The disciples came to Jesus with a problem. Jesus had been followed by a large crowd, they were in the middle of the wilderness and the people were hungry.
The disciples understood the problem but did not have the means to provide and answer. They did not have sufficient perspective or understanding to anticipate the way that God wanted to work in the situation.
The story is recorded in Matthew 14:15-21 where we read that Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and multiplied them sufficiently to feed the entire crowd.
Like the disciples, we struggle to get the big picture and often respond within the limitations of our own experience. The danger for 21st Century church leaders is that we can depend on tried-and-true church forms and think them adequate to solve the problems we see. When they don’t work, we grumble about the Enemy or the hard hearts of the people to which we are reaching out. Yet, like in the feeding of the 5,000, perhaps God wants to work in a different way and we need to cease being an impediment to that work.
When the Barna group reports that 59% of young Christians leave the church, it is time to admit that we are doing something wrong. In my own experience I see that despite good preaching, despite youth retreats, despite frequent youth activities and despite Christian education, many kids have lukewarm connection with the church or have left it entirely. Too few are active and engaged following high school.
Perhaps we have been guilty of trying to manufacture the food ourselves rather than coming to Jesus to provide it. Perhaps we have gotten so caught up in the activities of the church we have lost touch with the central message of the Gospel. Maybe we have become so preoccupied with looking good rather than living well. Perhaps we have been so active that we have allowed distance to creep into our relationship with Jesus. Maybe we’ve been carrying around empty baskets.
All the disciples had to do was carry the baskets; Jesus provided the food. They had two things to do. They had to keep from spilling it and get it to the people. It was not complicated.
Are we carrying baskets full of spiritual food? Are we getting spiritual food to the people who are starving for it? The answer seems to be that we are not if so many are leaving the church.
Like the disciples carrying the baskets, we have two main jobs. We are to love God with our entire beings and love our neighbors as ourselves. One way to look at this is that the love of God is the food and our love of our neighbor is the reason why we carry the food to that neighbor.
I’m not sure of the entire answer to the problem of youth leaving the church, but I suspect that it involves getting our own hearts right before God. If we are indeed following the first great command to love God, then we will have something of value to impart to the next generation.
As Muddy Waters said, “you can’t spend what you ain’t got.”
What do you think? What is it that we need to do to reduce the numbers of youth leaving the church? Please comment below.