by David Wraight
In the past few years I have been coming across an ever increasing number of young people who are struggling with their Christian commitment. Their struggle mainly manifests as a tendency to go from being ‘full-on’ to being ‘full-off’, a sort of manic Christianity characterised by massive swings in the young person’s ability to cope with the demands of Christian living as well as feel good about themself.
They are like a yo-yo, constantly up and down. One week they are on top of the spiritual world and the next they are down in the spiritual dump. For a short period of time Christianity is great and the answer to all of life’s problems and struggles, then something happens and Christianity becomes a system of living that doesn’t work or is too hard to make work. At the low point the yo-yo Christian feels that they have failed as a Christian, they have let down other Christian and they have let themself down.
Although this problem of yo-yo Christianity is mainly experienced by young Christians, I know of many older and far more experienced Christians who suffer from the same condition. It is a problem that church leaders, especially those working with young people, have to face up to. We need to come up with some form of remedy, and obviously the best place to start is to explore the causes for “yo-yoism”.
I believe one of the main reasons for the yo-yo Christian phenomena is a lack of understanding as to what “real” Christianity is all about. James states (James 1:2-8) that to avoid being an unstable Christian tossed around like a wave blown around in the sea, we must attain Christian maturity. This Christian maturity comes through experiencing and facing up to trials and hard times. These tough times test and develop our faith and therefore produced perseverance. Facing tough times as a Christian teaches us to rely on God.
I don’t believe that the church today is teaching young Christians what it really means to follow Christ. How it involves self sacrifice and hard times. A young doctor working in the slums of Calcutta once told his rich father who wanted to help out by giving lots of money to the slum dwellers, “These people are be better off with an exploiter than a Santa Clause. A Santa Clause will only immobilise them, whereas exploitation will at least cause them to react.”
I think a lot of what we teach and model as Christians today immobilises people, rather than fires them up to live a radical life for Christ. We present Christ more as a Santa Clause than as a person who demands everything from us. “Come to Jesus and he will solve all your problems!”
We create little ghettos in the local church where we don’t have to be bothered by the problems of the world around us. We promise peace and security, not in the way God presents it, but in the way we feel it should be. In other words God talks about inner peace in the face of trials and hard Christian living, whereas the church today so often presents the peace of God as outer peace, a peaceful life.
The more the world moves away from God, the more the person who follows Christ is going to be in conflict with the world. The sacrificial servant lifestyle that Jesus taught is not being taught and modelled by the church, and any other form of Christianity when put to the test will fail. That is what is happening with many young Christians, the Christianity they are taught is unreal and soft, so when the trials come they falter. It simply doesn’t work, and they feel they have failed and that Christianity has failed them.
Another problem is that too much attention is given to behaviour modification of young Christians, rather than lifestyle change. The new Christian is told or assumes from the way other Christians function, that all they have to do to get the Christian life right is to stop particular unchristian behaviour i.e.. drinking, smoking, swearing, not attending Church, etc. They give up or try to give up a lot of past behaviour but they don’t replace this behaviour with anything constructive or truly Christian.
A far better way to introduce new Christians to true Christian living is to give them opportunities to serve and love others to their own cost. It is in loving others in practical ways that we demonstrate our love for God and start to experience God’s life changing power (I John 4:7-12;19-21).
Most of the yo-yo Christians I know are not actively serving others or seeking to serve others. They are too busy trying to modify their life to what they think it should be, rather than serving Christ and letting him do the modifying in his own way and in his own time.
The other major contributor to the condition of yo-yo Christianity is the fact that we live in a “feeling” oriented society. In talking to 16 year old recently and asking why he and his mates drank so much alcohol, he stated that “it makes me feel good”. His partying and alcohol consumption had greatly contributed to a serious breakdown in his relationship with his family. It had severely effected his school work and his potential to get into the trade he was keen to pursue. All these important life issues were sacrificed because it was so important to “feel good”.
This feeling focused philosophy of living has infiltrated the church far more than we realise. Christians and the church are renown for collecting things and creating environments so that they will be more comfortable. We are more concerned that we have an adequate heating system in the church and a comfortable building to “worship in”, than meeting the needs of starving and homeless kids on our doorstep who need God’s love and therefore our love and care.
We need to get back to the old tenant of putting fact before faith and allowing our feelings to be determined by our faith. If God tells us it is more blessed to give than to receive then we need to put this into practice, exercising our faith in God. Trusting that he wants the best for us and knows how we function the best, we are motivated to go out and live it. What we discover is that in following the pathway of giving to others to our own cost we find true satisfaction in life. We feel good!
Many Christians, however, put this formula the other way around. They rely on their feelings to determine whether their faith is working or not. When they go through some hard times, or they are offended by another Christian, or they feel tired or sick, or they let God down by their behaviour, then they immediately stop following God’s way of living and become immobilised in their Christian life and growth. Then Christianity doesn’t work for them and they become disillusioned and depressed.
The answer lies in the leadership of the church and the more established Christians moving from their comfort zone and starting to live as Christ has called them to live. Until there is a radical shift in the local church community’s philosophy of living, then the problem of yo-yo Christianity will continue to increase until it reaches epidemic proportions. Let’s get uncomfortable and start serving others, especially new Christians. If we don’t, what kind of example are we setting for new Christians. As Christ has called us to serve, so let us serve.