It would be hard to find a Saturday in which you haven’t heard these words within the church. What words, you may ask? “Many youth are leaving the church! We must find a way to help them stay” Many preachers, elders, youth leaders etc have uttered these words with passion, perplexity, & sadness. I know what you’re thinking; “C’mon, We’ve seen the statistics, read the articles, & sought the solutions. I’m tired about talking about this subject.” but I have a confession. This has very little to do with those that are “leaving” but rather those that have “stayed” and if you’re wondering why I’m placing sarcastic quotation marks over the word stayed, when it was perfectly fine over leaving, I’m going to explain why.
Most of you are familiar with a screenplay; it’s the guiding narrative force of any film. The elements of a screenplay are simplistic at best: Setting, Characters, Event, & Controlling Idea. If we get a little more in depth the questions you should always ask yourself within the context of a screenplay is
Who is the main character? (Character) What problem does my character need to solve? (Problem)What goal is my character pursuing? (Event)What obstacles does he/she face? (Escalation)What failure occurs? (Turn)What does the character learn from the failure? (Climax)
Admittedly this is a very simplistic breakdown of what a screenplay/story consists of but for the purposes of this article it’ll do just fine because these are points that are vital for your “main character” to go through to be able to grow and reach a point of realization he wasn’t privy to in the beginning of the story.
What does any of this have to do with people leaving the church? *bear with me* The story of the prodigal son is famously repeated story within the ranks of Christian sermons. It has all the classic points; redemption, enough allegory to shade the youth, healthy structure to admonish the adults, emotional enough to make a calling & relevant enough to touch home. It’s also used time and time again as a example of those who leave the church only to realize the grass isn't greener on the other side. If the prodigal son was a film then the main character being the “prodigal son” would follow all the necessary beats for growth in a protagonist
Who is the main character? Prodigal son
What problem does he need to solve? His character
What goal is he pursuing? Freedom
What obstacle does he face? Loss of wealth, friends, freedom
What failure occurs? He ends up worse off than when he started
What does the character learn from the failure? Humility
As you see, in the story of the prodigal son the main character follows all the beats necessary for your character to grow but now patient reader we reach the point to all of this. There is a character within the story of the prodigal son who doesn’t get talked about as much, a character that while minor at best is integral to the point of the article. Who is this character? The one that stayed. The brother. Yes; the one who didn’t leave the church, the one who didn’t “lose” himself, the one who followed the rules, respected his father, the one who did his honest part, the good Christian, the one that stayed. What was the reaction of the brother when his lost brother returned with pomp and circumstance? It was one of jealousy & resentment. Now if we place the brother through the same examination of what a character must go through for growth that we did for the prodigal son do we arrive at the same place? Try it.
While many of you probably were able to answer some of those questions there is something missing. The brother stayed in hope that his good deeds entitled him. He didn’t have a problem, he didn’t have an obstacle, his failure never became a lesson, in fact we don’t even have a clear picture of what his goal ever truly was. The same can be said for those who stay in the church based off tradition & self righteousness as opposed to conviction & self-awareness. Many within the church stay not because they are convinced but because they are entitled. They, like the brother, feel as though “doing the right thing” makes them more worthy than those that haven’t. Many times I’ve seen “spiritual” people look down on those who openly struggle with their sins while completely forgetting their personal need for savior and their state as a sinner like the brother they forget that the focus is to restore not simply to maintain.
For all the ones who stayed behind; don’t forget to continue to understand that staying in church doesn’t equate to growing in Christ. Recognize your problems, set your goals on Christ, understand we all have obstacles, don’t hide your failures, and don’t just teach lessons… learn them as well.