Monday, January 14, 2013

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

When I was a teenager, I remember someone saying, “It will get worse before it gets better.” At the time I thought it was a terrible thing to say and wondered what kind of person says such things to a young person. In retrospect, I think the person was just trying to be realistic, though perhaps a bit negative, about life. For many people, though not for all people, things will indeed get worse before it gets better. I wish that was not true, but wishful thinking does not change reality.

There are many reasons why things get worse for some people before they get better, but I only want to focus on one reason in this post. That reason is the deceptive web that sin plays in our lives. We often become involved in sinful behavior. At first it seems like we are getting away with it. But eventually we begin to feel the pain of our bad choices. At first, we think we can handle the consequences. But like a snowball rolling down a hill, sin grows and grows until it consumes our lives. Suddenly, there comes a point when we realize it has gotten out of control and the pain it has caused us can no longer be ignored. We have hit the bottom. (Someone reading this right now who is going through a hard time is thinking to themselves, "But I have been trying to live right and do right." If that is true, then this post does not apply to you. But the rest of us need to keep reading.)

In those moments when we realize we have hit bottom, we tend to be more open to understanding the truth of the gospel. That is when we tend to show up at church because the deep pain that is the result of sinful actions threatens to destroy our lives and we are looking for hope. It is in that moment of crisis that we need someone to reach out to us and offer a way out of pain through faith in Jesus Christ. But the church often rejects people who are on the bottom because of their behavior just when they need Christians the most. It is easy for biblically minded Christians to forget to express the love of God while also exposing sin for what it is. Churches that can find the right balance between expressing love and pointing out how much sin hurts will connect well with the postmodern people who now make up the majority of our society.

Postmodern adults who live in a culture of brokenness are looking for something that can ease their pain. Churches can help people understand the hurt that is caused by bad choices. People are not interested in hearing about a fairy-tale world where people just say a prayer and all their problems go away. They know that world does not exist. Instead they need to hear about our own spiritual journey with all its bumps, setbacks, troubles, and hardships. They need to hear about the times we doubted and were afraid. They also need to hear that we received the strength we needed from our faith to keep going despite our troubles. They need to know there is hope to be found through faith in Jesus Christ.

The day of fifteen-minute feel-good devotionals that masquerade as sermons is over, if we want to have real impact on our culture. In our postmodern culture, church leaders should better plan for lengthy discussions that will not have simple conclusions or easy answers. That does not mean that postmodern people do not want to feel good about themselves, of course they do, everyone does. But a feel good only approach will not satisfy the deep longing postmodern adults have for answers to the complex world into which they have been thrust. Churches willing to invest the necessary time, energy, and love into the lives of young adults and journey with them through the dicult questions and experiences will find those young adults quite  interested in what churches have to say.

If churches fail to help young people deal with pain, those churches should not be surprised when the next generation looks for comfort in other places. Churches have been called to hold the keys to the kingdom of God. Too many churches have lost the keys. It is important for churches to rediscover those keys before they lose a whole generation. One of the ways churches can rediscover the keys to the kingdom and unlock spiritual truth for young people is to help them deal with the pain they have experienced in life and the evil they observe in the world around them. Fortunately, the Bible is filled with practical advice about these subjects. If churches can communicate these biblical truths in ways the next generation can understand, they will find ears eager to listen.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.

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