Friday, November 26, 2021

Drain of Young Pentecostal Brains | Whose Fault Is It?

The following is my translation of a post originally made in Spanish by Fernando E. Alvarado,  a pastor in the Asambleas de Dios of El Salvador, and blogger at Pensamiento Pentecostal Arminiano (Arminian Pentecostal Thought).

It’s common to hear pastors and leaders talk about how young adults and adolescents are abandoning the Pentecostal church thicken the ranks of other movements: “The Calvinists brainwashed them.” “He became reformed.” “She became a Mormon (or a Jehovah’s Witness or some other sect). ”How sad! Too much study drove him crazy, he ended up abandoning the faith.” “They shouldn’t study theology, they turn into liberals and think they know everything, then become apostate.” I’ve heard these many times, along with many other excuses.

But that’s what they are: excuses! The real reason why many young Pentecostals are abandoning that expression of faith for other streams is deeper. And it’s not that we’re losing young people on a grand scale to the Reformed or other such groups. Really they are very few, generally the most hungry for knowledge, the mentally restless, desirous of learning, intelligent, and with academic preparation. What we have isn’t a massive drain of young people, but instead a brain drain. Valuable brains, gifted by the Lord with a natural talent who will later turn against us, atacking us on social media, publishing anti-Pentecostal books, or serving in denominations with positions contrary to ours, simply because they didn’t find space in our churches to develop grow, and learn.

Yes, I know that then we will call them heretics, apostates, or unsubmissive rebels. We will say they were individuals that wouldn’t accept anyone’s covering, that they won’t submit to authority, or that thy didn’t respect the Lord’s anointed (that is, us). That’s how we console ourselves for our loss, or at the least placate our consciences, which accuse us for having failed them and God by not fulfilling our pastoral duty. Why?

Because deep down we know that, if they have left, it’s our fault. Not the fault of the Reformed, or the Mormons, the atheists or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s our fault! Let m explain what I mean...

1) The young people are leaving because we pastors don’t know how to give intelligent, biblical, coherent answers to the serious questions of our young people.

It has been a common Evangelical tendency to leave our brains at the door, embrace emotionalism and spiritualism, and label subjective experiences as faith. We Pentecostals are the kings of this! The problem is that to be out of touch with the intellect is to alienate the young people who are preparing to leave their mark on the world, making them believe that the intellect doesn’t play an important role in their faith. This is the reason why students seek out debates, dialogs, and other intellectually stimulating events—they’re hungry and seeking. And guess who offers them those things?

My dear elder pastor, the young people of today (those that arrive at our Pentecostal churches) have changed a lot since your generation up to now. They are no longer content to jump, spin around three times, shout “Arrabasaya!” and fall down on the floor. Don’t misunderstand me. They do need spiritual experiences, but they also need strong, solid, biblical, and intellectually edifying discipleship. The education received by students in secular institutions will always provoke questions that challenge the authority and integrity of the Word of God: evolution, gender ideology, Marxism, atheism, etc. Pastor, do you have the answers? Can you respond to their questions with something more than, “This is what we believe; don’t question it”?

Yes, I understand that the Lord doesn’t call the prepared, that He prepares the called (or so we’ve been told), but I fear that at times this is just another excuse for not preparing ourselves, for not studying theology. And I’mnot talking about taking a three-month online course (or even a live classroom course, but of poor quality) in order to receive a title of “bachelor” or “master” without any real value. I’m talking about serious theological formation. One that requires you to dive deep in your faith, to ask questions and to find the truth of the Word beyond the fanaticisms and sectarian dogmas that so often dominate.

No, many who bear the title “pastor” have stagnated in their knowledge. They refuse to continue learning. They see study as something bad. “The letter kills,” they tell you as an excuse.  “If I read too much I could end up crazy” others say. I fear that we talk a lot about hermeneutics and exegesis, but do we really know what those are? How many of us who criticize others for “not having a sound hermeneutic” or “committing eisegesis” can really perform our task as interpreters of the Word well? No, it’s not a sin to be called to the ministry with a low educational level. The sin, the real negligence, is staying that way your whole life. Or what will we say to the Lord? The following parable may illustrate our story well:

“Then the man who had received 1000 coins came to his master and said, ‘Master, I know that you are a hard man. You harvest where you have not planted. I was afraid and went and hid the money in the ground. Here, I give you what is yours.’ The master answered him, ‘You are a bad and lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not planted, and gather where I have not sown? For that reason you should have put my money in the bank. Then when I returned, I would have my money with interest added.” (Matt. 25:24-27)

My beloved pastor, I ask you again: What kind of answer do these spiritually and intellectually hungry young people receive from their ministry leaders? In the majority of the cases, there has been a failure in the pulpit, and more particularly in the programming for teens and young adults. And when we find ourselves pressed to give chats, conferences, or sermons, the youth complain that the questions they bring up frequently go without any answers. Why? Because we ourselves are ignorant about the answer. It’s easier to say, “That’s heresy, “That’s of the devil,” or “Submit and don’t question,” than to give an answer that we ourselves are ignorant of.

But pastors, let us remember that we were also called to be teachers, not bellicose fanatics obsessed with always being right without giving valid reasons for our faith. “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people” (2 Tim 2:24, NLT).

So then, what can be done? If you are a pastor or youth leader, make spaces where your sheep can ask questions. Perhaps consider opening the microphone every now and then for a Q&A time. Offer Bibls studies, teach doctrine as it should be taught (then you won’t have to worry that Itiel Arroyo will turn your youth into post-tribulationists, that the Jehovah’s Witnesses will steal your lambs, or that the Mormons will leave you without any attendees). Make sure to create spaces where the young people feel secure when asking questions. The Christian faith does have answers; don’t stand by without looking for them.

2) The young people are leaving because we have turned the church into a transitory social club, a center of superficial entertainment, but without involvement in the only mission that really matters.

Young adults don’t want to just sit by without an objective in mind, waiting for Jesus to return. They want to know that thye’re being prepared and discipled to leave a mark on the world, commissioned to carry out a divine task: the advancement f the kingdom of God on earth. We need to take more seriously the declaration of the mission of the church in Matthew 28:19-20:

“Go, then, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep everything I have commanded you; and remember, I am with you every day, until the end of the world.” (translated to English from the Spanish Nueva Biblia de las Américas)

A church without mission is a church without identity, since identifying with Christ is to be a “city set on a hill” (Matt. 5:14). The city of light es the one that proclaims to the world objective truth and moral righteousness. Young people want to form part of that, of a grand narrative, of a marvelous work that glorifies God, of a place where they can use their abilities and gifts to advance the kingdom of God.

Una iglesia sin misión es una iglesia sin identidad, ya que identificarse con Cristo es ser una “ciudad situada sobre un monte” (Mt. 5:14). La ciudad de luz es la que proclama al mundo la verdad objetiva y la justicia moral. Los jóvenes quieren formar parte de esto, de una gran narrativa, de un trabajo maravilloso que glorifica a Dios, de un lugar donde puedan usar sus habilidades y dones para avanzar el reino de Dios.

Many young people abandon the church due to its lack of mission and vision. There is a cry asking for something more than personal transformation, than spiritual coaching, than motivators and influencers as doctrinally deep as a puddle. There is a cry to be part of a bigger narrative, to play a fundamental role in God’s plan for the renovation of His creation. There’s a desire to fight for an objective, work toward a goal, be part of something bigger and more significant. Is the church offering them this? Concerts without the Word of God, games and ice-breakers, lights and fog, dance teams, singles nights, and Christian “sleepovers” without the Word and without the Spirit disguised as prayer vigils, aren’t going to give them that significance they are seeking in their Christian life.

My dear pastor: what are you doing so that your church reflects that vision? What changes are you willing to make? The youth of your church are ready and thirsty, but they need biblical leadership that can guide them through a culture that needs redemption but seeks to drown them. How many of them have you challenged to consider missions? How many of them have discovered their calling to pastoral ministry, evangelism, or teaching in the church? Or worse yet, how many have you run out of your church because they have more talent and education than you, and you don’t want any competition or anyone who may question things?

Every believer should pray that the church would reclaim its biblical identity as a missionary church, and that it would invest in its teenagers and young adults to avoid losing them in the increasingly secular and humanistic world. The change is possible, but requires concerted effort, from the leaders and from the young people who will be leaders. Don’t settle for entertaining them in the church. Make the church relevant in ther lives! Disciple them, then send them.

3. Young people are leaving because we’re filling our pulpits with irrelevant preaching.

Without a doubt, many young people abandon their churches because there is a lack of relevance in the teaching and the sermons preached from our pulpits. We fill our pulpits with motivational messages, with pretty words, and with simple humanism baptized in Christian language. But young people don’t need anyone’s motivational phrases. They need the Word of God, to be nourished by relevant, Christ-centered preaching. They don’t need to know themselves as “princes and princesses of God,” but to be confronted with their sin, molded by a Christian worldview, to be carried to the altar where they will be filled with the Holy Spirit and later will go out into the world as change agents, not as a generation of glass that looks at God as a function of their needs and that runs off as soon as things go wrong.

Others of us preach so much about pants, makeup, dressing modestly, haircuts, eschatology, and rules we’ve invented, etc., to the point that the faith becomes suffocating and without life, but in our sermons we never touch on the key doctrines of the Christian faith. Much less do we speak about those relevant cultural issues, like abortion or same-sex marriage, or how to respond to secularism and postmodernity.

Young people are very conscious of what’s going on in the world, of the moral dilemmas of our society, of the daily attacks on Christian faith and values. They are exposed to this daily, and it’s unfruitful when they are taught Bible without how to apply it. Many of our young people don’t even understand what it means to have a biblical worldview!

Could it be that we pastors are poorly serving the Word of God, and we do damage also to our congregations, if we don’t demonstrate the persisting relevance of Scripture in all areas of life? It’s exciting to listen to the pastor’s sermon and discover that the Bible does have a message about the current events in our society.

For most young people, applying biblical truth to different aspects of society is something new, and represents a broader vision of the vast implications of biblical teaching. Considering issues of national construction, legislative reforms, educational provisions, and other similar issues, reveals a gospel that is relevant and applicable to each case, situation, and age. We should do everything possible to apply biblical truth, and in doing so, we will learn how inexhaustible the Word of God is.

This world is working overtime to make young people believe that relevance and truth can be found in any other place, except for in Christ. Therefore we pastors must be very intentional and make strategic decisions, like those mentioned previously, so that our young people can see the importance and relevance of a Christian worldview. Will we do it?

4. Young people leave because we have turned our local churches into real sects, full of authoritarianism and intolerance of any disagreement.

Pastoral authoritarianism is destroying congregations. Primarily in Pentecostal churches with a monarchical form of pastoral government. It’s easy for the pastor to become authoritarian. Absolute power and authority end up corrupting people, even servants of God! What does that look like? If the minister unnecessarily restricts the liberty of the people of God; if he becomes inflexible or dictatorial, tyrannical, and oppressive; if she intimidates the people with threats; if he lacks a servant’s heart; if she is unteachable; if arrogance has replaced humility – then he or she has become authoritarian. That minister needs rebuke, even if they are the lead pastor.

Yes, I know that doesn’t sound god to a pastor’s ears (I’m a pastor, too). But if we don’t correct this grave error, we will see how our congregations self-destruct little by little, and the drain of good believers will grow more and more evident. It’s one thing for someone to leave because you lovingly confront their sin and they decide to leave in rebellion; it’s another thing entirely that we kick them out of our congregations for not submitting to our own irrational demands. How many of our young people today are lost because of a poor exercise of pastoral authority? How many have been hurt because of spiritual abuse in their congregations! This is a truth we are uncomfortable talking about, but it’s still truth and it’s still destroying lives, ministries, and congregations.

We cannot shield ourselves with being “God’s anointed” in order to carry out our ministry in an authoritative manner, silencing every critic. Sadly, many Pentecostal pastors still teach that “touch not the Lord’s anointed” simply means that you should never question the actions and words of any spiritual leader, even if they are wrong; rather, you  should shut up and leave it in God’s hands, because He’s the one who placed them there as your leader. That response sounds rather pious, but it’s not what the cited verse really means.

Brother pastor and local church member: the phrase, “The Lord forbid that I would reach out with my hand against the Lord’s anointed!” (1 Sam 26:11, NASB) does not refer to David needing to submit himself to Saul unconditionally or to remain silent concerning the king’s actions, since in several separate opportunities David had confronted Saul verbally, but he never gave in to the diabolical impulse to assassinate him. In the memorable words of Juan Stam:

“All of this has nothing to do with anything besides physical violence, and in no way prohibits responsible criticis or healthy doubts concerning pastors, prophets, and other leaders. It absolutely does not mean that they are untouchable, that people should grant them blind obedience.” [1]

Sadly, many religious leaders, seeking to perpetuate their authority before the faithful, dare to use this biblical text as a shield, making themselves immune before any biblical review or healthy criticism. And if any of the believers dares to biblically question their teachings, or even their lifestyle, the response they often receive is rejection and the command to shut up, because they’re “touching the Lord’s anointed.” Should it seem strange that many young people choose to leave when faced with such abusive leadership? I don’t think so. The only authority that counts is not that which is imposed, but that which is won through gentleness, love, divine backing, and the grace of God.

As is well stated by the Brazilian pastor Augustus Nicodemus:

“Men of God, the truly anointed by Him for pastoral work, do not respond to discord, criticism, and questions by shutting the mouths of the sheep with, ‘Don’t touch me, I’m the Lord’s anointed,’ but with work, reasoned arguments, truth, and sincerity...’Touch not the Lord’s anointed’ is the appeal of someone who doesn’t have an argument or an example to give as an answer.”[2]

Fellow pastor, we are not untouchable, and that is good! It helps us to keep ourselves ministerially and spiritually healthy, understanding that we will have to give an account to the Lord and to the church for our conduct. When a member of your congregation thinks differently than you, don’t anathematize them! Don’t throw them out or distance yourself from them! Listen to them, teach them with gentleness and humility (that thing that we often lack as pastors). Remember that the mistaken one could be you and keep the following advice in mind:

“When judging, we should be capable of pointing to a verse of Scripture or a biblical principle that backs up our opinions. Since at the end of it all, what interests us is to bring to light what God has revealed and not our own preferences or personal convictions.” [3]

5. Young people are leaving because they need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, but our churches are colder thana cessationist’s soul. [4]

Many Pentecostals have settled for just the baggage. That burden of legalism and suffocating rules that we sometimes confuse with holiness. But in our congregations we have lost the most important thing: the presence of God. We have failed to cultivate the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit in our individual and corporate existence. We haven’t served as witnesses to our young people of the dynamic, activating experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The passionate desire for the baptism in the Holy Spirit and a life full of the Spirit is fading among people who call themselves Pentecostals. In the congregations where this happens, the young people perhaps don’t see the adults seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit, using the gifts of the Spirit in public worship, or testifying about miraculous healings and transformed lives.

Regardless of the passivity of Pentecostal believers in seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the fullness of the Holy Spirit in their lives, God has promised that the outpouring (baptism and filling) of the Holy Spirit is for children, young people, and anyone the Lord calls. In Acts 2:38-39, Peter, immediately after experiencing the baptism with the Holy Spirit, declares:

“And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (NIV)

The promise of the Father is for all! Our young people can, and should, be baptized in the Holy Spirit! This places a great responsibility on the shoulders of the pastor or youth leader. Apart from personally exemplifying a life full of the Spirit, the leader must teach, both formally and informally, concerning the person of the Holy Spirit, our need of Him, and the constant dependence of the believer on Him for life and ministry.

Do you understand what this means? The youth leader should be a promoter, planner, and creator of environments, activities, and programs in which the presence of the Holy Spirit is the main factor. The ministry of the Holy Spirit among the youth should impact the curriculum, the practices, and the environment used by each youth ministry. The curriculum of the youth ministry, its discipleship program, must include teaching about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The young people should be taught about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives: before salvation, at the moment of conversion, in the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and in ministry.

Special teaching concerning the work of the Holy Spirit should precede church activities such as camps, retreats, and conferences, preparing the youth with anticipation for supernatural experiences. To the extent that the leaders develop a teaching plan on the Holy Spirit, they will see that their youth will seek for and experience more of Him. To the measure that the leaders and youth pastors focus on the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the youth ministry, the Holy Spirit will become the central presence of the young person and also of the youth ministry. This, added to a solid knowledge of the Word and sound doctrine, will mold a generation of young people, firm, stable, mature, and founded on the gospel. Only in this way will they avoid the shipwreck of their faith. Many of those who now call themselves ex-Pentecostals and cessationists are young people who never experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit, young people who now reject what they couldn’t experience; if they had experienced it, they never would have left.

6. The point of this discourse is...

My beloved fellow pastor or youth leader: please, listen to the hearts of the young people. Dont be afraid to deal with topics that they need to hear, including ones that are difficult or unpopular, even if they go against the culture, even when it seems the youth themselves don’t want to hear them. Don’t fear “lowering yourself” to listen to them and teach them. Let them question you, help them work out their doubts.  Maintain your authority without imposing it. Let God back you up. Prepare yourself, educate yourself, and don’t remain ignorant. A pastor should be a scholar. It is my prayer that God would guide, illuminate, and empower you with His Spirit as you lead these precious youth into His presence.

As long as we continue to not strike this balance, as long as we don’t reform ourselves, we will continue to be the nursery for the sects, the cribs from which the neo-Calvinist churches that now call themselves “reformed” will extract their new members, future leaders, and pastors. No, we Pentecostals were not born for that. We aren’t the fish bowl where others will catch their fish. We were born to be the crib of great men and women of God who will impact the nations.


[1] Juan Stam. (2017). “Touch not the Lord’s anointed”. July 29, 2017, on the web site Protestante Digital:

[2] Augustus Nicodemus Lopes. (2017). “What does “Touch not the Lord’s anointed’ mean,” September 27, 2017, on the web site Soldados de Jesucristo:

[3] Erwin W. Lutzer. (2004). Who Are You to Judge?, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49505: Portavoz.

[4] “Biblical knowledge and the fullness of the Spirit: What every young Christian needs” on the Pensamiento Pentecostal Arminiano web site:

1 comment:

  1. Excellent work! Spot on! Thank you! - Michael Sharp, Network Secretary-Treasurer, Alabama Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God