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Return to biblical foundation urged for church to help young people

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–The church has failed to help young people, especially black males, succeed in life because it has abandoned its biblical principles, a pastor of an innovative, predominantly African American church said at the annual conference of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Sterling Lands, pastor of Greater Calvary Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, said in the closing address of the March 1-3 conference Christians have dealt with symptoms and have not stood against the cultural patterns.
The issues of “racism, abortion, pornography, homosexuality” are just symptoms, Lands said. “I know it’s easier for us to talk about symptoms.
“But those things are all there because inside there is a rot. And that rot is that we have not paid attention to the foundational principles of God.
“The Bible does not call us to change the culture from the outside in. It calls us to change from the inside out. We’re focusing so much on what is external that we’re missing what I believe is really at the foundation, at the heart of what is God’s plan.
“The foundations are eroding. They are eroding because we have moved … the pattern God has set in place.
“If we did nothing but use [the Bible] as the compass for our lives, we would reverse the degradation in society.”
Christians also have faltered at the assignment given in Romans 12:2 to be transformed and not conformed to the world, he said.
“We would prefer to go along to get along,” Lands said at Austin’s Great Hills Baptist Church. “So, the church finds itself in the mode of going along to get along.
“We end up in a situation where we don’t want to offend the membership; we don’t want folks to look upon us and say anything that relates us to being ‘judgmental.’ And that’s an overused term by the way.”
Lands recognized the church had to do more than it was doing when a distraught mother came to his office one day. She bore in one hand a wad of money and in the other a bag of small pouches of crack cocaine, he said. She had found both in her son’s jacket, indicating he was selling drugs.
God placed in his mind an idea for a ministry to meet the need, Lands said. In a Sunday worship service shortly thereafter, Lands asked all the men to stand and look around at all the children. He told the men they must become fathers to those children.
The message was “that from this day forward we would walk as men of high moral character” and develop young men and women of “high moral character,” he said.
“Without a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, all youth are at risk,” he said. “They do not have the chance to take control, to make positive decisions about how to live and to address the ongoing challenges that we all face as human beings living in a consumer-oriented society.”
Black males especially are at risk in America, Lands said.
“We have failed to deliver to our sons a clear, inspiring, biblically grounded definition of manhood,” he said. “So, as a result, we have a bunch of old boys looking for something to play with.”
To bring boys and girls to maturity, Lands and the church established a ministry in the following stages through young adulthood:
— Rites of Progress — This level for children 5 to 10 years of age focuses on developing character, discipline, servanthood, critical thinking, scholastic excellence, self-defense skills and a code of ethics and honor. Boys, including those without fathers at home, have male direction by age 7.
— Rites of Passage — For ages 11 to 17, this stage helps young people further develop the skills they learned earlier and to apply daily the principles they were taught. Each boy is assigned a mentor, whom he observes and serves.
— Passages — This stage for males and females 18 to 25 years old ushers them into adulthood. They practice the principles they have learned and pledge to “uphold the biblical foundations,” Lands said.
“We must prepare all youth to excel above and beyond circumstance, environment, conditions and situations. … The church is responsible for providing for institutions that instruct, evaluate, guide, affirm and correct [young people] in the fulfillment of roles,” he said.
“If we want materialism, paganism, hedonism, all the symptoms we have discussed … to be cast out of the empire, it can only be done by spreading the Word of God.”
Lands also serves as the head of projects devoted to community and business development in Austin. The theme of the ERLC conference was “Faith, Family and Freedom: The Moral Challenges of the Next Millennium.”