How I Made It
It's a common story (and a tragic one). It's easy to find stories of young adults who have grown up surrounded by the Christian faith who go on to abandon it. Christian researchers, and many in the Christian community, have noticed this trend and have speculated as to why it happens. Many answers are given. Some are wrong and some are probably right. Each story and person is different making it hard to pinpoint the reason. Maybe it's not even possible. But I know why I stayed.
Many of the peers I attended youth group with have left the faith. This has always troubled me. Some I suspect were never really a part of it. But that's not my judgment to make. All I can say with any degree of confidence is why I stayed. And it's not because I was more intelligent than my peers or cared more deeply about Jesus. It's actually somewhat mysterious to me. I am only now, at age 34, beginning to be able to look back and see some of the reasons why I stayed tethered to the Christian faith.
Not The Answers, But Helpful
These reasons are not a formula detailing how we can keep our young people in the faith. The reality is, we can do all the right things and people will still leave. But we should consider how we can create an environment where young people and newly-converted Christians want to stick around; an environment where they can "make it."
How I Made It
It has everything to do with the community of faith God placed me in. No one makes it by themselves. No one is self-sufficient. Looking back, these are the reasons I feel like I made it and they are a large part of why I am serving Jesus today.
Encouragement. Every time I was in the church, someone was encouraging me. Christians let me know they were happy to see me, were praying for me, and generally cared about my life. When you are an awkward and self-doubting teenager, these are extremely valuable sentiments to hear. I had either quit or failed at everything I had attempted in my life. I was prepared to go the same way concerning my faith in Christ. But the people I met at church wouldn't let me. There were many seasons of depression in my late teenage years where some of the only positive things I had to hold onto were the encouraging words said to me by people at church. One cannot easily dismiss this type of encouragement and kindness when it is shown to them.
Generosity. Through my eyes, there was something deeply beautiful and moving about observing generous people. Jesus didn't seem stingy to me (and he still doesn't), so I didn't think his followers should be either. I loved the idea that money and material didn't have to rule my life. I got to see that lived out in the lives of Christians. Not only did I personally benefit from this generosity, but I got to see that people didn't need to chase what I saw the world chasing. They found their joy in Jesus and that impacted the way I viewed the world.
Action behind instruction. When discipling others or seeking to pass on our faith to younger generations, we often give lots of instructions. And that's fine, it's even necessary. But if there are no actions that come alongside our instructions, we are simply putting burdens on people who are, more than likely, confused and anxious. For me, believers not only instructed me to come to church--they knocked on my door and picked me up. They didn't simply tell me to read my Bible--they read it with me. Same with prayer. It made following Jesus more than obeying rules and opened my eyes to spiritual disciplines that would go on to shape my life.
Seriousness. I had loads of fun growing up in church. There were a lot of exciting times and laughs. But there were some serious conversations that changed the way I thought about life. I met Christians who asked me serious questions about my spiritual life, my future, and my soul. When it is often so much easier to talk about the weather, our favorite sports teams, and topics of minimal importance, I am grateful there were believers who went ahead, despite the awkwardness, and approached these serious subjects with me. They probably would have said those conversations went badly, but the truth is, I walked away from them thinking about areas of life I would have otherwise neglected.
Passion. Every person longs to be passionate about something in their life. I was able to see people who had directed their passions toward the pursuit of holiness and the presence of Jesus. I figured, if the Bible is real, people should really care about it. Church should be more than a routine, singing should be full of emotion, and prayers should have a unique intensity to them. I was able to see people who were passionate about Jesus--people who were even excited about what he was doing in their lives. Passion is contagious and eventually I longed to have the same passion towards Christ that I had seen in so many others.
Respect. I met Christians who respected me. They treated me like I was made in the image of God (like I had value and worth). They allowed me to be myself. They recognized and affirmed that God had created me uniquely and had given me unique talents and giftings. As a young person who was constantly searching for what would make my life matter, this was living water to my dry, parched soul.
Honesty about sin. Several Christians in my church have personally talked to me about my sin. I thought it was a secret. I thought that I could have this hidden sinful life while I was apart from the people I went to church with. Confronting someone about personal sin is difficult. It is often done in the wrong manner with the wrong motivations. When I was confronted, it was done lovingly and gracefully. And because of that, those conversations changed my life. Not only did I feel cared for, but they were open and honest with me about their own sin. They told me about how chasing sin would destroy my life. I walked away from those conversations amazed that people knew my darkest sins and still loved me. Talk about pointing someone to Jesus!
God speaks. Being in an environment where people believed that God speaks and cares about our lives opened up my soul to listen for the voice of God. There were times of confusion because it seemed like the Lord was speaking to everyone but me, but I ultimately learned to open my heart to hear from the Holy Spirit. When I tried to run away from the Christian faith, I couldn't. I could not get away from that still, small voice. And I knew whose voice it was. Today, I can't even conceive of living my life without hearing my Father in Heaven speak to my heart.
Be The Reason Others Make It
If I am honest, those are only a handful of the reasons I made it. I'm sure as time goes on the Lord will open my eyes to even more. Take some time to think about the reasons you made it. When you think of some, take some intentional steps to be those things for someone else. The Lord wants to use you to be the reason someone makes it!