Imagine you are a lifeguard at a populated beach, encircled by a beautiful boardwalk that ventures deep into the water with a great spot for people to congregate and look at the ocean. Suddenly, you notice that someone in the water is in trouble. You dive in with your rescue equipment and bring him to safety.
Then, just as you are getting him to shore, you notice there are three more in the water. You go out and get them, and, as you are getting them to safety, you notice there are 10 more people drowning. By now you are overwhelmed. You call for help and, as you continue swimming frantically from one rescue to another, you see more people needing to be rescued. Then you look up at the nearby boardwalk and realize that at the very same area where people gather to enjoy the ocean, the boardwalk is collapsing. You scream out, “We need help at the boardwalk! It’s broken!” As you see the people falling into the water you realize that no matter how much you swim around trying to rescue them, and no matter how much help you get in the water, many may still fall in the water and drown as long as the boardwalk is broken and no one does anything about it.
Does this bring anything to mind? Could something like this be happening in your church? Is your church broken, causing people to fall away, while a few are running around trying to save them? Perhaps no one is trying anymore. Perhaps everyone has become used to young people leaving the church. Perhaps it has become the new normal. I know these are tough questions that should get your attention.
So why do they fall away? Why do our youth, young adults, and even adults leave? The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) told by Jesus provides answers that will help us to fix the “boardwalk” and prevent our younger generations from leaving the church.
One of the first questions I asked myself when I read this parable is: “Why did the younger son leave the house?”
I don’t think it was because of the father. The story describes him as a great father who loved his sons. The mother is not even mentioned, so it was not because of her. Many have blamed the young man for being rebellious and selfish; yet, I would like to give the younger son the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, after he had found the job at the pig farm, he was totally starving, and would gladly have eaten the pigs’ food. He felt very uncomfortable and out of place—his best and only company being the unclean swine.
When he realized the stark contrast between the best food available to him and that which the servants ate back at his father’s house, he came to his senses. When he said “I have sinned,” it suggested that the religious instruction which he had received at his father’s home was not entirely forgotten. The prodigal son was a good young adult, who had made bad choices.
As I meet prodigal sons and daughters who have left our churches, I realize they are great kids who have made some bad choices. I thank God for His grace and mercy.
If the prodigal son was a good kid, and had a great father who loved him and provided for him, then why did he leave? Something must have happened to him.
To be continued.
José Cortés, Jr., is the director of Adventist Youth Ministries in the Atlantic Union.