Good news: It appears that the church across the globe is on the rise. Depressing news: It appears that the church across the United States is on decline.
It appears from the statistics that the American church is following the troubled trajectory of Europe and Canada—where fewer and fewer Christians raise their kids to love the church and to take the faith seriously.
As church attendance and faith acceptance go down, guess what goes up? Christianity’s unpopularity.
We are experiencing a rise in the unpopularity of our Christian beliefs. Our culture’s response to biblical beliefs isn’t what it used to be: Rather than “That’s helpful” or “That’s right,” we increasingly hear, “That’s offensive.”
With the increasing unpopularity of our faith, we’re starting to believe one of Jesus’ promises which we had previously not resonated with. I’m talking about Jesus’ promise to His disciples in John 16:33, when He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” It’s becoming very plausible that, in this culture, churches and religious organizations with Bible-grounded beliefs will have trouble. Parents with Bible-grounded beliefs will have trouble passing along the faith to kids who are being discipled by a secular culture.
So should you be scared? After all, Jesus promised trouble, and you’re probably starting to feel it.
Here’s what’s crazy about when Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble”: He was in the process of trying to calm His disciples down. He wanted to fill their hearts with peace for the future; that’s why He said what He said. Here’s the whole verse: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).
Other churches across the world have experienced their share of trouble. Is it the American church’s turn? Very possibly. But Jesus says to take heart. He’s got this.
True, we could read Jesus’ promise of coming trouble as something depressing, like an upcoming root canal. But I want to suggest that we read His promise of coming trouble as something hopeful. Coming trouble could mean something really good for people who desire to stay faithful to Jesus.
Here’s what I mean: I grew up knowing that my faith was valuable.
How did I know my faith was valuable? It’s because it took some sacrifice. When my dad planted a church my freshman year of high school, we as a family became well aware that following Jesus and making disciples were work. It meant late hours and long conversations and financial constraints and sometimes even pushback from people who didn’t like the idea of a new church in town. Now, we were no martyrs. But we were taught that Christianity takes some sacrifice. And it was the sacrifice we put into the church that taught me that my faith is valuable.
Is it really such a scary thing that we could face trouble for living as Christians and holding onto unpopular Christian beliefs? Sacrifice is what teaches us that our faith is valuable. It’s an unchallenged, uneventful faith which we and our kids will take for granted.
We’ll never find out if our faith is valuable if it never runs up against any trouble.
You look at any important area of your life, and its value is always going to be enhanced by the sacrifice you put into it. Think of how deeply you are committed to your kids, thanks to countless hours of bedtime routines and diaper changes and bandaging scraped knees. Think of how much more committed you became to your spouse during the seasons you had to sacrifice for each other.
Think back to which sport you played as a kid which means the most to you today: It wasn’t the sport which you never had to try at; rather, it was the sport into which you poured hours of practice, gallons of sweat, and years of learning the value of teamwork.
So, what is so scary about a faith which demands something of you? Does it really feel so wrong that living out your faith would bring you trouble from time to time? When trouble comes against your faith, embrace it for what it is: an opportunity to remember that your faith is valuable.