|Reading the encounter between Jesus and the invalid (John 5:1-15), I find many similarities with quite a number of young adults who have grown up in the church and yet are not in the church today. In this passage, Jesus healed an invalid man who could not use his legs all his life. To make matters worse, he was living in a false hope of being healed by some strange stirrings of a pool where he was. Apparently some people had told him that angels would come and stir the pool and the first person who jumped into the pool would be healed. What hope for a man who couldn’t use his legs! Another thing that struck me was the reaction of the religious leaders who were more concerned about him breaking the law (he was carrying his mat as instructed by Jesus during the Sabbath) than his miraculous healing. For them, obeying the law far outweighed the miraculous healing that could only come from God.
Why do our young adults leave the church? I could give you four common reasons. Firstly many young adults find it difficult to accept the uncompromising stance of the church and the Bible. In a world where there seem to be no black or white but only grey, some young adults find it difficult to justify what they perceive as the lack of grace in the church. Secondly, many young adults are also coming to terms with their belief in Jesus. For many of them as they face real challenges of life, there is always a question of compromise, trust and faith. Sadly, the end result of these issues do cause guilt or shame or a pricked conscience.
Thirdly, some of our young adults realize that we actually have very little time for ourselves and our family. Gone were the days of the school and college world – where sleep was optional and they had time for anything. So we find many young adults today sleeping in or joining marathons or going on fa- mily trips on Sundays. And finally, some of our young adults are just tired – either from their jobs, their family life or even their service in church which many have been actively doing most of their Christian lives.
So what is the consequence of missing church? When I say missing church I do not mean missing Sunday service. Many young adults do not realize that the church is a body, a living organism. In church, we have communion with each other and God, we share our lives and we move through the working of the Holy Spirit. Once we break our fellowship, we lose out on all of these and truly, we have to fend on our own. Loneliness is not just being alone but also not being able to commune with each other in the body of Christ. Loneliness if not kept in check can finally deprive us of the life that our Father has given us through Jesus Christ. We do not realize that many of the questions we have are answered not verbally but through examples of others in the body of Christ.
I would want to be brave to say that this loneliness is one of the key struggles of our young adults. And this has caused many to leave the church. Like the invalid, we receive all these false remedies from worldly ways, thinking that those would actually help us find that closeness, friendships or fellowship we need in our lives. And we wait and wait and we wait, not knowing that without being in the body of Christ, without each other and the Sprit that moves, we do not live as how God has meant for us to live.
“Do you want to get well?”
The question we need to ask our missing young adults is this – do you want to get well? This is the same question our Lord asked the invalid. Do we want to believe that the Holy Spirit is really active in the body of Christ and will help us find fulfilment, communion and mission? You see, Jesus asks the same question but what we need is the same faith of the invalid. Not having used his legs all his life, he was really brave to actually try to stand up. And he did! Our Lord has given us the church, the body of Christ. Are we brave enough to trust him that in this body we find life?
On the part of the church though, we also have to recognize that many of our young adults really struggle to join the church. There are so many questions that need to be answered, doubts to be allayed, and hurts to be healed. Jesus brought the Sabbath to the invalid outside the temple. He gave him rest. Are we prepared to meet our young ones outside the church, using whatever resource, time and energy at it? Or are we like the Pharisees who think that our missing young adults can only find rest through our programs and activities in the church? One of the great challenges therefore, is to see that we can and must try to bring this rest to our members who have gone missing. How? Well, spending time with them would be a good start. And in this we try to bring the body of Christ to them instead of waiting for them to come to the church.
The invalid who was cured did finally make it into the temple by himself. He was asked who it was who healed him. Surely he went to the temple because he recognized that it was God who had healed him. Will this happen to our young adults too as we minister to them outside the walls of our church?