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What Hinders Spiritual Passion?
Jack Radcliffe

Warning bells have been going off within the Christian community for quite some time over what appears to be an exodus from the American church by our young people. One of the most recent of those warnings has been issued by author David Kinnaman in his book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith. The problem, according to Kinnaman, is that for once-passionate teenagers, “much spiritual energy fades away during a crucial decade of life—the twenties.”

While some research reveals this as a problem for young Americans, the trend appears to apply also to those in their thirties and forties, evidenced by declining denominational membership statistics. Behind these numbers are stories of disconnection and alienation both for those who have grown up in the church and for those who would give church a try.

What is hindering spiritual passion? Kinnaman and others highlight feedback given by respondents, citing overprotection, shallowness, and exclusivity. However, the root issues may be something else.

Church and faith culture and traditions are both wonderful and frustrating at the same time. Their purpose is to plant faith in Jesus Christ into the next generation. Too often they and their stewards work more to keep the culture alive rather than provide environments for spiritual growth.

Clearly, the core of this issue is attitude. Mark 2:23-28 describes this kind of spiritual environment. Jesus and his disciples often interpreted the Scriptures and practiced faith in ways that were outside the box of the religious establishment. On this particular Sabbath day, they picked grain so they could eat. The disciples were acting according to the life-giving lead of their master. Conveniently, the religious establishment happened to be watching.

Known for narrow-mindedness and overstepping the bounds of the law, the Pharisees wasted no time confronting Jesus about his disciples’ actions. Rules without relationship are always restrictive and have a life-draining effect on people. Understandably, like many who are vacating the church today, Jesus’ disciples found spiritual vitality apart from this established tradition.

The source of this disconnect lies not where we might think. Besides the misguided interpretation and application of the law, this passage reveals the real problem with today’s spiritual environments: our lack of understanding of God’s heart. His heart for the Sabbath was for it to benefit humanity. His heart for the church is for its stewards and adherents to be a benefit to the world, making new life readily accessible.

This is the lead of Jesus, the master. All who know his heart and follow his lead will create space for spiritual life and passion. This is the church. Will you join it?

Jack Radcliffe is a husband and father of four, coach (www.redwoodcoach.com), ministry trainer and speaker, dean of the Youth Ministry Institute of the Tennessee Conference UMC, and adjunct professor at Martin Methodist College. He has an M.Div. from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio and a D.Min. in Practical Theology, Adolescent Development and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary. 

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