Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church Part 4

The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the fourth in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysomething Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

This is a tough subject.

Let’s face it, we live in a sex-crazed society.  The perverse concept of sex that saturates the culture appeals to our fallen sin natures at the basest level.  The world’s concept of almost-anything-goes sex on demand is totally contrary to the Biblical concept of sex as a gift limited to marriage between one woman and one man for life.  Not only are teen and twentysomething Christians struggling with the concept of God’s plan for sex, many older Christians, including many church leaders, struggle with this as well.  Sex is often a very uncomfortable topic to discuss, so churches usually avoid discussing it at all.  This has left a huge gap in the church’s teaching about the Biblical concept of sex.  Too often, the negative “thou shalt not” legalistic approach is all that is conveyed, rather than focusing on the positive benefits of waiting for marriage.  Also, with so many divorces and examples of marital infidelity among Christians, I think there is often a credibility gap when young Christians are told one thing, but they see another.

I find it disturbing that “most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers.”  This tells me that the church has been extremely ineffective in how we have approached the topic of sex.  Too many young Christians acknowledge intellectually that extramarital sex is wrong, but their actions show that they find it acceptable to compromise in this area.

In many cases, it is undoubtedly true that young people “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”  Rather than extending grace and healing, the church too often extends judgment and hurt.  Pride often makes it impossible to follow Jesus’ admonition to “first remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).  Let’s face facts:  Even for those of us who are more mature Christians, sex is a powerful temptation.  And even though we might not actually act on our sinful sexual impulses, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  Many times, the church is judgmental, because we see the same sin in young people that we struggle with ourselves, although our pride keeps us from seeing it.

How should the church tackle the issue of sex?  First, we must be honest about the struggles that most of us have ourselves.  If church leaders fall into sexual sin, they must be confronted, removed from positions of authority, and not allowed to return until repentance and restoration have occurred, according to Scripture.  We cannot be hypocritical; young people can see right through our hypocrisy.  Second, we need to be straightforward and blunt, yet respectful, and tackle the issue head-on.  We can’t continue to simply avoid the issue, because if the church does not teach young people about a proper attitude toward sex, they will adopt the world’s perverted attitude.  Third, Christian parents need to step up to the plate and properly teach their own children the Biblical truth in the area of sex, rather than leaving it up to the church.  Fourth, the older men of the church need to be the ones teaching the younger men, and the women need to be the ones teaching the young women.  Lastly, when young Christians fall into sexual sin, we need to lovingly confront them, not in condemnation, but in love, for the purpose of leading them to repentance and restoration.

Biblical truth about sex should never be compromised, but must be communicated candidly, yet appropriately.  We cannot just avoid the subject, or simply focus on sex as sin, but we need to include frank, maturity-level appropriate, positive discussion of the wonderful gift of sex in marriage.   We need to equip our young people to rely on the Holy Spirit to give them the strength and wisdom to avoid falling into sexual sin, and when they do fall, we need to help them to repent and be restored.

One Response

  1. Great post, very helpful. I hope more can find the courage to speak about the sexual struggles that most of us have. Thanks for sharing.

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