Fall is nearly gone. Winter is nearly upon us. The days have certainly become short enough. The music in stores and on Sunday mornings has changed to the familiarly sugary or introspective Christmas songs of tradition.
Soon ministry programs aside from the Christmas Eve Service and the normal Sunday morning services at most churches will be put on hiatus until the new year. For many of the focus ministry heads, the weeks leading up to Christmas and the new year provide a much-needed break and opportunity to spend time with family and friends.
For me, the weeks leading up to Christmas are a time for reflection. I think a lot about life, how the world works, and inevitably about the Church.
Every year at Christmas time I see people that I normally don’t see during the year. Old friends return to Western Washington to visit their family. These individuals respectfully return to the church of their youth with their families or to see those who were once close friends. Many of my generation have decided to abandon their faith, but out of respect and to appease their parents come to the Christmas Eve service or other Christmas begotten programs.
Christmas has a strange cultural significance for those who do not believe. Even those who have no history of involvement with Christ or the Church know that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. For whatever reason, it is acceptable for those that have chosen not to believe in Christ to come to a church to sing songs and celebrate the birth of the savior that they have chosen not to believe in.
With a touch of schadenfreude, I find it amusing when I see one of these such people get cornered after the Christmas Eve service concludes and is awkwardly prodded by a person from the church get all of the “dirt” from the year that passed this person’s life. I can sense just how uncomfortable these prodigals are answering question after question hoping that they don’t let anything slip that may make the prodder think less of them. I laugh a little inside when they finish with their interrogation from one person just to be confronted by another to answer all of the same questions all over again.
I know from personal experience that many of these individuals have philosophical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual issues with the church and/or with Christ that normally keeps them away during the year. Sometimes, individuals in the church have hurt people and that experience has tragically turned them away from their church family and they have chosen that they do not wish to be in a relationship with Jesus any longer.
I have a couple of old friends that I grew up with that do not want anything to do with Christ any more. How the changes and contempt for Christ concerns me greatly.
I remember growing up with these individuals. Our social circles were tightly connected with the church and the youth group we grew up in. Many of the messages we heard from the youth pastor helped form my worldview and mission in the world. My friends were right beside me hearing the same messages I did.
We heard messages of a Grace that only God could give. We were taught God’s love and mercy given to us despite our sinful state. We were taught that the Love of God is given to even the worst of us on this earth and that nothing we, or anyone else, could do would separate us from the Love of God (Romans 8:38-39)
At Christmas time we heard of the birth of Jesus. We heard how we could be saved from the crushing death that we deserved because God humbled and sent His Son to earth as a man to die our death and take our penalty. This same God-man, Jesus, raised himself from the dead in order to offer us life in Him.
These truths were very clearly expressed and taught to my peer group growing up. Yet, many of them take no part in the church and have chosen to no longer believe.
Philosophical reasons have been shared as reasons for abandoning faith in Christ. Oddly, a secular moral piety has run rampant in the culture. God is purportedly decried by intellectuals in the science community. God is seen as an immoral, evil, hateful, bully that has committed awful injustices against people over all of time. Belief in Jesus is compared to belief in mythological beasts and monsters of ancient cultures. The reality of Christ is reduced to that of a story meant to inspire people to be good.
I don’t think that this abandonment of faith is the product of intellectual reasoning, despite many of my peers claiming disbelief based on such arguments. I think the worldview change that has occurred in these individuals is born of much more base root than a perceived philosophical high ground.
I believe a reason that many young adults have abandoned their faith is simply because of a lack of proximity.
For many of us, as high-school and middle school students we were provided with a structure for our lives. We had structured times for school, for church activities such as the Sunday morning worship service, youth group, and events. Hearing God’s Word was a mandatory part of many of the lives of many young people. So, many of my peers were in proximity to the Word that they were fed in their faith without any real effort of their own.
As adults, they have lost proximity to the teaching times of youth group. They have lost proximity of scriptural teachings from parental guidance. They have often lost proximity of the familiar setting of home.
Instead of being fed regularly by their structured messages, they are fed more easily by worldly pleasures, worldviews, and desires.
Here-in lies the problem. We were fed God’s Word so well in our youth that we never learned the habits of being in God’s Word on our own. It appears that many of my peers had not matured and developed the habits and structure to maintain their walk with God on their own. Once the “Christian” structure was removed from their lives, they began to be enticed by the world.
For me, there is a silver lining when dealing with these individuals. They have heard the message. I believe times like Christmas can be a catalyst for the Holy Spirit to work through us in the lives of the lost sheep.
I pray that this Christmas you, dear reader, have the opportunity to point those on the fringe to Christ. I pray that Christ makes it clear to them that He is always in proximity with them. I pray that the God that saves will work in the hearts of those who have run from Him. I pray that his people will have a hear of brothers and sisters rejoicing in their alienated sibling returning home. I pray for divine appointments for his people to speak into the lives of these individuals and for the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts.
And lastly, I pray that the celebration of the birth of Christ will be the catalyst for new and rekindled life in Jesus Christ.
Tyler Somers has a passion for serving Christ by serving His people. Christ has led him on a unique path of ministry. He has worn many different hats including training among pastors and missionaries at the Lutheran Brethren Seminary, serving as a youth minister, serving as a trustee, serving on church councils and boards, and serving Christ in any capacity as the Lord leads.