Is the church relevant in the 21st century?
SYDNEY — When it comes to Christianity, Australia is a land of curious contrasts.
There are multiple megachurches across the continent, including the well-known Hillsong congregations and their popular music ministry, Hillsong United.
Yet religious surveys show that the number of Australians who identify themselves as Christians is on the decline while irreligion — atheism, agnosticism, secular humanism — is on the rise.
Young Australians “are growing up in a world that is increasingly insistent in telling them what they should believe without letting them learn and decide for themselves,” said Nathan Clark, a member of The Point Church of Christ in Brisbane. “Today, many young people, as well as adults, are seeking answers that are a bit bigger than the world around them. Many are coming up short of answers.”
Clark wrote an opinion piece, “The Faith of Our Youth,” for a recent edition of InterSections, an online publication for Churches of Christ in Australia. In the same issue, associate editor Christian Bargholz asked five young Christians the question, “Is the church relevant in the 21st century?” The youths’ responses offer insight that spans far beyond their part of the world. They are reprinted here with permission.
Canberra Church of Christ
Absolutely. But there’s something essential missing from church. We regularly offer milk, not solid food.
Worship, family and encouragement are important, but they need to be accompanied by deep understanding of the Bible.
If my experience counts for anything, youth want more. We don’t want fancy Power Points or teen-life focused sermons. We want evidences for God, where the Bible’s from, why we believe it, and the uncomfortable parts. Why does Yahweh seem so harsh? How should that affect my theology?
I want Old Testament. It feels like there should be something important in there.
I know that being a young woman isn’t an excuse. So, now that I’m teaching the girls’ Bible class, I’m designing and teaching a Bible survey. It’s a lot of work but we’re all learning so much. I want the girls to have what I lacked — to have something to say. In our Judeo-Christian culture, people feel Christianity is nothing different. We’re full to bursting with people telling us to be good, but with so few who can explain why. The church is always relevant, but it’s our job to live up to what church is supposed to be.
Eastside Church of Christ, Sydney
I’m from a typical Australian family who attended church each Sunday and children were sent to faith-based schools. Nonetheless, I drifted away from God and have only rediscovered faith recently, encouraged by my wife and Eastside Church of Christ.
My experiences of church as a teenager made me lose interest in spiritual development as almost all of the sermons were repeated, no one was encouraged to study the Bible, and there was no fellowship among church members.
Despite all this, churches remain not only relevant but critical to overcoming this century of self-gratification and distractions. Churches bring people together to encourage each other in the pursuit of a stronger relationship with God.
Attending a church that will help you grow through reading the Bible and loving one another is critical. It allows you to develop an optimistic outlook — drawn from faith that there is more to life than death — and is also timeless beyond the confines of the 21st century.
SAMANTHA VAN DEN BOS
Canberra Church of Christ
Attending a ‘non-denominational’ Christian school during Year 11 and 12 had many challenges, one of which was the exposure to differing beliefs regarding salvation doctrines or worship practices.
I grew up attending the Church of Christ, with visits to other congregations still under the umbrella of Churches of Christ and briefly experiencing a house church. However, I never fully realized or thought about the existence of other denominations. Perhaps that was ignorance and a sheltered upbringing, or maybe I am now at an age where I can understand the world around me.
It became abundantly clear to me during one of my Christian Life Studies classes that not everyone had the same views as I did. As I listened to them, their beliefs confused me, and I was convicted to find a satisfactory resolution. I resorted to studying topics for myself. At first I wanted to defend my own beliefs against those who challenged them. But later my study grew into wanting to develop my own personal understanding.
“Today, many young people, as well as adults, are seeking answers that are a bit bigger than the world around them. Many are coming up short of answers.”
There was only so much personal study I could do before I hit a wall, no longer knowing how to proceed. So, I asked members of my church to help me. They let me explain my newfound knowledge from my studies and, in turn, explained their own beliefs with biblical evidence. From there I prayed and came to my own conclusions.
When I needed clarification, God provided that in the form of the church. Brothers and sisters who care about me and my convictions and are more than willing to support me through my spiritual journey are just further evidence of God’s love for his people.
So, I believe that the church is relevant to me in the 21st century because it supports and encourages my spiritual journey.
The Point Church of Christ, Brisbane
The message Jesus gave us in first century Palestine is just as relevant today. Looking at the Old Testament law and even the practices of Islam, Christianity by comparison is designed for people to express their love for God in a personal way. Instead of defining laws, it focuses on a relationship with God, which transforms individuals and their relationships with others.
When we observe law in religious and secular contexts we should ask ourselves, ‘Have they ever been effective at changing the hearts of individuals?’ Or, ‘Are they better at upholding structure and maintaining standards of behavior?’
A relationship with the Creator transcends race, sex, nationality or any aspect of our human identity. It is timeless. Law falls short, but love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.” (Hebrews 8:7).
Eastside Church of Christ, Sydney
People nowadays are best at finding the fastest way to do everything. We always try and find a short cut, and we lose patience for activities that won’t provide instant gratification. However, when it comes to the church, patience, consistency and hard work are necessities. ‘Sing to the Lord, all the earth, proclaim his salvation, day by day.’ (1 Chronicles 16:23)
There are absolutely no short cuts. On the contrary, it takes a long time to even understand what it takes to build this relationship with your church and God. It is for this reason among others that, to 21st century society, the church is not seen to be relevant.
FIND ADDITIONAL VIEWS on matters of faith, youth and mentorship in InterSections, a quarterly journal produced by Churches of Christ in Australia.