Paul tells us something in Romans 15 that I believe is central to why we have lost our young people,
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”[a] 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:1-6
Paul tells stronger (more mature) Christians that they need to bear with the weak (less mature Christians). He says that we do this not to please ourselves but to please our neighbors for their good…building them up. He says that through this we might have “one mind and one voice” to glorify God and Christ Jesus.
My experience has been that in many churches it is the other way around from what Paul says here. We have a developed a way of “doing church” that excludes and isolates our younger, weaker teenage Christians and then when it comes time for transition those who are “strong” implicitly demand that the young come over and do things that are the preferences of the stronger Christians.
We have done such a thorough job of making nearly everything a non-negotiable, right/wrong issue that there is no longer any need for weak/strong distinctions because you don’t have to yield if something is a sin. But Paul still talks like there are some issues that are negotiable and it is wise that we take him seriously on that. Not everything is black or white (see Romans 14).
Without actually saying it, we have communicated that the stronger more mature Christians are actually the weak ones, while expecting the real weaker brothers and sisters to be the strong ones. Again, we would never say that (although I have actually heard it said in order for one older Christian to get their way by actually claiming to be the weaker brother on just one occasion) but it is how many churches operate without ever thinking about what is actually being communicated here.
There is an attitude that once teens graduate out of the youth group that if they want to be a part of “big church” that they have to toe the line…they have to do everything the way it has always been done and play by the rules. The way it has always been done means to the liking of the older “more mature” Christians. I don’t think Paul would agree. Actually, I know Paul wouldn’t agree as he points us to the example of Christ and says “do what you see in him…embrace the attitude you find in him…follow the example of the one who didn’t exist to please himself but came to encourage others.”
I believe Paul would tell the older crowd that they need to take their role as the stronger brothers and sisters seriously and yield on the negotiables (yes they exist!) to the weaker Christians. You won’t always sing the songs you like. The sermon won’t always be addressed to you. There may not be a Bible class that is exactly what you need…well guess what, stronger Christians won’t be bothered by any of that but should be mature enough to recognize that there are plenty of other people benefiting from it all that their personal preference is not as important as those on the fringe. If you have been a Christian for decades and not getting your way bothers you, it is time for a checkup. Maybe we just haven’t done a good job growing believers to maturity in their faith and in following Christ and now we are reaping what we have sown?
Being the stronger Christians is a recognition of leadership and responsibility. Often people just want the first. We are losing people every day over this and those who are more mature have to take on the responsibility of leadership…that often means service and yielding to others.
In what ways have you seen the weak/strong issue being played out in church? How have you seen it used for good? How have you seen it manipulated? What is it going to take to take what Paul said seriously in the churches and what would happen if we did?