I’m sure the title grabbed your attention, or made you confused.  What in the world is the difference between being “spiritual” vs. “religious”.  Of course, the terms are qualified to our cultural context.  “Spiritual” is a loose umbrella term for whatever the individual wants to make them feel in touch with something transcendent.  Religious pluralism is the name of the game.  Grab whatever makes you feel good about yourself.  This spirituality is much more therepeutic centered around the self.  “Religious”, it seems from this article, means anything related to traditional orthodox Christianity, both in doctrine and practice.  But don’t take my word for it, take a look at what Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today writes.

Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.”

 Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer says. “Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.”

She lends some statistical data to her research when she writes:

Key findings in the phone survey, conducted in August and released today:

 •65% rarely or never pray with others, and 38% almost never pray by themselves either.

 •65% rarely or never attend worship services.

 •67% don’t read the Bible or sacred texts.

 Many are unsure Jesus is the only path to heaven: Half say yes, half no.

 “We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church,” Rainer says.

LifeWay did a  survey themselves.  It was of teenagers in 2007 who drop out of church in connection with a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which compared the beliefs of Millennials with those of earlier generations of young people.  This was their findings:

Even among those in the survey who “believe they will go to heaven because they have accepted Jesus Christ as savior”:

 •68% did not mention faith, religion or spirituality when asked what was “really important in life.”

 •50% do not attend church at least weekly.

 •36% rarely or never read the Bible.

 Neither are these young Christians evangelical in the original meaning of the term — eager to share the Gospel. Just 40% say this is their responsibility.

 Now, if this has alarmed you, Thom Rainer and Collin Hansen are still optimistic about the stats.

Even so, Rainer is encouraged by the roughly 15% who, he says, appear to be “deeply committed” Christians in study, prayer, worship and action.

 Collin Hansen, 29, author of Young, Restless, Reformed, about a thriving minority of traditionalist Christians, agrees. “I’m not going to say these numbers aren’t true and aren’t grim, but they also drive people like me to build new, passionately Christian dynamic churches,” says Hansen, who is studying for the ministry. He sees many in his generation veering to “moralistic therapeutic deism — ‘God wants you to be happy and do good things.’ … I would not call that Christianity, however.”

Since I am of similiar age to Collin, I’m probably one of those considered within that 15%.   Are the stats discouraging?  Yes.  Am I in despair?  No.  The stats do look grim, but Christ is the head of the church and he is continuing to build His church!  My joy in ministry is not derived from flocks of numbers, but the abundance of God’s grace that He has shown to me in Christ Jesus.

So what does this mean for us as the church in light of these stats.  At the sake of being brief, can I prescribe something that addresses the stats shown above and is what I like to call “refreshingly unoriginal”: Preach and teach the gospel.  Never assume someone understands it.  Stress the importance of the local church (even membership).  Christ reconciled us to God, and to each other.  Read the Word of God and absorb it until you bleed it.  Teach the Word.  Teach the Word.  Teach the Word, and teach the importance of the Word.  And pray in your closet with the Word opened before you.  Pray with trembling before God.  And pray with others so it becomes as natural as breathing.  Oh, it sounds so simplistic and looks very anti-pragmatic, but this is what God calls us to do and be!  Be faithful to His Word and what he has prescribed in His Word and leave the results to Him.  Isn’t it interesting that Jesus often used illustrations derived from agriculture?  Farming can be slow, hard work, and often discouraging, because you don’t receive immediate results.  Compare this to technology today which is fast, quick, impulsive, self-gratifying, and pragmatic, and the contrast is clearly seen.  Is this techonological mindset and characteristics inherent in our ministry as a church?  I hope not.

For more “refreshingly unoriginal” guidance, I encourage everyone to check out 9 Marks ministries.  And read another article from USA Today on this topic if you have the time.  But allow me to conclude with the words Paul charged to Timothy from 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (words I stress are in italics).

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

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