It is common for people (especially the millennials) to say today that they love Jesus but not the church. Many have great respect and admiration for Jesus and His compelling teachings.
And then, there is the church.
It is a boring subject for some, a reluctantly-fulfilled duty for others; the vast majority of people approach the church with anything from mild disinterest to complete disdain. That is because churches are filled with jealous, bitter, and imperfect people like you and me. We have a tendency to be concerned about the little things and too casual about great ones.
First Corinthians addresses a variety of issues to encourage, admonish and strengthen the church. This letter is just as relevant to us and it was to the church at Corinth in Paul’s day. And, appropriately, is essential to answer the question: “How do we keep young people in our church today?”
Corinth was a cosmopolitan center of cultural and economic activity, one of the strategic cities in which Paul founded a church to serve that community as well as take the Gospel abroad. This city had a reputation for immorality and religious pluralism. As a result, the Corinthian church was the most divided, deceived, partisan, cynical, and loveless body recorded in the New Testament.
Yet, in the introduction of this letter, we get a glimpse into Paul’s perspective of this confused church, encompassed in four questions. These questions are relevant to answer this blog’s main question and to make practical application points at the end.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge– 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you– 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1. Have you forgotten your blessings?
In light of the problems in the Corinthian church, we may think Paul would forgo his usual prayer of thanks and exhortation. Yet, Paul sees something bigger than the Corinthian’s faults at work here—he sees the hand of God Himself and the gifts he bestowed on this church.
Consider how God has loved and cared for His church. The very reception of Paul’s letter was an encouragement to the Corinthians, just as having the Word is a source of joy for the church today. The church has the special privilege of being God’s people; He has a special concern for us and charge for our care.
God has sanctified believers, setting them apart and declaring them holy because of Christ’s atoning work. We no longer need to labor under condemnation – our future is assured! If we are Christians, our loves and longings are becoming more conformed to His will. This is the life we were created to live in Christ. We are no longer lost in sin.
In verse 3, Paul prays for grace and peace for the Corinthians. Yet this is not a mere request or hope—it is a declaration. Grace and peace are realities in the lives of believers. Whatever challenges we face, we know God’s wrath is turned from us because of Christ. Even our greatest suffering on earth is small in comparison to the condemnation we earned in our rebellion against God.
One example of this divine perspective was the life of Puritan pastor William Gouge, who suffered great physical infirmity toward the end of his life. “When I see myself, I see nothing but emptiness and weakness; but in Christ, I see nothing but fullness and sufficiency.” Gouge said that nothing on earth comes close to reflecting Hell or God’s judgment, and that “God will put an end to all” these sufferings. Humans have to reach for something, find some future hope—but Christ alone does not disappoint.
Paul always has his eye on the good God is doing and has done in Corinth, in spite of their constant struggles. God’s word in each individual and church is grounds for great thanks to God and praise for His grace.
In verse 5, Paul reminds believers that we have been enriched in Christ in every way. We are not spiritually impoverished. We have been richly blessed and lack nothing we need to be complete in Christ.
What more important knowledge is there than the answer for our existence and the way to salvation?
As Christians, we have the most important problems of the universe solved! In light of this, what peace or comfort does any Christian lack? We can fix our hope on God like nothing else in this world. He will give strength till the battle is done and the race is over. Our well-being is not ultimately in our hands.
Paul sees the continuing life-change in the Corinthians as a display of the reality of the Gospel. What a privilege to be used by God in this way. We should never act as if we could fulfill our calling “if I had this spiritual gift” or “if only I was in that circumstance.”
As Paul reminds the Roman believers: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
Paul commends the believers in verse 7, citing their good and right expectancy for Christ’s return and God’s glory.
What Christian brother or sister are you most critical of? Are they hoping for Christ’s return and the consummation of the kingdom? If so, be encouraged by this characteristic in your brother or sister.
There is also the blessing of being declared blameless on the Day of Christ. On that Day, we will have the keenest interest in God’s evaluation of us, and we will be astonished that in spite of our guilt, we will be declared blameless because of Christ. In fact, we are “called by God into fellowship with Christ” (v. 9). Either we are in fellowship with God or at enmity with Him. We are called to relationship with God, and that is the ultimate blessing and gift He could provide.
These only scratch the surface of God’s infinite blessings on our lives.
2. Have you forgotten who has blessed you?
All blessings are God-derived. Paul recognizes that his own ministry to the Corinthians is a gift of God (v. 1). Corinth isn’t Paul’s church, it is God’s church, and because of this fact, Paul can look on this church with confidence that God will complete the good work He began in them.
We can’t be so entranced by a gift that we lose sight of the Giver. Our affection must ultimately fall on God the Father for His amazing grace in granting us these blessings.
This is most clearly demonstrated in verse 4 (‘I thank God’). Paul knows that God is the source of all blessings. He realized this specifically about the church at Corinth at its founding (Acts 18:9). At that time, Paul was discouraged, but God kept him in that city because of His desire to bring His chosen people to Himself.
In verse 9, we are reminded that God is faithful – to be relied upon, dependable. We are to have confidence, trust, reliance on, and strength in Him because He alone is worthy.
3. Have you forgotten how God has blessed you?
God has blessed us through the finished work of Jesus Christ. We are never to take His work or any other blessing for granted. Jesus is Lord (v. 2) and the means of God’s grace (v. 4). Jesus is the culmination of justice and mercy. He has merited and supplied God’s favor.
What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own. God has blessed us by coming Himself in the flesh.
4. Have Christians around you forgotten their blessings?
We must use these questions and their answers as a basis on which to evaluate our own lives. Our very conversion is an evidence of grace. I mean, come on, look at Paul’s life— the most unlikely convert, a Pharisee and persecutor of the church, turned to the Lord. What a cause for rejoicing! We are all unlikely converts in our own way and should thank God for bringing us to Himself.
When looking at the Corinthians, Paul doesn’t regret the formation of the church or his involvement with those believers. He doesn’t question their salvation or excuse their sin.
Instead, Paul puts things in perspective by starting the letter with an acclamation of God’s saving grace. If Paul could do this in light of the Corinthian’s failures, we can certainly do the same in our brothers and sisters. If we do not see evidences of grace in the believers around us, we are missing the most important thing about them, and perhaps we are the ones at fault.
Memory can be erased by the passing of time. Can you – and will you – remember the grace of God in your life? We cannot afford to forget. Forgetfulness of God’s grace is one of the most effective weapons in the enemy’s arsenal. Answer God’s repeated call in Scripture to remember His grace.
SO, HOW DO WE KEEP YOUNG PEOPLE IN OUR CHURCHES?
1. Are the four questions above taught, lived, and incorporated in the lifeblood of the church?
2. Leaders, if young people don’t find their Jesus in the church they attend, perhaps it is time to look for another church (and, if necessary, for us to reevaluate what we are teaching in accordance with the Bible).
It is also time to relook at what and whose Jesus they are looking for. Unlike the “Jesus” of many churches, we are convinced that:
–God is absolutely sovereign: Yes, He’s in absolute authority over everything—including me and you.
–God is holy: There’s nothing unclean about Him. He’s not common. He is utterly separate.
–God is humble: In the person of Jesus Christ, He lowered himself to earth in the form of a baby, dying an agonizing death willingly for our salvation.
–God is good: Again, He doesn’t do anything, or allow anything to be done, that is not ultimately and cosmically good—whether we understand or not.
–God is just: There’s nada, zilch, or zero that He doesn’t see, own, or make provision for. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.
–God is generous: He gives and gives and gives and gives—and, yes, gives some more.
–God is merciful: He allows us to stray and wander far, far away, time and time again, & always runs to us in a welcoming embrace—like the father of the prodigal son. Wow!
–God is beautiful: He alone is the definition of true beauty, the ultimate and intrinsic beauty, and the only one worthy of worship.
3. We must remember that our image isn’t in God—we’re created in His image, not vice versa.
Often, the very “Jesus” that is held by the millennials looks like themselves. He’s trendy. He’s cool. His hair is a certain way. He has all the apps and the phones, etc.
Today’s younger generations are so frantic to be heard, seen, and understood by someone—even if it is a virtual friend—and we really do want to make that someone the biblical Jesus, truth be told.
Churchgoers, the good news is that the biblical Jesus doesn’t need us to prop Him up, clean Him up, or meme Him up for the church, the world, or the culture. We don’t need to tell our pastors what we are looking for in our local church (suggestions are always welcome and it is good to be heard even from leaders). No, leaders need to look all the more deeper at and into the Word of God. The One who authored the Bible holds the church, the world, and the culture in His sovereign grasp.
Pray that your church is faithful to uplift the biblical God and Gospel.
4. We will be far less likely to lose our young people if the spiritual climate of our church is something other than lukewarm.
Knowing the truth of the Gospel is eternal life. So does this truth compel you to love others? If not, ask yourself, “Was God obliged to love you in your sins?” How does what God has done in Christ effect how you love others?
Christian love is not based on loveliness. Love for others is such a natural outpouring of being loved by Christ. The more clearly we apprehend the truth of the cross, the more the congregation will be loving. There is no place for selfishness. Is there a greater love to know or share? Realize we have the same spirit living in us. This love will out last everything.
The basis for Christian love is to believe in Christ. Therefore, the individual Christian should realize that orthodoxy shapes affection. Imagine knowing God without the truth. The local congregation should realize that truth is essential to unity. Imagine a church without the truth. The truth calls us together.
5. Church planters/pastors, if you are hyper-focused on young adults you are building instability into your DNA. Church = multigenerational
If your church is all old people or all young people, you might be doing something wrong. The goal of mission work is to win new converts, establish these young disciples in the faith, and incorporate them into a local church