The Brain Drain
Canada is becoming desperately short of brains, according to a recent report by the Bladen commission on higher education. Shortage of doctors, dentists, scientists, and university lecturers is causing national concern. Not only is production of such skills too limited: a serious drain is taking place, particularly to the United States of America. It is estimated that 3,500 highly skilled professional workers move from Canada yearly. Higher pay, greater opportunities, better climate and easier divorce are among the factors that are luring people south of the border. Nor is Canada alone in this: other countries have the same problems. British leaders have been grappling with them for some years. The “brain drain” is reaching alarming proportions, and drastic measures have been urged to stem the tide, to close the gap.
Many assemblies are faced with a similar serious problem. Godly overseers are concerned that some of the most promising, spiritual, capable, and keen young Christians — future leaders — and others, less talented but still important, are being lost to the assemblies. Many continue in effective witness elsewhere, and we ought to praise God for this, but their leaving us should nevertheless cause us dismay and alarm. How can we stem the tide? How can we stop the drain? How can we close the gap?
We can only remedy the situation if we can pinpoint the cause. Accurate diagnosis must precede effective therapy. We can never solve the problem unless we know what the basic problem is.
Let us try to analyse some of the main reasons for this drain:
Lack of Conviction
Immediately it will be asserted by many that the prime reason is so many young people in assemblies do not have a real conviction of the nature and importance of the New Testament principles of gathering. It is doubtless true that Christians with sufficiently deep and firm convictions will not readily be either driven or drawn away. But are those of us who are older free of blame? (a) Do we have sincere convictions, based on scripture? Or have we simply drifted into assemblies on the basis of the convictions of others without examining and confirming the scriptural basis for these beliefs. Have we “searched the Scriptures” to see whether those things are so? Or are we content to use a few well-worn cliches — “one - man ministry,” “priesthood of all believers,” etc. —without really knowing what these mean, and what is the scriptural teaching on such matters. If our beliefs are lightly held, we can hardly be surprised if our young people do not hold any convictions tenaciously. (b) Further, do we endeavour to pass on truth to others? How many young believers in assemblies have never had systematic instruction on the New Testament principles relating to local church practices! Is it surprising that many are confused if they have never been taught? Let us be careful, too, to differentiate, in our thinking and our teaching, between divine truth and human tradition. In our Lord’s day, religious leaders placed greater stress on the traditions of the elders than on the Word of God — and there is a like danger among us, which may have been good in certain circumstances, and may still be good, but which do not carry scriptural authority. It is important to examine our practices in the light of the Scriptures and not to emphasize our traditional thinking at the expense of scriptural teaching. (c) Finally, how do we transmit our convictions to others? In a spirit of arrogance (“We are the people and wisdom will die with us”.) and condemnation of others? Or in a spirit of meekness and dependence upon God, firmly standing for the truth of His Word, yet showing a real love for all saints in whatever group they move? The way we express our convictions and our attitude towards our brethren who do not hold them will have an undoubted influence on those who are seeking for the truth.
Lack of Attraction
A reason often cited for young people leaving assemblies is that “there is nothing to attract them” there, while in other groups much more endeavour is made to allure and hold them. Unfortunately, this criticism is too frequently justified. It is not sufficient for us to sit back and say (or think) “We have the truth; if they don’t want it, let them go elsewhere.” Surely it is not only our responsibility to hold and impart truth; we are responsible also to hold by the attractiveness of our fellowship those who might easily be lured away from us. This does not mean that we should compete with the world — or with other Christian groups — in offering material and recreational allurements — although group recreational activities do afford excellent opportunities for fellowship and witness. However, in many assemblies much more could be done, on a spiritual level, to attract and hold young people with an interest in the things of the Lord. Our meetings frequently tend to be drab and lifeless, repetitious and unvaried. Prayer meetings, for instance, lose their interest when, week after week, the same two or three brethren cover almost all possible topics in each of their stereotyped prayers. By suggesting a variety of prayer subjects, each person praying briefly and specifically about one or two items, and, perhaps, by dividing occasionally into groups for prayer, the prayer meeting could be enlivened and made more effective and interesting. Bible studies, similarly, should be varied in style, theme, and leadership to provide more incentive for others to attend and benefit. And so it may be with all the gatherings of the church. Additional, informal, “fellowship” meetings may also help to bind the Lord’s people together. If it be objected that “we didn’t require such ‘allurements’ in our early days,” let us remember that times change, and with them the circumstances, needs, and desires of the Lord’s people. While scriptural truths and principles are timeless, they can, and should, be applied in varying ways to the needs of the particular hour and circumstance.
In addition, it is important to remember the attraction of activity. Our young people, and, indeed, all of us will form closer ties with assemblies if they are encouraged to develop the gifts that God has given them and to use them in fellowship with the local church for the profit of all. Specific service, suited to each one should be assigned, and emphasis placed on the value of such service, however humble it may seem. A word of encouragement when a young believer engages in this service or participates in the gatherings of the assembly, will help each to appreciate his or her responsibility and provide added stimulus. How much there is to do! How much more could be done if each were encouraged to serve the Lord in a sphere suited to the gift He has given. What a responsibility rests upon the fathers in the assembly to direct and encourage the exercise and activity of the babes and young men in Christ!
Lack of Attention
In some, though by no means all, assemblies, there is, regretably, a lack of interest shown in those who are not taking an active part in the gatherings of the church. Young people, and older ones, are allowed to come and go unnoticed. Because their voices are not commonly heard, they are scarcely missed when absent. Visitation is a neglected service, and the problems of young Christians are bottled up within their own hearts and minds because so few seem sufficiently interested to pay attention to them. Perhaps the elders are aloof and unapproachable, critical, and unsympathetic. This may not be a common situation but it does occur, and not a few have left our fellowship simply because they have found, in other circles, more attention being paid to their needs and problems. How can we blame our young people for lack of interest, if we too are characterized by a lack of interest in them?
Lack of Affection
One of the key words of the New Testament is love, the love of God, the love of Christ, the love of the saints produced by the Spirit as fruit in our lives. Among His parting words to His own, our Lord gave them a new commandment, “Love one another.” His words are reiterated by all the New Testament writers. The qualities and consequences of such love are oft described. Yet in many assemblies, alas, a spirit of bitterness, strife, jealousy, and pride replaces and hinders that “love to all saints” which was so characteristic of early believers. Many have wondered, not without reason, whether they are right to remain in a local church where New Testament correctness is professed yet the great commandment of the Lord is ignored. Surely 1 Corinthians 13 is at least as important as 1 Corinthians 12 or 14 in the New Testament pattern of local church practice! The gatherings of the saints should be evidences, not only of our adherence to the Scriptures, but also of our love for one another which these Scriptures emphasize. In particular, young Christians who make the assembly their spiritual home should surely find in it a warm and sincere love towards themselves rather than a carping criticism of their actions and the difficulties and doubts they may express. They require to be instructed, guided, corrected, sometimes chastened — but all this should be done tenderly and in love.
Not all who emigrate do so because of their discontent with local conditions or the supposedly greater attractiveness of another country. Many have purely personal reasons for leaving their native land; for example, family and friends in another part, a missionary spirit (be it for the cause of Christ or even communism), or simply a wander lust. Doubtless, corresponding motives impel not a few who leave the assemblies, and what has been said here may not apply in their cases. By the attractiveness of our teaching and fellowship, however, even these may be constrained to remain with us. Let us endeavour so to manifest the grace and truth of Christ that others may find their spiritual home where we believe, according to God’s Word, it is His will that they should belong.