As a professor at Charlotte Bible College and Seminary, the Rev. Thomas Leighow is accustomed to studying ancient texts to answer questions.
But on Dec. 1, he sought answers from four Union County natives born in the last 20 years: Anna Plyler, 17, a student at Central Academy of Technology and Arts; Anthony Pate, 19, a student at Wingate University; and home-school students Destiny Montgomery, 13, and Ben Umansky, 15.
Leighow invited them to serve on a panel to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the Christian church today.
He knew their youth would provide insights into the future of the church and the reasons many young people today don’t attend.
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“A friend of mine and I are currently working on developing a new ministry aimed at looking outside of the church walls and trying to reach young people who are un-churched or who have been turned off by the church,” Leighow said in an email.
“We think the best way to start this is to begin to listen to what our young people have to say about the church and then expand upon that. I think it is time that the church quit hiding inside church walls and get out to where the un-churched are at. We hope this will be a spark that can move that idea forward.”
The panel discussion was at Lee Park Church in Monroe, which houses the Monroe campus of Charlotte Bible College and Seminary. About 40 people attended, including family members of the panelists, seminary students and church members.
Leighow said the Christian church is ranked fifth or sixth in terms of growth, compared to other world religions. He said the panelists had been asked a month ago to begin considering what they think is right or wrong with the church.
Some of the issues they were asked to consider included abortion, gay rights and women’s rights.
All four panelists are active in their churches.
Leighow said he had originally enlisted an un-churched youth to participate, but that person backed out.
Some of the criticisms they offered included:
• Their perception that some churches compromise Christian beliefs in order to get more people in the door.
• Telling congregants what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
• Failing to engage churchgoers, particularly young people.
“Churches that are ‘dead in the water’? God isn’t there. That’s why they’re dead,” said Pate.
The panelists appeared to agree that gay people should not have the right to marry – particularly in a church – and that women should not have primary leadership roles in their churches.
They fielded questions from the audience that ranged from when teens should be allowed to begin dating to whether prayer should be allowed in schools.
Reached by email after the event, Leighow said he was pleased by the thought and effort provided by the panelists.
Audience member Michael McCollum, a member of Lee Park Church, said he thought the panel discussion was very informative.
“The younger generation today needs to be grounded in truth so they can pass it on,” he said.