My oldest son decided after entering college that he wanted to be a preacher. Shortly after that decision, he decided he wanted to be a missionary to a French speaking country. His college degree is in missions. Though he preached full time for a few years, his life did not develop in the ways that he planned.

Though his life has not worked out as he planned, he maintains interest in meaningful, spiritual involvements. For years he has devoted one week of each year to working with young people at camp. He and I share that experience in common. I spent a week of my life most of my years from age 26 to age 40 working in youth camps.

About ten years ago after finishing a week at camp, he talked to me about what he learned that week. He said, "Dad, I finally understand something. I finally understand why kids who are bored with the church and often resent the church genuinely enjoy their spiritual experiences at camp. Their spiritual experiences at camp teach them the joy of worship. Their worship at camp is relevant and heart filled. When they return to church, they find no relevance, no joy, no heart in the church's worship experience."

I found his insight more than just interesting. I also found it sobering.

  1. We can ignore his observation, or we can emotionally react to his observation, or we can be sobered by his observation.
    1. That observation came about a decade ago.
      1. I personally can remember struggling with the same understanding more than 30 years ago.
      2. That is not a new phenomena; it is a decades old reality.
        1. In past years it was a problem.
        2. Today it is a crisis.
      3. If you are tempted to say, "In no way is that a crisis; that is just a kids' problem," let me ask you to put the situation in perspective.
        1. The teens who struggled with the same situation that I knew almost 40 years ago are now well over 50 years old, and many of them do not even pretend to be Christians.
        2. The teens my son spoke of 10 years ago are now all in their twenties, and you can be certain many of them do not pretend to be Christians.
      4. For years we have had a lot of teens who hated worship assemblies.
        1. When they reached age 21 they did not suddenly love worship assemblies.
        2. They became adults who hated worship assemblies.
        3. Do you personally know someone like that?
    2. We can ignore that situation.
      1. We can think it is just a few Christians who feel that way.
      2. We can even think only weird Christians feel that way.
      3. We can even ignore that fact when our children feel that way.
    3. Or, we can emotionally react to the situation.
      1. We can get angry because anyone discusses the situation.
      2. We can refuse to make any effort to understand the situation or the needs.
      3. In our strong feelings we can label the whole situation as ridiculous and refuse to be a part of any discussion.
    4. Or, we can be sobered by the reality that creates actual spiritual needs.
      1. We can admit to ourselves, "I need to understand what is happening."
      2. "I cannot be blind to what is happening any longer--I must look at the situation honestly."
        1. "When I look around, it is obvious that a whole lot of people are not here."
        2. "It is equally obvious that far too many Christians I know are spiritually inadequate to handle life."
        3. "I cannot keep living in the church like there are no unmet spiritual needs."

  2. As Christians, why do we do what we do? What is the bottom line?
    1. Look at all the things we do.
      1. We build buildings.
      2. We have programs.
      3. We encourage Bible study.
      4. We fund missionaries.
      5. We hire staffs.
      6. We appoint leadership.
      7. We assemble several times every week.
    2. Why do we do all that--and more?
      1. Is there a reason for doing those things?
      2. Is there a bottom line objective?
      3. What are we trying to accomplish? Are we trying to do something more significant than perpetuate ourselves, our preferences, and our traditions?
    3. Read with me.
      Ephesians 4:14-16 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
      1. Bottom line: the objective of the Christian community is to nurture every Christian toward spiritual maturity in Jesus Christ.
      2. Bottom line: in the Christian community, no Christian is a "write off."

    [Here Ted Edwards shared a new initiative to spiritually nurture our children in our Gateway program.]

  3. Consider two statements.
    1. Thousands of years ago Moses under the guidance of God's Spirit wrote these words:
      Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
    2. Almost two thousand years ago Paul under the guidance of God's Spirit wrote these words:
      Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
      Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

  4. Do you know anyone who dreads attending worship? (We commonly call it "going to church.")
    1. Do you know anyone who "dreads" coming?
      1. Do you know anyone who comes simply to please their husbands or wives?
      2. Do you know any children who come only because their parents make them come?
      3. Do you know any teenagers who long for the day they leave home and can stop "going to church?"
      4. How many of our children have done that?
    2. What have we done?
      1. Why has "church" become synonymous with an hour assembly on Sunday morning instead of being God's people every day of our lives?
      2. Why has "worship" become a performance that we observe instead of a time of praise when every Christian glorifies God?
      3. Look at how we have confused the Bible's concepts: we "go to church" to attend a "worship service."
        1. "Church" is something we are, something Jesus died to make us, something we are twenty-four hours a day seven day a week three hundred and sixty-five days a year.
        2. "Worship" and "service" are not the same thing: we worship to praise God for what he has done and is doing for us; we serve to fulfill our mission in Christ
    3. May I share what I want for Christians at West-Ark?
      1. I want every Christian who is a part of this community of Christians to be spiritually strengthened by his or her awareness of God's work through Christ in his or her life.
        1. I want each of us to know without question that God forgave every past sin when we committed to God through baptism--God committed to me in Jesus' cross, and I committed to God when I was baptized into Christ.
        2. I want each of us to know that when Jesus' blood began to flow in our lives destroying sin through forgiveness that it keeps on flowing, keeps on forgiving if we will acknowledge our mistakes (1 John 1:5-10).
        3. I want each of us to know that our salvation is real, not because of what we do, but because of what Christ did for us.
        4. I want us to dress ourselves in God's armor so that Satan's attacks cannot destroy us (Ephesians 6:13-17).
        5. I want each Christian to face every distress, every discouragement, every hurt in the certain knowledge that God's grace will sustain him or her.
        6. I want us to love each other so genuinely that we never minimize each others' struggles and hardships.
        7. I want us to be the greatest support system to each other that you could find anywhere on earth.
      2. And I want our children to be better prepared spiritually to live in this ungodly world than we were.
        1. I know that their world is more difficult than my world.
        2. There is only one thing I can do about the complexity of your realities.
        3. The one thing: encourage you to mature in Jesus Christ.

Public worship should be a time of joy, encouragement, and strength for all of us.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 9 December 2001

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