At our worship service on Sunday March 6, we baptized 5. When I baptize, I ask two questions of the new believers. One, “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of sinners?” Two, “Will you, with our help follow Jesus as Lord for the rest of your life?”
The second question focuses on the reality that trusting in Jesus is a commitment to following Jesus as Lord. It is for this reason that our mission at Wilkesboro Baptist is to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus. We definitely want people, young and old, to trust in Jesus as Savior. But our mandated mission from Jesus is to “make disciples;” to follow Jesus as Lord.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:18-20
In light of our mission and our baptism question about following Jesus, there is a real tension in the life of many churches. What about children, teenagers, and adults who professed faith in Jesus, but no longer exhibit any spiritual fruit as a Christ-follower?
There is hardly a week that goes by that I don’t talk to a church member whose adult child or adult grandchild has strayed from the faith. I could relate to you story after story from burdened parents and grandparents for the souls and spiritual condition of their children and grandchildren. Some of you reading this are those parents and grandparents.
In an article a couple of weeks ago, I addressed the reality that Jesus invites children to follow him. The tension I’ve been wrestling with is how to make sense of children/grandchildren who fall away from or reject the faith. Based on my conversations with parents and grandparents, here are some reasons why children who grew up in church fall away from the faith. These reasons are not intended to be exhaustive, but rather representative.
- Some fall away from the faith intellectually. Culture, worldview, media, education (public and higher) promote values and beliefs that are in contradiction to a biblical worldview. When our children and grandchildren are not grounded in the gospel and biblical doctrine, it becomes all too easy for skeptical philosophical ideas and arguments to damage a once vibrant faith. Many I’ve talked to over the years are in this category.
- Some fall away from the faith morally. Sometimes people stop going to church and fall from the faith because of sinful behavior. A mentor once told me, “When someone distances themselves from church and family, it can often mean that he or she has unconfessed sin.” It is difficult to consistently be around God’s people and the proclaimed gospel when living in rebellion and sin.
- Some fall away from the faith gradually. Many churches have seen a gradual departure from parishioners during COVID. If a person misses one week, it is easier to miss a second week. If a family misses church for a month, then it becomes easier not to attend the next month. This happens in one’s personal life as well. Neglecting spiritual disciplines and a relationship with Christ eventually causes a fall from the faith.
As a pastor watching these reasons play out in people’s lives, it really doesn’t appear like Satan cares one way or another how he draws people away from Christ. He’ll use intellectual doubts, moral failures, and gradual departures to damage one’s Christian faith.
Let me offer a few suggestions for how we make sense of those who have fallen away from faith and how to help restore them to Christ.
- Remember, a faith that is real is a faith that will persevere. I was talking to a church member several weeks ago about his assurance of salvation. He shared about a time as a young adult where he strayed from Christ, church, and faith. Yet he returned. It would do us all well to remember that if someone has a genuine faith in Christ, then Christ will not let that person go easily.
- Falling away from faith can be a reflection of a spiritual experience that was not genuine or saving. Some people fall away because what they experienced was not truly salvation. Bible Belt culture is rampant with examples. Walking an aisle, taking a preacher by the hand, or praying a prayer can be responses that coincide with genuine faith, but by themselves, they do not equate with salvation. There are some among us and some who have fallen away who were never really genuinely converted. This means we must be clear with the gospel that we preach and burdened for those who have fallen away.
- Pray for those who have fallen away. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks to save the lost. He left the 99 to find the 1. Jesus cares more deeply about those who have fallen away than we could imagine. He died for them. Whether they need repentance in returning to their faith or a genuine work of salvation, Jesus cares for their souls. We should bring our burden for those who have fallen away to the Lord in regular prayer. Have others join you in prayer for them.
- Be a sounding board for questions and doubts. This suggestion is important for those who have developed intellectual uncertainties about Christianity. For 2,000 years Christianity has been persecuted, alienated, marginalized, questioned, and attacked. Christianity is stronger today for all of the attacks it has faced. For those who have legitimate questions about the veracity of Christianity, listen, learn, and discover the answers that will help build their faith back doctrinal brick by doctrinal brick. As a professor of theology, history, and apologetics and pastor for more than 20 years, I’m more confident than ever about the philosophical and theological soundness of Christianity. Legitimate questions and doubts can be answered with patient and intellectually rigorous apologetic and theological resources. For example see Tim Keller’s Reason for God or C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity or Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth.
- Don’t preach at your loved ones. It is difficult for adult children and grandchildren to listen to their parents and grandparents, especially those who harp and nag. Those that have drifted away or fallen away do need preaching, but it may be that the preaching they need should not come from you. Invest in your children/grandchildren relationally even if they’ve drifted away from the faith. Pray for them. Encourage them. Keep the relational conversation channels open. There may come a day when the relational influence you maintain results in God using you to bring them back to faith.
- Deepen your own faith and help those under your influence to deepen their own faith. This might be the most meaningful suggestion in the list. You are never too old or too young to deepen your faith and understanding of Christian doctrine. Growing in doctrine and devotion serves as a framework for spiritual formation. The Christian who is growing to know God more deeply is the Christian who is increasingly less likely to fall away from faith.
At Wilkesboro Baptist Church, we’ve returned to a Wednesday night doctrinal study with the aim at helping us deepen our faith. Each Wednesday at 6:00 PM, we meet in our sanctuary for Doctrine and Devotion: Theological Reflections for Spiritual Formation. We are currently studying the doctrine of revelation (God speaking). If you are unable to join us in person, we’re recording the audio and sharing on our church podcast channel. You can listen here online. Or you can download our podcasts on your favorite podcast network.