Stumbling blocks: how we live matters more than our words

In my previous post, I mentioned a study by the Barna Group, which documents that 59% of young Christians “disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.” This is a scary statistic and is way too high. You might argue that the number will never be zero, but we should have zero as our goal.

I am not a sociologist and I suppose that to better understand the problem I should read the book that Barna released which adds detail in support of their findings. But I have been involved in the Church since I was born and made some observations along the way. While I never really rebelled or considered walking away from Christianity, I did have my share of questions and struggles with how to reconcile what I thought I knew of God and what I saw in the world around me.

By His grace, at the peak of my questioning, God brought men into my life that could point me toward answers to my questions. It was at that time that I began reading C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and others who supported my faith with Scripture and clear thought. The result was that while I could not reconcile all of the struggles, I at least came away convinced that my faith was reasonable and that the beginning of answers to the tough questions could be found in Scripture and in Christian thinkers. When I say the beginning of answers, I am not suggesting that Scripture is deficient. The deficiency lies in my ability to understand Scripture and go behind it to the mind of God.

Yet, the struggle paid off in a renewed confidence in God and the church (with all her imperfections).

It is normal for young men and women to question their world. It is normal for them to question their parents and ask why a particular belief is held. The injunction in 1 Peter 3:15 to be ready to give a defense applies as much (or perhaps more) to parents as it does to someone witnessing on the street or at work. We need to challenge and be challenged by our children. They should question and parents should have answers.

Yet Scripture provides warnings to parents and church leaders. A pair of Scriptural warnings comes to mind:

  • Psalm 69:6: “May those who wait for You not be ashamed through me, O Lord God of hosts; May those who seek You not be dishonored through me, O God of Israel.”
  • Matthew 18:6, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

If we are defensive about inconsistencies in what we say we believe and how we act, we send the message that what is said is irrelevant. Parents have a tremendous responsibility to submit themselves to Jesus Christ for the sake of not laying a snare or stumbling block in the path of their children. “Do as I say and not as I do” has never worked well and never will.

We cannot live the Christian life perfectly (I certainly don’t – just ask my kids), yet if it cannot be seen our lives that we are seeking to live it out in dependence and submission to God, then we give up our credibility and become a stumbling block. Psalm 69:6 declares David’s desire to not be a stumbling block. David does not want to dishonor God by tarnishing God’s reputation.

Jesus steps it up a notch or two and tells us that it be better to be killed than to cause a little one to stumble. This is harsh, but it tells us that God takes parenting and church leadership very seriously and so should we.

Parents and church leaders, the best thing we can do for the next generation is to renounce our selfishness and come to meet Jesus at the Cross in humility and submission. We need to confess where we have compromised and seek to recover the ground that was lost. We want to hear the words of Matthew 25:21, “well done good and faithful slave.” We need to live lives that point to the reality of the Gospel.

Discussion: In what areas have we failed the next generation and what can we do about it?