbling blocks come along that cause them to doubt. The path Christian does not have a solid foundation to build their faith on so when critics, skeptics, atheists and false teachers come along, they are led away like lambs to the slaughter.
So how do you know if someone is a path Christian?
The path Christian will struggle to clearly explain their own testimony, or any of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith
The path Christian ignores, or is even hostile to, the idea that we should think deeply about our faith and how we know that it’s true.
Note: If you’re a new Christian, and have only just started learning about the Bible for the first time, then obviously it’s fine to not properly understand a lot of these things. However, as a new Christian, you’re in the perfect position to take a proactive approach to your faith now, to put the effort in to learning how to defend and understand your faith.
The path Christian will most likely believe that the most important thing that Christian’s should be doing is just ‘showing the love of Jesus’ – despite not really knowing what they mean by ‘love’.
Path Christian’s, on average, are more likely to have grown up in the Church. Growing up in church means that no one has ever had to show you the evidence for the Christian faith, or has ever clearly explained the Gospel to you, because you’ve been around it your whole life no one has ever been compelled to cross your path and try to ‘convert’ you to Christianity, because you’re ‘already there’ right?
The best you ever get is a weekly memory verse and some Noah’s ark themed activities in Sunday school.
Note: Not all children raised in church become path Christians, but it’s a potential problem for many, especially considering the aforementioned statistics
So how do path Christian’s become path Christians? Besides often being raised in church.
Path Christians hang out in unchallenging circles where Christianity is all about the love of Jesus, lots of music and song, where critical thought and dialogue are discouraged. Path Christians love the company of other path Christians. Path Christians aren’t interested in studying the Word of God, unless it’s accompanied by some really moorish, gooey feel good Bible study and lots of coffee.
Path Christians are raised in a church where they are taught how to be a ‘good Christian’, but are not at all taught why to be a good Christian, or why they should be a Christian at all. They are surrounded by lovers of ‘Jesus’, but not lovers of His Word.
The scariest thing about being a path Christian, a Christian who lacks understanding, is that they lack perhaps the most powerful and fundamental resistance to doubt, challenge and affliction. I’ve said it before, just understanding even the basics of defending your faith from skeptics will go a long a way to guarding your heart from the allure of worldly skepticism.
Christians who do not have a proper understanding of the Christian gospel, and the truth of Christianity if/when they encounter tough objections to their faith will be
“tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes”. – Ephesians 4:14 via Bible Gateway
The real danger of being a path Christian is having no real answer to why you believe what you believe. When someone comes along who can test your faith, it won’t hold up… and you’ll crumble.
At best you’ll dig your stubborn heels in and come across as closed-minded and irrational, which might help preserve your fragile faith, but the path Christian will struggle to bear any fruit.
If you want a lesson in the importance of thinking carefully about your faith, and being ready to give a defense, just have a read of some ex-christian testimonies. People who have left the church and walked away, fed up with the hypocrisy and, dare I say, lack of true support.
A very great many people are simply not going to be interested in Christianity, unless they have a good reason for thinking that it’s actually true, but the path Christian will be completely at a loss to point this honest seeker to that truth and may even go a ways to leading the genuine truth seeker further away, which should be a terrifying thought to anyone trying to reach the lost.
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” – 1 Peter 3:15 via Bible Gateway
Good soil Christians are first and foremost, thinking Christians.
According to Scientific American learning to think more analytically supposedly makes you less likely to be religious. The study made an important distinction however:
“these findings do not say anything about the inherent value or truth of religious beliefs—they simply speak to the psychology of when and why we are prone to believe”
When you take a more analytic approach to Christianity, and are more willing to think through the hard questions, and get to the truth of matters, you’ll be less swayed by clever arguments or, more importantly, by the ridiculous claim that Christianity and religion are at odds with reason and facts.
The best way to avoid becoming a path Christian is with:
- Adequate, clear discipleship in the basics of Christian belief.
- Education on the basics of the objective truth of Christianity – the evidence for creation, the resurrection, fulfilled prophecy, and much more
Especially for young people growing up in church, teach your children the Word of God, don’t just let them grow up passively absorbing it. Show them the Bible stories, explain that they are true history, not just fairy tales. Talk to them about it, answer their questions (even if the answer is ‘I don’t know’)
Don’t be afraid to expose them to alternative worldviews either.
You need your children to know that evolution is not something to be afraid of. Evolution and the Big Bang are not all-powerful scientific theories. They have very serious flaws.
Your children need to know that you have the confidence in your own faith to tackle these hard issues without fear.
And for heaven’s sake don’t ever, ever, ever tell them to ‘just have faith’! Strewth…
Most importantly, teach them how to think!
Don’t let atheism and evolution be ‘new’ to them when they get to university, or they will resent that you kept it from them.
The Rocky soil Christian
Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.
The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.
The rocky soil Christian is in it for the good feels. As soon as the good feelings are gone, the rocky Christian jumps ship. There are actually two kinds of rocky soil.
The wealth and blessing soil
The emotional healing and self-help soil
Both of them have been duped into a Christianity that’s all about them.
The rocky soil Christian has an unrealistic and naive optimism about God’s blessings in this life. Most likely the rocky soil Christian is well off financially, and has reason to believe that he is somehow in God’s favour.
The rocky soil Christian sees the world the way they want it to be, not the way that it is.
Rocky soil Christians are likely living the good life, and often probably attributing the affluence they enjoy to God’s blessings. They believe that they’re being rewarded for their faithfulness.
Sadly, the world is full of resentful, embittered ex-rocky soil Christian’s who have been deeply hurt and offended by the church and couldn’t recover because they failed to separate God’s truth from the fallible humans in the church, so they just ‘fell away’.
Some ex-rocky soil Christians had a very short-lived Christian walk. They were planted in rocky soil, taught that God would avail them of all of their afflictions and heal their broken heart – as opposed to cleansing it of all sin and unrighteousness – or that Christianity was all about joy and abundance. When the harsh reality of life set in, and the emotional high of their initial joy faded, so did their faith… like a morning fog.
The rocky soil Christian has no tolerance for suffering or for criticism of their faith, not because they’re not strong or sincere, but because they weren’t expecting it.
Those rocky soil Christians who survive, do so by surrounding themselves with comfort and delusions of grandeur. Wealthy, affluent churches like the ginormous Lakewood church run by Joel Osteen are brimming with Rocky soil Christians.
Youth alive concerts by contrast are enormously effective at producing one night stand Christians. Droves of teenagers flock to these events with emotions and hormones bubbling away inside their hearts. Millions of impressionable teenagers are moved by highly talented youth pastors who know how to reach deep into their hearts and make these kids feel like they ‘get’ them.
These kids then flock to altar calls, desperately hoping that Jesus is the answer to their deep emotional conflicts and insecurities in their hearts. They hoping that Jesus love will swallow them up, and fill them with joy, relief, comfort and heal their ‘brokenness’.
Of course Jesus can, and does, do all those things, but the problem is these young people are sold on the idea that this is the primary purpose of Christianity. That if they just ‘come to Jesus’, that all of a sudden all of their confusion and very normal teenage emotions will be fixed up and everything will be just peachy.
For both types of rocky soil Christian, whether it’s the wealth and abundance soil, or the self-help soil, everything is just fine so long as they’re riding the wave of joy and God’s ‘goodness’.
This is not what the Bible promises, and it’s simply not realistic. As soon as reality sets in they become disillusioned and without any firm footing in the faith they looking for something else to make it better, whatever it is.
“I tried Christianity, but it just wasn’t for me” they’ll say.
More generally, the rocky soil Christians have no understanding of the reality of suffering in the world and that they are not immune to it, just because they know God.
Perhaps one of the easiest things to prevent your seed being sown on rocky soil is to simply read the Bible.
No one can read the Bible in its entirety and be under any delusion whatsoever about what to expect by giving their life to Jesus Christ.
Almost every prophet in Scripture experienced a life of extreme hardship and persecution. Even those who were prophets among God’s chosen people (the Israelites), were vilified for speaking the Word of God. Jesus Christ the son of God, was crucified for his beliefs.
Then there’s the apostles:
when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. Acts 5:40-42 via Bible Gateway
Paul was a pharisee before he became a Christian, he was educated and wealthy. When he started following, preaching and teaching Jesus Christ he became poor, persecuted and constantly facing perils of all kinds. Some of the very words of scripture itself were written from within prison walls.
If you want to avoid being a rocky soil Christian, realise that there are people in the world right now, just as sincere as you, who believe in Jesus and love Him and worship Him, who are routinely persecuted and face prison and death, just for being Christian.
These Christians are not blessed with abundance (or abundant blessings), they’re blessed with eternal life… and so are you.
The weeds/thorns Christian
Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.
And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
The weeds Christian cannot let go of the things of this world, including himself.
This is different from the rocky soil Christian, almost the opposite. Where the rocky soil Christian is happy to go along with Christianity, as long as it serves him and offers him comfort and blessing, the weeds of wealth and worldly desires and pursuits leads this Christian away from the faith instead.
The symptoms of a weedy/thorny Christian are more subtle. In some ways this is the most dangerous soil to be planted in, because it can be a trap that slowly reels you in over time. The growing allure of the world, the temptation to fall into sin is something that all of humanity struggles with and is a persistent threat to life of a Christian.
As you build your life up slowly over time, accumulating creature comforts and accolades, it can be hard to let them go.
Having said that the man who seems overly protective of his belongings (including his career) might be more at risk than others.
In general the weedy Christian is caught up in worldly things, including making idols out of things like money and fame.
Again, this is something that creeps up over time, but tell tales signs can be things like noticing that you’re gradually making excuses over time to justify increasingly questionable behaviour.
If you read my testimony you’ll note that this was basically my experience as a young adult. To offer up a little more detail, I was sucked into the desires of the world over time. It started with little things, all of which can mostly be traced back to a desire to fit in.
The danger of being sown amongst the weeds is that we are all at risk, all the time. The Bible is clear that the world is fallen, and that the threat of falling into sin is something that everyone, including all Christians, can never be blasé about.
A christian can be surrounded by weeds for years, without even knowing it, and survive quite well in a church that doesn’t confront it or deal with it. One of the big dangers of very large churches is the potential anonymity.
The rescue for the weedy Christian is simple, but not easy. A life of vigilance to the ever-present threat of personal desire and temptation. The Bible says this:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ – Luke 10:27, Mark 12:30 and Matthew 22:37 via Bible Gateway
Really the only way to protect yourself from the thorns is to never forget they are there. Realise that we are fallen creatures and that it is through the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that we can resist these temptations and worries. We cannot rely on our own strength.
The Good Soil Christian
Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.
The good soil Christian is the bulwark against all kinds of evil. The good soil Christian is the antithesis of all the previous seedlings combined.
The good soil Christian has their faith firmly grounded on a solid foundation of truth. The good soil Christian trusts God’s Word, takes time to understand God’s Word and why it’s true. The good soil Christian has a realistic understanding of the world we live in, its potential hardships and potential pitfalls. The good soil christian can weather the storms.
The good soil Christian loves God with all their heart, soul and mind.
Doesn’t have a panic attack every time they hear about some new ‘proof’ of evolution, or that the Bible is false or whatever. Even if they don’t fully understand the details, they have confidence in the truth of God’s word and aren’t afraid to take a look, and engage with the controversy.
See’s the suffering in the world and sympathises with it, but is ultimately realistic about suffering. The good soil Christian knows that suffering is ultimately a result of human sin, not God’s will; the recognise that abundance, affluence and comfort are not our sole aims in this life.
The good soil Christian’s study the word of God and reflect on it.
Overall, the Christian who receives the word with joy, studies and understands it, learns how to defend it from the enemy, from doubt, from temptation is a strong candidate for being a good soil Christian.
The good soil Christian is baptised into a family of strong, biblical believers, who will build him up, edify him and instruct him in all matters of the faith, especially the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
They are discipled right from the beginning about God’s word and the Gospel message.
He is taught solid biblical principles such as
- the true history of the world as presented in the Bible, including especially, the birth, death and bodily resurrection of Christ (this actually happened people)
- the doctrine of the Trinity
- Why ‘just being a good person’ is simply not enough, and why believing in Jesus Christ is the only way
- That faith is not ‘blind’
- Is taught at least the basics of understanding the Bible is true and can be defended intellectually through science, history, good reasoning, prophecy, etc.
- Is aware that the evidence for the truth of Christianity is truly abundant
- Understands the reality of suffering in this life, and that it does not negate, but rather demonstrates powerfully God’s existence
- Understands that the material possessions of this life, and the pursuit of it, is a dangerous game and, if at all, comes second to the pursuit of righteousness and the souls of the lost.
The good soil Christian is dangerous, very dangerous.
The good soil Christian exhibits the fruit of the Spirit in spades; they are kindhearted, but not afraid to speak the truth. The good soil Christian is quick to listen, slow to speak. But when they do speak, they do so thoughtfully.
The good soil Christian is no stranger to the world and the plight of the lost. He faces the objections of Christianity with courage, and a willingness to learn and understand. He is widely read on topics of theology, science and apologetics.
The good soil Christian understands that the Bible is the Word of God, and it is true and trustworthy from the beginning to the end.
He is wise to the dangers of clever words and vagueness. He puts his own faith to the test, and tests all things against God’s Word.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
The church is in decline. This is a terrible thing.
Many critics would have us believe that this is because Christianity is now made redundant by science and reason, and we are becoming more enlightened to the truth, but this is nonsense.
Science is not the enemy of Christianity, but there are many Christians who are the enemy of science. They continue to preach blind faith, and young people who are desperate to know what’s true, see no need for such superstition. Because they aren’t taught to truly understand Christianity, they cannot defend it… so they don’t try (or when they do, they are unsatisfied with the appeals to faith and love and stuff), and they walk away believing Christianity is for the weak-minded.
Some of us are taught to believe that Christianity will solve all our problems, and that life will be full of blessings and abundance as long as we are faithful and love God, which is fine as long as there is no suffering and adversity, or testing of our faith. As soon as reality strikes, these people will feel lied to. Betrayed by a God who promised them that he would ‘take care of them’.
The church continues to embrace Progressive Christianity and water down the Gospel message to avoid offending anyone. The message of Christ changes from ‘repent of your sins and follow me’ to ‘come as you are’. These young people have no knowledge of the seriousness of sin, and the allure of the world. So when the promises of wealth come knocking on their door, they are led astray.
Young people are growing up ill-equipped to deal with the real challenges of their faith, but the church won’t wake up to this. The church refuses to acknowledge that the new enemy of Christianity is the new atheism.
As long as the church continues to believe that the solution is to just keep ‘showing the love of Jesus’ to a ‘broken’ world, the world will continue to be unimpressed.