We had no Pathfinder clubs, no foreign tours, no junior camps, no elaborate MV programs when I was a youth. The exiguity of church socials was most evident. This situation caused the usual vocal crusaders to decry the church's out-of-touchness with its young people. Often some pulpit banger would piously exclaim, "If we don't do something for our youth, we will lose them." The term "something" usually meant parties and picnics. The phrase "we will lose them" suggested that our youth would leave the church.
Another startling pronouncement that never failed to capture my gaiety-loving heart was this: "You can't expect young people to be on their knees all the time or to always be sitting in church!" This statement sounded most logical, especially if it was said fast and with conviction, and so long as I did not think it through. When I became sensible enough to give it serious thought I wondered who these people were who spent all their time on their knees or in church. I began to look around for these marathon kneelers and church-pew-sitters. To my surprise, I found none. Evidently there was little cause for concern.
In my own experience as a lad, prayer meeting attendance was inevitable. Academy and college vacation periods always found me in prayer meeting with my father. But out of a church of nearly three hundred, only one or two youth my age were ever in attendance. And the stunted adult attendance was anything but encouraging. Since then, my experience has indicated that most Adventist churches at prayer meeting time are about as empty as they are at eleven o'clock on Sunday morning. Evangelistic meeting attendance was a bit better. But it took a church social to really pack the people in. Evidently there were few, if any, who spent all their time on their knees or in church. Personal acquaintance with those of my own age never revealed a single individual who was fanatical about his hours in prayer or in church. In fact, I've never met a person in this category in my entire life.
Strap Them to the Cross
If it is possible to hold our youth by doing "something" for them, I'm all for it. But what should that "something" be? And what do we mean by "holding" our youth? The greatest issue facing our church today is not the reaching of some membership goal. We are not a club involved in a membership drive. Should our goal be the involvement of as many young people as possible in some newly invented secular activity? And will such activities, however attractively they are promoted and whatever their apparent suecess, really hold young people in the church?
I think of the Waldenses, those dedicated heroes of the past who left us such a sacred legacy. But what of their children today? They have built dance halls beside their chapels, thinking to hold their young people. But it hasn't worked. Their young people are down in the cities with the bright lights.
We can never save our youth by compromising principle or by fogging over our real reason for existence. Such a program can only lead to spiritual bankruptcy and eventual repudiation of God Himself. I weep as I see the tours, socials, and programs ad infinitum consuming the time, money, and energy of our youth and adults when so little, so very little, is being done in evangelistic witnessing. Our real and only business as a church is to strap every boy and girl, every man and woman possible to the cross of Christ and get them involved in witnessing! If this goal is overshadowed by a conglomeration of energy-consuming programs which rarely if ever lead to witnessing for our Lord, we will fail in the church's true mission.
Only Heaven's statistical report of the saved and lost could prove me right or wrong, but I am thoroughly convinced that the percentage of youth lost to the cause of Christ in the days when I was an MV-ite, when there were few social activities, was no greater if not less than it is today. I have watched the present-day feverish youth activities. We bus them to Mexico, fly them to Europe, sail them to the islands, feed and fetch them from social to social—all with pitifully small results in terms of souls saved.
No religious side show will ever meet youth's basic needs. The church calendar of nonreligious activities ranging from boating to Bach is not even a poor substitute for heart religion. In fact, it is often a downright deterrent to the soul's spiritual existence. The inordinate desire to get all the youth involved in some church-sponsored social activity may in the end prove to be the means that destroys the very program that God has ordained for youth who ought to be encouraged to carry it out.
Look at what is happening in the major Protestant churches. They are determ'ned to reach youth where they are, wherever that may be and whatever the necessary compromise of principle. I picked up a new magazine the other day and discovered that the lead article advocated nudity. I was shocked to find that the magazine is published for university students by one of the great Protestant churches. Washington National Cathedral, I understand, is currently having financial difficulty because certain contributors have withdrawn their support follow ing the bringing of rock 'n' roll into the worship service. So far as social activities are concerned, there seems to be no limit to the kind of entertainment the churches will sponsor. And I'm not talking about popcorn machines in the church basement!
I ask you, Are we heading in the same direction?
I am not averse to a reasonable number of church social functions, provided they are of the right character. But I believe some have confused church activities with home activities. Should not parents assume the major control of the social life of their children? Fathers and mothers might happily discover the joy of providing innocent entertainment for their own children and children from broken or divided homes. The way things are headed now, the church will soon take complete control of social activities, leaving the parents in the position of glorified taxi drivers who carry their children from one church function to another. The church is in danger of becoming a giant entertaining, baby-sitting organization whose main object is to jam a bottle of fun-milk into the mouths of restless youth every time they make a move to leave the church-crib structure.
Could it be that if we would help the youth to discover the satisfaction, the pure pleasure, there is in a life of witnessing for Christ, our concern for our youth would vanish? It could happen. It will happen when we reverse the present trend. Instead of an ever-increasing diet of secular activity with a little bit of religion tossed in, we ought to see an ever-increasing diet of religious activity with a little bit of the social thrown in.
Fun in Witnessing
The youth who is looking for thrills and adventure and pleasure—call it fun if you like—will find all these and more, without a hangover, in a life patterned around witnessing for Christ.
Not long ago I was visiting a friend in a nearby suburb. While I was there, early on Sunday morning, there was a knock at the door. There stood a well-dressed man with a fourteenyear-old girl beside him. Both had Bibles. After introducing himself, the man referred to world conditions and began to support his statements with Bible texts. Whenever he turned to a text the girl did the same. The most impressive thing about this visit was the dedication of the girl. Here was a teen-ager taking time to visit house to house to encourage people to study their Bibles. Undoubtedly she would be labeled a square by some, but what a charming square she was. How refreshing to see such dedication in a world where youthful energies are being channeled into useless and even obnoxious lines of endeavor.
Let the church confine its activities mainly to the work of warning and winning the world.