First Thoughts

What Happened? Why Many Millennials and Gen-Z-ers Are Embracing Secularism

The Post-Graduation Exodus

Something has gone terribly wrong. For the past few decades, young people are exiting the churches they grew up in at alarming rates.[1] Vast amounts of church kids are graduating from our youth groups and never coming back. What happened? What went wrong? These kids were raised in the church. If we want to understand Christianity’s decline and secularism’s rise among young adults, we must answer a simple question: who is teaching the children?

This question matters because students will become like their teachers. Jesus says in Luke 6:40, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” When Jesus uses the word “teacher,” he is not referring exclusively to what happens during school hours (although this is certainly important!). A “teacher” is anyone who shapes your thinking, values, and behavior. Our kids, whether they realize it or not, are in a never-ending state of discipleship. Whether it is their friends on a text thread, the latest Netflix series to drop, or their favorite influencer on TikTok; their thinking, values, and behavior are being shaped by teachers. So when we ask, “Who’s teaching the children?” We are really asking, “Who will my son or daughter become like?” They will become like their teachers.

This question matters because too many of our children have the wrong teachers. If teaching is about influence, think for a moment about which voices have the greatest influence on this generation. Today’s greatest “teachers” are the directors of Hollywood, politically correct corporations, and Instagram influencers who preach a “you-do-you” gospel and not the “repent-and-believe” gospel of Jesus. The biblical gospel says that Jesus is the king, we are the rebels, and the only solution is to turn from our sin and to trust in him. The “you-do-you” gospel elevates the self as king and calls anyone who comes between you and your inner desires a hater. The people actively shaping this generation’s vision of right and wrong are TikTok stars who are obsessed with gender ideology and sexual liberation. The preacher and the Sunday school teachers get an hour and a half every week. These secular teachers get up to seven hours a day.[2] Who’s teaching the children? This question matters because children are being shaped by voices that hate Jesus and are leading them to the path of eternal destruction. What are we to do in the face of such widespread secular discipleship? While there are many biblical strategies to reverse this pattern and reclaim the next generation, I want to outline what I believe is one of the most important.

Fighting for the Next Generation

Parents, you must embrace your identity as the lead teacher. Jesus Christ has called you to be the primary disciple-er of your children. This is taught in several passages, but I want to look at just one. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Notice Three Things:

  1. God commands parents to teach their children, not the priests, the Levites, or some other elite religious group, but moms and dads. Parents are called by God to be the primary disciple-ers of their children.
  2. Verses 4-5 teach that moms and dads must disciple their children out of an overflow of their own personal knowledge and love for God. You cannot teach your kids to love a God you have not known and do not love. The amazing person and work of Jesus Christ must first be “on your heart.”
  3. Moms and dads are called to disciple their children “diligently.” This teaching must happen “when you sit down…when you walk…when you lie down.” The Christian home must become a greenhouse that grows followers of Jesus.

Parents, you must embrace your identity as the lead teacher in your child’s life. Ironically, one of the greatest threats to embracing this identity is discipleship by delegation: when you pass off discipleship to a pastor, the youth leaders, or a Christian school. Don’t get me wrong. I am so thankful for every parent who brings their kid to church. This is a big deal! But if your default is discipleship by delegation, you will miss out on the incredible blessing of taking direct ownership of your child’s discipleship. As a pastor and ministry leader, I am not the one called to be the primary disciple-er of your kids; you are. One of the most significant ways to fight for the next generation is to begin seeing yourself as personally responsible for the discipleship of your children and to embrace the unique challenges and responsibilities that come with the job.

If we want to “stop the bleeding” in our churches and reach and reclaim the next generation, let’s embrace our identity as the primary teachers of our children. Let’s become more aware of the secular influences that can so often sneak in the backdoor, and let’s give our kids a more compelling vision of what life is about: worshiping the risen and returning Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, we will reach the next generation and see God raise up an army of young people who refuse to live by the dictates of the culture but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

If you are eager to raise up your kids as disciples but need some practical guidance, I want to recommend two resources. One of the best books that lays a biblical foundation for discipling kids is Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. This is especially helpful for parents who are parenting through the “little years.” Second, The Disciple-Making Parent by Chap Bettis is filled with rubber-meets-the-road parenting advice. What sets this book apart from other how-to parenting books is the fact that Bettis is anchored in a biblical understanding of who kids are and how they change.

[1] For a survey of these statistics, see Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post Christian World by James Emery White.

[2] See this 2019 report by Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/report/2019-census-8-to-18-full-report-updated.pdf


Trevor Komatsu (M.Div., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is First Baptist’s Next Gen Pastor.

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